The people of the Shin Yogo Empire love their royal family–especially the Second Prince Chagum. He’s only a kid, but all who live within and outside the palace admire him for his good heart and kindness toward all. That’s why the kingdom is truly devastated when the young prince dies in a fire on palace grounds. Well, that’s what they’re told. In reality, Chagum was possessed by a water demon and–in order to avoid their heavenly lineage called into question–the Mikado (the king) and the Master Star Reader decided to have him killed. Chagum’s mother found out about this plot and sought the aid of the mighty Kanbalan warrior woman Balsa. Luckily for them, Balsa has taken a vow to save eight lives equal to the eight lives that were taken to ensure her safety years ago. Chagum’s death is faked, and the bodyguard and her new charge escape. Balsa’s eighth and final life to protect is Chagum’s, but the truth of what’s possessed the prince is vastly more important than anyone could have ever imagined.
Hey, look! It’s that anime that aired on Adult Swim that one time! Yeah, that’s essentially how I’ve always thought about Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. I remember catching the first episode back in the day and being bored by how slow it was. Even though I remembered really liking Balsa’s character design, it took years before I finally decided to buy it while it was on sale. And, I gotta say…I’m glad I did.
Moribito is set on a world that resembles feudal Japan a bit. I actually thought it was set in Japan until they started talking about the worlds Nayug and Sagu and countries I’d never heard of. That’s one thing I wish I’d known when I caught that first episode years ago. Had I known this would be more fantasy-oriented, I think I would have stuck around. And the mythology in this world is really cool. The relation between the physical world Sagu and the other world Nayug, the truth behind Chagum’s situation, and the beliefs of the various people drew me in and kept me fascinated whenever they were brought up. Learning about fictional cultures is awesome! There is one other thing that kept me riveted to my sit for all 26 episodes–Balsa.
I love, love, love Balsa the spear-wielder. She is such a great character. Finally finding out her backstory of being raised by the warrior Jigoro was one of the highlights of the show for me. She carries a great many scars from trying her hardest not to kill since killing someone while completing her vow of saving eight lives would taint that promise and make it pointless. Balsa is a straight-up badass. That’s why I also love her character design. Yes, she is quite attractive, and that’s a plus, but just look at any picture of her and you can see the strength and power in the way she carries herself. She very much reminds me of Wonder Woman in her build. But she’s not just the warrior and bodyguard. She comes to treat Chagum as sort of her child and even gives him a short sword when he turns 12 telling him that in her homeland this is usually a ceremony between a father and his son when he comes of age. Balsa makes this anime.
Now, yes, even when Balsa isn’t on screen the anime is enjoyable. Chagum was surprisingly open-minded and eager to help, and their allies Tanda and Madame Torogai added a lot more than I expected. I also appreciate to no end that very few–if any–characters were evil. Chagum’s father ordered his assassination, but the Mikado truly believed what he was doing was right for the country. We even see him cry and comfort one of his wives at one point. Hell, the eight elite imperial guards sent after Balsa only want to kill her because they thought she looked down on them when she didn’t kill them in their first encounter. There weren’t any power-plays going on in the court either. Chagum’s older brother Sagum was heartbroken when he thought his brother died, and the main star reader we follow, Shuga, has no aspirations of taking anyone’s spot in the hierarchy. These were a bunch of people who, although sometimes misguided, were mostly good and genuinely trying to do the right thing. Refreshing when it comes to royal characters.
My biggest complaint about Moribito is that it is slow. I did get invested enough in the characters to not mind the pace much, but I can’t overlook the leisurely stroll it takes most of the time. I’ll give it credit that a couple of filler episodes do wind up playing a major part later (kinda like GunXSword). Show definitely could’ve used some more fight scenes. The action was so good! Like, these are some of the best looking fights in any anime I’ve seen. But there are only four or five episodes that have fights in them. I’m not saying I need all violence all the time, but when your anime is that slow, your main character is that badass, and you’re capable of animating fights that look that great, then you really need to flaunt it more often. Also, there’s a plot point where Balsa thinks she kills someone but she really didn’t that is never revisited, and I have no idea why. Thought that would come back in a big way, but nope.
Despite the pace and seeming lack of conflict, I’m giving Moribito a 9. The world, the characters, the few action scenes, and dat Balsa are more than enough for me to call this great. If you didn’t finish it years ago on Adult Swim, give it another shot. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.