Why is Balsa Smiling? (Seirei no Moribito is awesomely heartwarming)

seirei no moribito 21 balsa chagum hugjpg

[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.

Note

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.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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33 Responses to Why is Balsa Smiling? (Seirei no Moribito is awesomely heartwarming)

  1. Seirei no Moribito turned out to be quite an experience though at first, I’d also expected an action show based on some of the excellent choreography. But like you said, my perceptions shifted and I thought the dichotomy between Balsa’s warrior side versus her nurturing motherly side were reconciled together really well.

    In watching this, the characters feel three dimensional. The producers weren’t trying to turn them into archetypes and because the way the characters behave like you’d expect real people would, it makes them all the more identifiable.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yes, the multi-dimensionality of the characters whose objectives conflict with the leads make for a very enjoyable experience.

      One would think that the emperor, the head of the Star Diviners, or even the elite hunters would turn out to be ‘evil.’ But no, it’s not so much as they redeem themselves, which would acknowledge an evil existence at some point, but rather they are revealed to be awesome characters, nearly all of them.

  2. no name says:

    I’m glad someone else enjoyed it 😀

    Digitalboy and I only got through 8 episodes and stopped because it wasn’t his thing.

    I watched it when it was airing so I’ll rewatch sometime soon.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Not his thing? Tell his dirty ass to set his head straight. There’s plenty of things here for him to like. Btw, otou-san told me that the dub is unwatchable. That may have something to do with it.

  3. Ryan A says:

    Personally, I think my interest slightly dwindled in the end game. The thing about it, is the characters, especially Balsa. Balsa’s whole life story is like, amazing, it has to be. What we see from Seirei is like a slice of that picture. I was really glad to get her backstory, especially the reason behind repentance for the 9 lives (it was 9 right?).

    With that said, the actual story was sort of loosely packed; I’d say very similar to Xam’d. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with the story, but the height of fruition wasn’t sheer excellence (notice how I didn’t say perfection). Loose details which end without a reasonable climax are detracting. (Instances? Balsa’s killing but not killing in one of the early episodes. Xam’d, the storyline following Haru’s younger sister.. didn’t pan out).

    IMO, this is what separates such works from something like, Dennou, which I considered tops for 2007 simply because the story was balanced at an excellent level (okay, some might fret with filler episodes such as the beard wars).

    my top ten favorite anime list

    rawr tough, especially if you aren’t allowing titles on the same tier O.o

    • ghostlightning says:

      Hmmm, I had thought the end was very satisfying.

      If Balsa killed anyone in the show, I must have missed it. I really enjoyed her take on the Kenshin/Batman handicap.

      I also appreciated how she was told off-cam as to how her enemy survived her tiger attack. The lack of further dramatisation is well worth the return from what could have been a protracted distraction. The build-up to it though, awesome. The
      stress tactics used against her being said to be a homage to her own use of it I find to be a very efficient way to establish her pre-handicap awesomeness cred.

      • Ryan A says:

        The end, the finish, was satisfying. The execution from when they left the village to around the hibernation sort of slowed and the story just felt different from what it had going early on.

        Also, yea, the tiger attack, she didn’t actually kill that guy, but I felt the exposition on her weapon, or whatever they were fleshing for the viewer, was sort of there (as opposed to not there). Twas awesome, but didn’t really lead anywhere; misplaced. Felt like an arc-type segment that never connected to the main storyline.

        • ghostlightning says:

          It occured to me very differently. I found this arc very important, because up to this point, Balsa was never really tested; and I mean never. She had no real conflict to speak of, which makes her character rather flat if you think about it.

          This was the moment for a weakness to surface, for her resolve to be really tested. She’s quite perfect if you think about it, and the fact that she ended up thinking that she failed, and required the intercession of a stranger who she saved only (co)incidentally, rather makes for a beautiful turn of circumstance.

          She had luck, instead of just a will that makes everything happen for her and the people she protects.

          As for the winter/hibernation arc, it’s some of my favorite bits in the whole thing. Her recounting of her own childhood to an eager listener, the growth of Chagum and his martial training and his change of clothes… all really very interesting details that enrich rather than distract the main storyline. I found it different too, but different in the sense that characters were growing, or in Balsa’s case, being revealed.

  4. Panther says:

    Seirei was one of the passed over shows in 2007 thanks to a few others that we know all too well, it was good, but not well, to the point of being very good for me. The end part especially was a little weak, but it all played out fine in the end.

    • ghostlightning says:

      While I value the slow and meandering middle parts the most, the finale was very satisfying for me: from the flight to the village and wintering in the cave, all the way to being asked to take a passage in the palace grounds that ‘they are worthy of,’ all superlative experiences for me.

  5. Baka-Raptor says:

    Balsa is mai waifu 🙂

  6. hazy says:

    I thought it was one of the best of the Spring 2007 season, but got overshadowed by the other series at that time, probably because most people got put-off by the dialogue-heavy and laidback pace of storytelling and disappointed by the limited fighting scenes. I thought character development was one of the brilliant aspects of SnM, along with the great attention to detail and very good music. I dunno what else to say, except that it’s in my top 3 of favorite anime ever, and I’m still hoping that Prod’n IG would decide to animate the rest of the books (I’d be extremely glad even if it’s just the 2nd book)^_^

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  11. B-Mecha says:

    SnM is a great anime without being polluted by the anime mainstream (fan-service, moe, heavy fighting scene). Instead, the anime focus on character development, the world’s setting & culture. And it is definitely heart warming.

    btw, i saw SnM english novel in kinokuniya and popular bookstore in singapore. maybe u can try to get one too 🙂

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yes I am interested in the novels, I have a friend who can lend me a copy. Luck is one of my skills.

  12. Jason says:

    Balsa from Moribito and Fujiki from Shigurui are the two most realistic anime characters I’ve seen…wouldn’t you agree?

    • ghostlightning says:

      What do you mean when you say realistic?

      • Jason says:

        Meaning that they feel like normal human beings instead of the usual righteous heroes you see all the time.

        • ghostlightning says:

          Not to quibble, but way too many ‘real’ people are moralistic and righteous. This is normal. Fujiiki is very righteous, and rigidly so. He is righteous to the point of asceticism to make a point about being right (read the manga for a clearer characterization).

          Balsa is very righteous, at the level of Himura Kenshin/Batman/Superman… a warrior who refuses to kill. This is ludicrously un-realistic.

          The fact that these two characters are unrealistically heroic does not make them badly made characters.

          What they are not, is loud. They don’t yell a lot and make speeches about right and wrong. This perhaps is what puts you off about many other characters. It doesn’t bother me as much.

  13. mei says:

    most underated show ever. i read the book (well book 1 at least) and this adaptation, although just slightly different (in temporal sequence), got most of the emotions right.
    Kudos to Production I.G 🙂
    it’s true there are limited fight scenes, but they counted when they appeared, at least they were realistic (like when Balsa’s spear tip came lose due to the fact that she put off repairing the spear in the first place). it’s these tiny things that made this anime worth watching, no?

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yes the attention to detail is very satisfying. I tend to hesitate calling this realistic, even if only for the reason I have not seen actual spear fights in real life. It does feel plausible though, compared to say, and action sequence in Samurai X.

      As for being the most underrated show ever, what do you compare it with? What are the other underrated shows that you feel Seirei no Moribito elicits a favorable comparison from?

      • mei says:

        oh, haha. i was talking about the fantasy novel genre that this was taken from. it’s like the spring 2009 Guin Saga, also of the same genre….but not many people seem to be picking that up either.
        and of course, 12 Kingdoms….again, another fantasy novel genre that not many people seemed to pick up…wonder why?
        All of these may not have the biggest budgets dedicated to them, but they have good storylines, instead of all the “flash-and-bang”/fan-service animes that come out nowadays. just my thoughts.

        • ghostlightning says:

          I too enjoyed 12 Kingdoms. Well, flash and fanservice shows would naturally have more fans. They were designed for that purpose and it’s quite normal for such to be popular. It’s rather unusual for such a show to be un-popular except relative to shows like them.

          Seirei no Moribito is rather niche, as more mature stories tend to be. What is exceptional is when high-concept and ambitious mass-market shows succeed. I can’t seem to think of one right now.

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  15. Tsulaa says:

    It was catching an episode of Seirei no Moribito (a.k.a. Guardian of the Spirit) on television one night that prompted me to begin watching anime regularly. It had everything I was looking for, & is still in my Top 5…easily!

    As far as leading ladies of anime go, bouncy, over-inflated breasts have their place -which is usually as close to the “camera” as possible, but I digress. For me, Balsa wins out on the sexy scale over 99% of the others. “Well-rounded” & “fleshed-out” still apply, just in a different way when used to describe other, more fanserviced anime.

    The same could be said for other aspects of the movie. Everything…the story, animation of the characters & scenery, score/soundtrack, the development of the characters, etc. were all top notch. My only “beef,” so to speak, was with the design of Torogai, the shaman/wise woman. Compared to the rest of the anime, she looked out-of-place, almost as if she was from a completely different anime. I found her appearance off-putting, at first. Whereas the majority of the characters’ appearences looked like “real” people (besides the slightly enlarged eyes), Torogai seemed more like a caricature of a wizened, old woman. However, Torogai was as well thought out as the rest of the anime, & her “looks” stopped being a distraction after a short time.

    Seirei no Moribito is a great anime. I’m still holding out hope for the day we’ll be invited to tag along for another adventure!

    • The surprising thing was how the anime is far superior to the source novel. It really added so many new things that weren’t there.

      Can’t say I was bothered with how Torogai looked, but I wouldn’t mind if she ‘cheated’ by using an illusion of a hawt young girl. MAGIC!

      • Tsulaa says:

        I don’t know what was up with my reaction to her. I mean, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about anime it’s to expect anything from dancing kitchen appliances (NHK) to a moon suffering from gingivitis (Soul Eater).

        Ah well, we all have our moments. 😉

    • BYU says:

      You’re spot on there. Moribito was transformed from a neat light novel to a masterpiece seinen anime with a lot more emotional depth than its source.

      • I was actually quite surprised when I finally got to read the novel. I usually expect adaptations to flounder, but in this case it was a great success IMO. I think sparser work that benefit from added material (provided skillfully done) benefits from adaptation… as opposed to long and rich works that have to be condensed in the other medium.

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