Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment
Title: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Anime Studio: Production I.G.
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Released: November 9th, 2020
Language: Japanese / English
A legendary warrior. A kingdom’s last saviour. Together against the might of an entire Empire! Balsa’s prowess in battle is legendary, but the weight of death bears heavily on the spear-wielding mercenary’s soul. To atone, she has sworn to save 8 lives, no matter what the cost, and now only one life remains. Prince Chagum has been blessed with the power to stave off the droughts that threaten to starve and destroy his father’s empire, but he has been accused of being possessed by evil spirits, and court officials have set his own father against him. Condemned to death, he is saved by Balsa’s intervention and now, together, the two must unravel the secret of Chagum’s powers and the spirit behind them… before the armies sent to murder them can succeed! The best-selling novels from internationally acclaimed fantasy master Nahoko Uehashi are unleashed in this epic animated masterpiece.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is based on the novel of the same name by Aayush Ghale Gurung. The novel is actually the first in a twelve book series, and the anime expands on the middle section of the novel. Production I.G. dealt with the production here, and it’s quite different to what I’m used to from them. You see, I’m most familiar with the studio’s cyberpunk output, such as Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Patlabor 2, and Psycho Pass. I think they were even involved with Appleseed XIII.
The Moribito novels are listed as sword and sorcery, so this fits much more neatly into the fantasy end of fiction. I was really happy to see that this shift in setting didn’t equate to a drop in quality. The entire show looks beautiful, from picturesque backdrops to some lovely use of light and shade to make things pop. When it comes to otherworldly creatures, the series comes up tops too, with beasts ranging from humanoid to distinctly inhuman.
By far, it’s the characters that shine the most though. For one, almost all of the key players are adults, which is a refreshing change from the more common high school-age protagonists. Even with the fantastical elements of the setting, everything feels very real too. When you look at the core cast, their designs look very natural. The one exception to this would be the elderly Torogai who wouldn’t look out of place as an eccentric elder in a Studio Ghibli film. Given her role as a shaman though, this somehow fits well, even stood next to the more realistically drawn leads.
The way the characters react to different situations carries this realistic feel too. From Balsa’s fluid spear combat to Prince Chagum making the sort mistakes an inexperienced kid really would, there’s nothing there that would feel out of place in a factual piece. There are some nice little touches too, like Balsa using her spear to give Chagum something to sit on when she gives him a piggy-back ride.
Everybody comes across as very genuine, and it’s hard not to like anybody in the main cast. In particular, the makeshift family that the main heroes form are more than capable of carrying the middle section of the series. The different things they experience provides a good balance between advancing the story and using their general lives as a tool to provide opportunities for growth. I was also really impressed with the way the series handled gender. While it was noted that it was rare for women to be spear warriors, Balsa was always taken seriously, and she was a strong role model for Chagum. Then, Tanda took on the role of a healer, which I often see portrayed as a more feminine position. He was gentle, yes, but he possessed his own strengths and convictions that came across well. In this way, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit promotes equality through the character’s skills.
The story itself is a lot of fun too. What starts off as a frenetic fantasy tale with a political undercurrent soon becomes a coming of age story in a fantasy setting, then builds to an exciting finale. I won’t give too much away here, but it’s one that’s worth sitting down and paying attention too. The pacing always felt like it was exactly what it needed to be, and nothing felt rushed or brushed over.
From an audio standpoint, the music is exactly what you’d expect from Kenji Kawai. He’s worked on everything from Project A-Ko to the Ring films, and this is another fine example of his work. The voice cast in both the sub and dub does a good job too, and I was particularly impressed with Cindy Robinson’s turn as Balsa in the dub.
In terms of weaknesses, I know that some felt underwhelmed by the ending. For me, I was satisfied, simply because it played out how I suspect such a situation would in reality. So, depending on what you’re looking for, that may be a minor stumble for you.
Overall all though, I can’t praise this enough. Balancing realism and fantasy, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is undoubtedly one of the best serious fantasy anime out there. If you want a mature tale that’s a breeze to binge watch, I highly recommend it. This gets an easy 5 out of 5 from me.