Guardian of the Sacred Spirit (Seirei no Moribito)

Seirei no Moribito follows the spear-weilder Balsa, whose timely intervention to rescue the second prince from drowning results in a longer-term job to protect him from the various people who want him dead. The second prince, Chagum, is carrying the egg of a water-spirit. Some people believe this is a curse (including his father) and decide it means he needs to die before the spirit can cause drought for the land. But some believe the water-spirit will bring blessing and should be protected. As for Balsa, once she accepts the job, it doesn’t matter so much what the spirit is—she’s sworn to save eight souls, and Chagum will be her eighth. She’s determined to succeed; but equally important is her determination not to kill another soul. With the forces of the kingdom marshaled against her and enemies on every side, is it possible to save the prince and maintain her integrity?

The characters are easily the highlight of the show. Balsa’s complex story, her maturity, her training and disposition as a warrior—and eventually, her more motherly feelings for Chagum—all combine in brilliant ways. Her prowess with the short spear is extraordinary, but she needs to use her head both in battles and out as her job of a bodyguard for Chagum is far more involved than simply fighting off the men who come to kill him. The best defense is not to have to fight. Tanda, an herbalist and apprentice to Torogai, adds additional complications. He’s in love with Balsa, but frustrated with himself and her for not being able to do more than patch her up when she gets hurt. He’s also much more of a pacifist, though Balsa herself can hardly be described as bloodthirsty.

One of the things I found both refreshing and disturbing was the lack of political machination. I had several characters pegged as possibly greedy, ambitious, selfish, or cold, but they all turned out to have the best interests of both the kingdom and Chagum at heart. One of the more intriguing scenes is near the end, when the star-reader Shuga turns what might have been an enemy into a firm ally (and it’s a move that eventually proves vital). On the other hand, in some ways it was almost too sweet to be believable. The mikado orders Balsa to be shot in order to recover the prince, and the archers are stayed because Chagum’s feelings would be hurt? The star-readers are told they’ve basically wasted their lives on political games and their response is sorry, we had no idea that was bad, let’s all get to work on preventing this drought? Chagum’s spirit is determined not to be evil, and their response is my bad, let’s bring him home (although his brother’s situation did lend a bit more credence to this)?

The fight scenes, when they occur, are absolutely beautiful. Balsa and her enemies don’t need superpowers to have remarkable fights. However, these are fewer than I would have anticipated at the outset, so viewer beware: this is not primarily an action-adventure. Although the series starts with a bang, it settles for quite a few episodes into more slice-of-life, throws in a bit more action, and ends up fantasy-adventure.

The end is a mixed bag. It felt like the plot struggled to make Shuga and the star-readers more than incidental players with small bits of information here and there. All of the enemies are either gone or change sides; in the end, only the Rarunga is left to oppose Balsa and Chagum. I (along with Tanda) was a bit frustrated with the non-resolution to the relationship between Tanda and Balsa. And because everyone was so nice, although the ending was more or less satisfying it didn’t quite pull off the same epic resonance the beginning promised.

Overall, though, the gorgeous animation and backgrounds, the strong main characters, and the generally satisfying plot make this a good recommendation even for people who don’t typically watch anime.

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