ANIME & MANGA - Review
09:54 - 1st March 2013, by Amanda Young

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

After rescuing the prince from raging river rapids (our favourite ride, in fact), Balsa is escorted to the palace, where the Second Queen pleads with her to take charge of the prince and take him away from the poisonous atmosphere of the palace. She reveals that Prince Chagum has been accused of harbouring a water demon, and that the Emperor has no choice but to destroy the prince in order to free the kingdom from his curse. Although the choice given to Balsa is fairly limited (take charge of Chagum or die), Balsa has reasons of her own to take on the life of the royal child, as she has sworn to save eight lives in penance for eight she has taken.

So begins a drama that is intensely occupied with character development and the growth of relationships between its main cast. Whilst there is no shortage of action sequences, the series is less about a life or death pursuit than you might think from its initial setup. It would be easy to weave a tale in which the lead characters are constantly dodging assassination attempts from the palace guards, but instead, many of these episodes follow Balsa and Chagum as they grow accustomed to life in each other's company, and as Chagum turns from spoilt palace prince into a fully-fledged commoner.

Chagum is notable in that his character doesn't fall into the trap traditionally laid for such royal types - he's not bratty, demanding and annoying, but rather his character is a well-studied look at how someone who was cosseted for his entire life might react to the trials and tribulations of everyday existence. From his inability to recognise hunger the first time he feels it, to his confusion about the reliance of the common folk on money, nothing about Chagum's reactions to Balsa's world is overblown or played for cheap laughs. Similarly, Balsa, who could have been depicted in full-blown anime warrioress mode, has a depth and dignity to her character - although she hasn't quite escaped the curse of the anime babe, as she sports an impressive rack on her tiny frame...

Moribito was directed by Kenji Kamiyama (best known for his work on the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series) and produced by Production I.G., meaning that, visually, this title is stunning, with well crafted scenes and amazing set pieces. The attention to detail is fantastic, and Moribito revels in the intricate styling of the era, creating a realistic world whether it be at the Imperial Palace, or in the homey confines of Balsa's watermill.

All in all, Moribito doesn't offer high-octane thrills, or the usual anime trappings of fanservice, frolicks and fun, and is refreshingly free of forced humour. Instead, it sets out to skilfully weave a mature tale, which, although we're sure won't be laden with twists and intricate story arcs, is still absorbing and fulfilling.

A mature and absorbing historical fantasy drama from Kenji Kamiyama and Production I.G.
SCORE: 4/5
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