[No spoilers here]
Having caught up with the Shigurui manga after being a long-time fan of Vagabond, I was in the mood for more period setting samurai action and Seirei no Moribito has been suggested to me by a whole lot of sensible people for having the best fight sequences. Thus, I approached the appreciation of this show with very specific expectations. I want excellent ‘real samurai’ fighting, lots of it.
I was quite wrong to expect much. Seirei no Moribito isn’t an action show, or at least I should say that there is no action fanservice. The fights that were featured, are quite excellent, but the story unfolds in such a way that it doesn’t revolve around duels and encounters. Instead, the focus itself is on a story well told. And how!
The whole thing takes its time to unfold, and there’s a lot of exposition and world building. However compared to similarly emotionally gratifying alternate world stories such as Xam’d: Lost Memories I never felt that the questions the story raises are unanswered. Everything seems revealed just at the right time, and almost always through a very good conversation that also builds the characters as much as the world, and as much as the related back stories.
The production values are very high: the landscapes are particularly breathtaking, as well as the costume design with many details and little things to carry around per character — whether a pendant, some money, or a rabbit on a hat. Everything seems to belong, adding detail and charm without ever cluttering the scene.
But the real showcase here are the characters. I really love how the conflicts unfold never revealing anyone to be a caricature villain. Everyone here really wants to do good, to do right by someone, never casually or maliciously taking advantage of someone else without considering their actions. Antagonistic relationships are between characters who are ever ready to acknowledge what is commendable about the enemy, always honorable and respectful. It’s a strange kind of utopia, where problems and conflicts and death does happen, but very rarely due to outright evil. There is one evil character, but is only part of a back story and is never shown. And even then his actions are contextualized within the environment he operates in, but not excusing him or failing to hold him responsible.
But oh my, the main cast is awesome. Charming and so easy to root for, especially Balsa who is a rarity in anime: a 30 year-old woman that while is fit, strong, and handsomely rendered, is not fetishized nor portrayed sexually for fanservice. She possesses grit, resolve, courage, wisdom, and yet remains vulnerable which makes her hard not to love. I find this quite the achievement given that she’s quite quiet and untalkative – and yet the narrative establishes her character very well without resorting to shortcuts such as having other characters talk way too much about her.
That’s it, I told myself that I don’t want to say too much about the show because it’s really worth discovering on your own. There’s just something to be said about not having your expectaions met but just the same the show blows you away. This happened to me, slowly but ever surely through the easy-paced slice of life moments that build the world and the strong narrative.
Yes, Chagum is awesome. In a tradition of coming of age narratives where the young men are portrayed as annoying on purpose, so as to sharply contrast how mature they become in the end, Seirei no Moribito wonderfully ignores this convention by making the 11 year old irresistably lovable almost immediately: respectful, stoic, curious, resilient, and hard-working. When the angst does come, it’s not a ploy to make a maturity arc gratifying; the angst itself is a dramatic payoff and is in fact one of the most heartwarming points of the show.
Go watch this already, if you haven’t yet. I was building my top ten favorite anime list a week ago and I was having trouble picking out the tenth show. Hello Seirei no Moribito, I’m very happy to know you.
I purposely stayed away from analyzing story elements, characters and motivations etc. so as to remain spoiler free. Feel free to open such discussion in the comments and I’ll be more than happy to indulge.