These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.
For those of you not in the know, Youtube’s The Nostalgia Critic is probably one of my favorite movie reviewers. Around this time of the year, he will do a segment called “Disney-cember” or “Dreamworks-uary” where he basically gives his opinion of the Disney and Dreamworks movies that came out that year, or any that he hasn’t reviewed yet. During a Disney-cember segment, he started reviewing Japanese movies that Disney would release to American audiences. Now, as many of you also know, I’m not much of an anime fan. Yeah, sure, I like DRAGONBALL Z, used to watch RUROUNI KENSHIN, SILENT MOBIUS is one of my favorites (bet you’ve never heard of it, though), but all of this Japanese animation talk got me in the mood to watch something anime-ish. Browsing my Netflix one day, I stumbled across this title, MORIBITO: GUARDIAN OF THE SPIRIT. Nope, never heard of it, was made in 2007, lasted only one season, but its premise intrigued me enough, about a female spear-wielding bodyguard warrior who takes up a job protecting a young prince from his father who is trying to kill him because the boy is thought to be possessed by a water demon that will bring about a massive drought to the land, unless he’s killed.
Well, down to business.
Cast: Mabuki Andô, Naoto Adachi, Kouji Tsujitani, and Ako Mayama
Support: Rintarou Nishi, Mayumi Asano, Ryo Hirohashi, Hirofumi Nojima, Masaya Matsukaze
This is my honest opinion of: MORIBITO: GUARDIAN OF THE SPIRIT
Balsa (voiced by Mabuki Andô) is a nomadic master spear-wielder, hailing from the land of Kanbal. She wanders the land taking jobs as a bodyguard in hopes to save a grand total of eight lives as penance for eight lives that were taken because of her. Returning to the land of Yogo, ruled by the Imperial Family, after a two year absence to repair her spear, a royal carriage crossing a bridge veers off course and a body falls into the river below. Balsa instinctively leaps for the poor soul and saves him. The victim was a young boy, revealed to be the second prince of the Royal Family, Chagum (voiced by Naoto Adachi). After saving him, Balsa is requested by the Second Empress (voiced by Emi Shinohara) to meet. The Empress reveals that Chagum is believed to be possessed by a water demon, a creature that will bring about a terrible drought to the land unless the demon is killed and the only way to do that is to kill the host. The carriage incident was caused by henchman hired by Chagum’s father and Mikado (voiced by Atsushi Ono) – the Emperor – of Yogo. Unable to bear the thought of losing her son to the Mikado’s orders, she has to entrust Balsa to safeguard Chagum for the rest of his life. Although reluctant at first, Balsa accepts the job.
This was a really good show, I have to admit. In fact, there’s a lot of elements that I absolutely adore.
The characters are written almost like complex characters out of a high-art novel. Balsa isn’t a cold or unfeeling woman, but she is no stranger to a fight or causing harm. She will speak her mind and call it out as she sees it. She’s not a humorous person or anything, but she has a strong sense of protection toward Chagum and a passion to see him happy. The way she’s drawn really makes her beautiful when she smiles, but intimidating when she’s ready to fight someone threatening her, Chagum, or anybody that she cares about. She she’s not incompetent in a fight either. The show may not be chock-full of action like the first few episodes make it out to be, but when there is a fight going on, it’s fast, it’s energetic, it’s hard-hitting, it’s easy to follow and incredibly intense.
Don’t get me wrong, all of the characters are written very well. Toya could have easily been annoying, but he’s got an inspiring loyalty to him that makes him incredibly likable. Torogai (voiced by Ako Mayama) is a crazy, but down-to-earth and a hilarious old bat that you just can’t help but love when she gives someone the business. I suppose if there was a weak character in the bunch, it would be Tanda (voiced by Kouji Tsujitani), who’s hopelessly in love with Balsa and brings up his feelings at the worst times and has the worst reactions when someone has to hit him in the face with reality, but he’s still not annoying per se, or even that non-enjoyable as a person. He’s just about the only person who has to veer from reality every so often, but he’s not without his uses. He’s the group medic and has a unique connection to the spirit world that’s saved the characters a few times in the show.
But, without a shadow of a doubt, my absolute favorite character in the show is Chagum. Let me explain. Kid characters in… ANYTHING, ANY form of storytelling are HARD to write. They are either subjected to the “cute” stereotype, which may or may not be a bad thing, but that’s usually the best we usually expect, or they fall under the “annoying” category, like Koda from Disney’s BROTHER BEAR, or Short Round from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. But even the best of kid characters are in the minor leagues. This Chagum kid is in the Olympics of well-written kid characters. Sure, the first episode depicts him as whiny and annoying despite not knowing context, but it’s not long after that he accepts reality as it is and makes the best of it. Not only that, despite being a rich kid from the illustrious Royal Family, he’s got a solid respect for the common-folk. He doesn’t look down on them, pity them, he just absorbs it all in and learns from them.
There’s an episode, I think it’s the 10th episode, “Soil and Heroes” (according to IMDb.com) where Toya (Mayumi Asano) takes Chagum under his wing and teaches him about being a runner. He teaches Chagum how to haggle vendors, even how to gamble. Chagum even teaches Toya a few things. There’s such a build-up of the boy becoming bigger than just a prince. You get this sense that he could be a revolutionary or something of the people. Someone who looks out for everyone, even those who struggle to make ends meet to the point of swindling for their own personal gain. It’s truly great episode.
I honestly couldn’t think of a more mature character. Even once more realizations hit home, and he runs away, you know he’s not a coward. He’s still a kid. He misses his mother, his family, and he’s tired of running from those who would do him harm. You understand the weight he has on his shoulders and how that might affect a kid of his age and sensitivity. If there’s any episode I recommend, it’s the 19th episode, “Escape” (again, according to IMDb). This episode is heavy and emotional, I’m pretty sure I got choked up by the end of it.
As I mentioned before, despite the first three or four episodes, the show as a whole isn’t exactly action packed. In fact, it’s very much a drama. Only the first few and last few episodes have a lot of fighting. Oh sure, every so often there’s an episode with fighting, but the focus of the story is Chagum’s development from a sheltered prince to a worldly young man with ideas and morals, as well as Balsa and her relationship with Chagum. Very character-driven, so I wouldn’t come into this show thinking it’s going to be all fighting because there’s not much of it.
I do have one gripe though. I think the ending is either too contradictory or too ambiguous, depending on how you look at it. For most of the show, Chagum is learning about being a commoner and all that. Blossoming aspirations and goals, and lots of hinting that he might be a great leader. The ending is essentially him returning to his life as a prince, but the Mikado, despite grateful for Balsa’s help, tells Chagum that he has to forget about her and return to his duties as a prince. Chagum says nothing. Which is contradictory to what he learned while training with Balsa in later episodes. He starts to speak his mind, he starts standing for what he believes in, but as soon as he’s face to face with his father, no defiance. Total compliance, despite that the woman who has protected and taught him for so long deserved something far better than a trinket.
And then at the end, Chagum and Balsa have one last talk and he breaks down crying, saying that he doesn’t want this to be goodbye. Balsa even offers Chagum to run away with her. It looks like he is ready to agree, but instead decides that he is going to stay behind to be the prince. See, I would ADORE this as the perfect ending if certain things were changed. First off, Chagum would have told the Mikado that he will not forget Balsa, that he will remain in contact with her, and that she is welcome in the Royal Palace. He will make frequent trips to the general public and aid them in any way that he can. He will focus on making life better and safer for his kingdom and the Mikado will not hinder his desires. Or something like that. If not that and we must accept that he just can’t talk back to the father who spent the entire show trying to kill him, maybe instead take up Balsa’s offer to run away with her. I mean, that’s what the show was about anyway, Chagum learning to be a better man. IF NOT THAT, then at least give a better hint that he acknowledges that his dad isn’t the best ruler and has bad ideas, but he’s going to fight against those ideas and put forth some of his own. Like I said, the ending for me is criminally contradictory and too ambiguous.
Even if you’re not an anime fan, this is too well-written and engaging to be overlooked. It’s not the stereotypical anime as far as over-the-top expressions when something silly happens, or sweat drops when something awkward is happening, it’s not cartoonish like that. It’s a very mature and great story that I think is worth the time to view if you’re looking for something different. Plus, it’s only one season long, so you could probably binge watch it in a few days and leave with a warm feeling.
My honest rating for MORIBITO: GUARDIAN OF THE SPIRIT: 5/5