Balsa (Shindo, Naomi), a spear-wielding woman who has taken it upon herself to save 8 lives in an act of atonement, is tasked by the Emperor’s wife to save her son Chagum (Adachi, Naoto) who is suspected to have been possessed by a water spirit out of legend. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the potentially catastrophic implications of the water spirit as well as Balsa’s past and her motivations for helping the young prince.
Seirei no Moribibito is very much a character-story.The story takes place in a vast and complicated world however because of how the tale is told and how each episode progresses it becomes pretty clear that the show cares first and foremost about its characters.
Balsa is probably the most recognizable character of the show – she is thirty years of age and as warrior who has mastered the art of the spear, is fairly muscular and stocky. Both these traits are somewhat uncommon in anime for women and so I think Balsa’s design speaks a good deal to the intent of the show – it approaches the story realistically despite the supernatural elements of the show such as the water spirit and characters like Torogai. Balsa herself is pragmatic and a fierce warrior in combat; she gets along well with Chagum and their relationship develops and becomes more intricate as they spend more time with one another.
Chagum, the young prince Balsa spirits away from the Emperor’s hunters a the desperate request of his mother, is where a lot of developmental time is spent from episode to episode. As he is a child born of privilege the first hurdle he must overcome is introduction to the common life and like many other coming of age stories (and I believe Moribito to be one of these stories in Chagum’s case) he develops from there. A quick note about Chagum – most stories would start with a snobby, entitled prince who is at odds with his predicament and complains incessantly (which can be a turn off to a viewer) however Chagum is actually quite kind and takes to each situation as it comes. He has plenty of room for growth within the story but he does not start at so low a point to annoy everyone via his archetype.
The side characters are interesting enough, the most notable of which are Tanda (Tsujitani, Kouji) and Torogai (Mayama, Ako). Tanda has some history with Balsa and their relationship is quite realistically written while Torogai is an elderly shaman possessing supernatural abilities and serves as the mouthpiece of the story in order to explain and introduce the more magical elements of the show. Lastly is Shuga (Nojima, Hirofumi) who serves at the Emperor’s palace as a star diviner (in a way, a parallel to Torogai). He is an interesting character and acts as our eyes at the palace so that we can have context for the events that unfold independent of Balsa and Chagam.
The art and animation is quite good in Moribito and despite its length of 26 episodes there is no marked drop in quality at any point. Production I.G. went all out in order to provide enticing and fluid combat scenes as well as a genuinely beautiful world. The fight scenes are, in the same way the characters are designed, very realistically choreographed and maintain the tone of the show.
You won’t see Balsa stand her ground and take on countless enemies while whirling her spear about her head at ungodly speeds – she will kite back, dodge, parry, and use her environment to her advantage. So for people drawn to this ‘authentic’ style of fighting there are a good handful of scenes throughout the show to keep you interested as the broader tale unfolds.
The story is where I think the show takes a few hits. We start off with an introduction to Balsa, a bodyguard by trade, who saves Chagum after he falls into the river. She meets with the second queen (Chagum’s mother) and is asked to take him away from the emperor who feels obligated to kill his son due to his suspected possession by the water spirit. After halfheartedly agreeing to the task Balsa begins her journey in order to escape the emperor’s hunters and the machinations of the palace.
Where I think the story goes wrong is when Balsa and Chagum attain some degree of temporary comfort the pacing slows down tremendously and the episodes become very character driven for a good while. This is not problematic in and of itself however there are shows that can get away with it and there are those that cannot. I think Moribito didn’t have enough going on outside of its characters to keep me either interested or invested in the actual story. The primary plot can be summed up as the investigation of the water spirit by both Balsa’s group and the palace and thereafter acting upon the information they each glean.
The story does pick up after a slump midway pacing-wise but I never felt it returned to what I originally felt interested in when the show began. The world is large and there is even a supernatural dimension of sorts’ that nearly overlaps theirs however the show does little to investigate this despite it being integral to the story. Lastly, I felt the ending was lacking – it was wholly believable but for a story that involved water spirits, a fierce warrior from a distant land, and an empire with a mysterious past, it felt anticlimactic. I think perhaps the biggest problem concerning the story of Moribito is that, try as you might, you probably can’t find a very interesting antagonist. Balsa and her friends are certainly at odds with the emperor and his hunters however because the characters are so explored its hard to find anyone truly at fault or furthermore with malicious in intent. The story fizzles for me at the end because of this.
The music, while not central to the show in my opinion, did what it needed to. It lent itself well to the style of the show and was appropriately selected for each scene with no glaring disconnects. All in all, it was background music and didn’t capture my attention as much as some other shows might have.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Seirei no Moribibito is a show I don’t regret watching however I feel that other shows have simply taken the genre farther and had more pleasing conclusions. It most definitely had more than a few good scenes worth remembering and some of the story elements are quite interesting. Additionally it is a decent coming of age story via Chagum’s character so whether the plot of the show is worth your time or not, Chagum’s journey is at least worthy of note for those who enjoy that dynamic.
I gave the show a 6 because, while the characters were excessively (in every definition of the word) well written, the story that surrounded them and gave their interactions context was lackluster. It scores high as far as characterization and art goes however falls short in other fields that may ultimately have mattered more to the show. Uehashi Nahoko, the original writer of Moribito as well as Kemono no Souja Erin does a fantastic job with her characters however, as opposed to Erin, this show couldn’t stand to take the slow route
I would recommend this show to people who enjoy the more niche sub-genre within the action/adventure category that is sometimes referred to as ‘historical’. People that like shows liked Arslan Senki (TV), Akatsuki no Yona, or the aforementioned Kemono no Souja Erin will likely enjoy this show as well however I myself believe them to be ultimately better shows. I think the most surefire recommendation I can give is for someone who has seen Erin as the characterization is extremely similar and even if the story itself isn’t as good, it is character-centric enough for them to enjoy. In the same vein that i reccomend those prior shows, someone who enjoys coming of age stories will likely enjoy this show as well.