Anime Spotlight: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is based off the first of a series of Japanese fantasy novels written by Nahoko Uehashi. The series was produced by Production I.G and directed by Kenji Kamiyama. The 26-episode series aired on Japanese television from April 7-September 29, 2007. As of this writing, VIZ Media holds the North American distribution rights for Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.

The series follows Balsa, a female spear wielder and bodyguard who serves as a wandering warrior. She vows to atone for eight deaths in her past by saving an equivalent number of lives.

In the first episode, Balsa saves Prince Chagum, who has been the victim of assassination attempts ordered by his father. Chagum bears an egg of the water spirit, and it’s believed that this will be a reincarnation of a demon who had been defeated by Chagum’s ancestor. Chagum’s mother hires Balsa to hide and protect Chagum to save his life. It’s revealed that if Balsa succeeds, Chagum will be the eighth life that she’s saved.

Balsa and Chagum travel together trying to elude capture by the emperor’s forces. Along the way, they receive help from Toya and Saya (two orphaned children who know Balsa), Tanda (an herbalist who is a long-time friend of Balsa’s), and Torogai (an old shaman and Tanda’s teacher).

As the series progresses, both Torogai and the emperor’s Star Diviners discover that there have been misunderstandings about the egg and the water spirit and must work together to find a way to allow the egg to hatch without killing Chagum.

Overall, I was rather impressed by the storytelling in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. It was a very solid story, and I never found myself questioning whether the series was contradicting itself. Also, many of the characters were very well developed, which allowed the audience to care about them and want to follow their adventures. I can also say that within its 26-episode run, there truly isn’t any “filler.” Everything that appeared in the episodes ended being important for either plot or concept revelations in the overarching story.

Knowing that Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is only based on the first book in the series, I was a little concerned about whether it would have a proper ending. For the most part, I thought the series ended well. My main issue is that there was one loose end that was never tied up, which was whether Balsa and Tanda ever ended up together in a relationship. The series did such a great job building up their chemistry that the lack of a clear answer was a little disappointing.

The animation in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was well done and looked very impressive. The first episode contained a lot of detail and looked very lush, and I was afraid of how the animation might potentially deteriorate as the series continued. While the animation didn’t stay to the high level that was seen in Episode One, it was only a minor deterioration in quality that took place throughout the rest of the series. I didn’t see any evidence of the animators trying to cut corners or any signs of animators rushing through their work.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is a well told and executed fantasy anime series, and it’s one I would highly recommend to anime viewers for both its writing and its animation.

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