Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit Part 1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, March 03, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2011
When a young prince finds himself carrying an egg of a water demon inside him, the fate of his nation is at stake and in the hands of a very capable female bodyguard.
What They Say
At a time when the balance of nature still held the civilizations of mankind in thrall, a single drought could spell the end of a society and doom its inhabitants to piteous deaths. Prince Chagum has been imbued with the power to stave off the drought and bring new life to his empire; however, this is a suspicious time, and he is accused of possession by an evil spirit. Court advisors only see one solution: Chagum must be put to death by his own father's hand.
His salvation comes in the form of Balsa, a spear woman and mercenary from Kanbal, the kingdom across the mountains. Her skills are legendary, and although reluctant, she is held by a mysterious vow to save eight souls before she dies. Can she fend off an entire empire and make Chagum her eighth soul?
Similar to the DVD releases, the audio presentation here feels like it's a bit much as we get the English and Japanese tracks in both stereo and 5.1 mixes, resulting in four mixes overall. Thankfully, each of these tracks is encoded using DTS-HD MA so we get full lossless material here and it makes a significant different compared to the DVD releases which I had already liked a lot. The world of Moribito, in the Japanese 5.1 release, becomes even more immersive here with an enveloping sound as the rear channels have a lot of ambient effects at times and dialogue across the forward soundstage is pretty sharp and well placed. The action is doubly impressive as the sound of metal clanging against each other sounds even more intense as does all the other associated sound effects. The show is pretty much worth the upgrade for the sound mixes alone in lossless.
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080i using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs in a seven/six format and generally has a bit rate in the low to mi thirties with some high peaks up into the forty range as well. Moribito has a a top notch set of source materials here and the animation is very, very strong with its details and we lamented the lack of a high definition release when the DVDs first came out. The transfer here is pretty stunning and finally lets the show breathe and shine in a way it really needs to. The colors have such a great pop to them, from the greens of the grass to the blues of the sky, that it's very striking and engaging. The detail holds up very well as there's so much of it here both in the backgrounds and the character animation. The more fluid the scene, like the action, the more amazing looks. This is the way Moribito was meant to be seen.
Moribito is comes in a standard Blu-ray case that holds the two discs inside on either side with no hinge used. The front cover keeps to what we saw with the DVD releases as it has an image of Balsa with her spear out while alongside her are two of the hunters sent to track her down. They're all in front of the mountains and blue sky with clouds which really works well with the case color around it. The bottom has the logo in the same style and font that we saw before as well. It may not be the most engaging cover as I think there were better ones used for the DVD releases, but it looks good and fits with the show pretty well. The back cover is nicely laid out as it carries over the sky and background material in a soft manner so the focus is on everything else. There are a small selection of alright shots from the show on the left while the right has a good sumamry of what to expect. The discs special features are also listed clearly and cleanly just above the production information. Technical information is very well laid out in the way Media Blasters does their DVD releases but with the right additional high definition information as they clearly list resolution and what audio format is used. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu release for this uses a number of scenes from the show itself in a decent clip piece that covers a variety of material from the show, but it keeps it to about half or less the btirate for the actual episodes, so what we get here is kind of soft and not as distinct and colorful as the show itself. It's really quite noticeable how different the two can be in many of the scenes. They do use a good DTS-HD MA soundtrack to it though with the opening music sequence playing to it. The navigation has a very good in-theme piece used along the bottom with some Shin-Yogo style framing for the text while the logo is set to the upper left side of it. The menu is also the same for the pop-up menu so it has a nice carry-through to it all. Submenus load quickly and easily and navigation is a breeze, very smooth and fast. The disc did not read our players' language presets though and defaulted to English 2.0 with sign/song subtitles.
This release contains the same extras as we saw in the DVD releases and at DVD resolution which isn't a surprise. The first disc gives us the clean opening and closing sequence while the second has lots of material with the promo films that were made, the trailers and the press conference about the show as well as the discussion panel.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the series of light novels by Nahoko Uehashi which was originally published in Japan back in 1996, Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit is a twenty-six episode series by Production I.G. with story and direction by the quite acclaimed Kenji Kamiyama. Though the comparisons aren’t fair for a lot of reasons, this has the same kind of high gloss feel as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex in terms of its production values and execution. Coming off of the novels, it also has a very different flow from a lot of traditional shows airing out there since it’s working with a larger narrative and storyline. Our original viewing of it was fairly difficult with an awkward release schedule as well as it being an eight disc release. This release gives us half the show at once and it really does change how you perceive it, which is why the grading went up by pretty much a full letter grade.
Moribito has a sort of languid pace to it at first that is rather appealing as we get a sense of the country and world that these characters inhabit. The brief look at the double moon already makes things apparent that we’re not dealing with the past in a slightly different form or an alternate Earth history anything. The world comes across as something from centuries ago in Japan where it’s very agriculturally based with kingdoms and countries that deal with each other through all manner of means. Much of this is seen early on as Balsa, an attractive and hardened young woman, is traveling into the land of Shin-Yogo. Through her brief and cautious chit chat with the locals going through their every day routines, she gets a feel for how the country operates rather easily.
The Imperial Family is one that is not to be looked upon by the commoners as it will cause them to die. There’s a good deal of fear among the general population, but they’re mostly doing well and the country seems to be in good shape. Something is afoot though as there have been several attempts in the last two months to kill off Prince Chagum, son of the Second Queen of the Mikado. The latest attempt occurs when Balsa is traveling along one of the bridges and can see him being carried along only to have his carriage fall into the river below. Her quick work and actions enable her to rescue him, but that opens her up to the guards and others who don’t look favorably on her for the way she handles the unconscious prince.
With her own history that’s yet to come to light, she’s not exactly eager to have any kind of royal entanglements in her life. She’s come here to do a little work on her spear and to move on to her next potential job if she can find one of being a bodyguard in order to pay back the debt she’s created in her head. This incident puts her squarely in the sights of the Second Queen who has plans for her since Balsa had rescued her son. It’s a bit of cat and mouse until this happens, but eventually Balsa is brought into the Imperial grounds where she gets to live the very sweet life until the Second Queen boxes her into a deal that she would really want no part of.
With the various assassination plots in place for her son, the Second Queen puts Balsa in a position where she has to take on Chagum as her next assignment and to keep him alive for as long as she can. Once trapped into this, she tackles it with the intensity of a real professional however. With the might of the Mikado after her, it’s rather restrained in how they approach this at first by trying to keep it very secret and quiet in how they attempt to take her down and regain Chagum. Throughout this, and with the small bits leading up to the deal Balsa lands in, we get introduced to some supporting characters that come into play during all of it to aid in her escape. It’s not a large or terribly rich cast yet, but it’s providing for something that will expand the scale and scope of it as the real story begins to unfold.
With Balsa wounded after her fight with several of the hunters, she’s managed to make her way back to Tanda’s hut where she’s now recuperating. That allows her to get some much needed downtime – out of the rain as well – through which she can start to figure out how to get Chagum out of the area safely. Her word is her bond to be sure and she’s intent on making sure Chagum stays alive for as long as she’s alive. It’s almost amusing when she says it with the nod towards the idea that she’s becoming a mother figure of sorts.
The wrinkle in everything comes in the form of Togari, a shriveled old mystic lady who is spending much of her time trying to communicate with the Water Folk in an effort to alleviate the drought that’s plaguing the land. Her arrival at Tanda’s hut is fortuitous as she realizes that there’s something very different about Chagum. Her search for the “egg” ends rather quickly when she discovers that it’s inside him. Her discovery is very amusing as she literally phases herself into his body to see what’s going on in there. This sets off some confusing talk, even to the characters, about what the egg is and the meaning of it all. The importance of it is clear though in that Chagum is key to what’s going on since he was implanted with this egg back in the spring and Togari is intent on staying with him for the time being.
Where Moribito gets intriguing is in how Balsa uses her knowledge and experience to get away from the pursuers that the King has decided to send after her. With the ruse and belief that Chagum is dead because of the fire, the hunters are intent on bringing him back so they can perform the ceremony that’s required. The grief of his father is certainly palpable and the games being played throughout this by various people is certainly intriguing, if a little overly complex at times because of the growing scope of it. Balsa’s past experiences are used rather well as she pays off someone she’s worked against in the past, a slave trader, in order to free a couple dozen people who will throw off pursuit surprisingly easily. In Yogo, apparently all foreigners look alike.
With the second half here, we do get some very distinct pieces that take up a good deal of time in a way that you wouldn’t suspect. What made it all so engaging for me is that there isn’t any kind of swordplay or action to any of them, instead it wants to engage in dialogue and exploration of themes and characters The opening episode in particular is really fascinating as it has Balsa visiting a swordsmith to fix her spear. The man knows who she is and it puts him in an uncomfortable position because she’s technically dead and technically wanted for going against the court. At the same time she comes to him, several of those that were pursuing her have arrived to get their repaired swords and the elderly swordsmith plays their stories against each other to figure out whether he should help her or not. It’s really intriguing watching it play out and the episode, which runs fairly long overall, feels like it’s over in the blink of an eye when you realize what happened.
The weak episode for me was the one which focuses more on Shuga and the Star Readers and some of the internal politics that’s going on there. Shuga is so intent on figuring things out with the drought and other issues that are coming up as well as dealing with what has happened to Chagum that he runs up against one of the elders in a way that causes problems. So much so that he’s summoned before Sagum fearing that he’s going to be highly disciplined because of it. Instead, we get an intriguing story about the two brothers from when they were younger and how Shuga stood up to the Mikado in a way that really surprised Sagum and left a lasting impression on him. It helps to flesh out Sagum which is needed but also gives Shuga more of a backbone than I would have expected of him at this point. This episode does help to build up the background more and it was given the right amount of time to be told.
Balsa and Chagum do get some time to shine here as well. In an effort to get him to be more comfortable around others his age, she sends him out to play and to spend time with Toya when he comes back into contact with her. With Toya, he’s sent off to experience the city and get an understanding of how commoners live, which is what he is at this point. The two boys have some interesting mild adventures that feel realistic before they get caught up in a con artist game of chance. Chagum’s well educated so he figures out the ruse pretty quickly and calls them on it. With Balsa watching secretly from the side, he works on exposing them properly and holding his ground. It’s a great stand-up for yourself moment that he has and he plays it without too much arrogance and you come away liking him more than before. He’s showing more personality as time goes on, especially now that he’s not so completely on the run.
Towards the end of this set, events between Saya and Toya take some focus as Saya is now having an out of body experience and can no longer return to her body. With the bit of trickery played on her and Toya over the marriage contract situation, she’s decided that she no longer wants to participate and has basically retreated into herself, causing the out of body experience where she’s huddled in a corner. Toya has come to help now that he knows the truth, but in the end it’s only Tanda who may be able to help her by trying to force her spirit self back into her body. It’s a dangerous technique but it’s one that opens up the door to the viewer the two worlds that exist and what all is beyond Nayug. It’s an interesting tease that has you wondering how it will be incorporated into later events simply because it’s too intriguing to ignore forevermore. The story of Toya and Saya is thankfully wrapped up rather nicely through all of this, but it’s the bonds we see between Balsa and Tanda that I think resonated the best.
Chagum has an episode to himself which is quite nice as it sets up the potential for the pair moving on. With him being young, even with his family lineage, he’s still a boy and spends time with the other kids in the village. The village is preparing for a festival of sorts and some travelers have come through and they’re putting on a tournament with some wrestling. The son of the main wrestler is a loudmouth of sorts who talks down to those kids of Yogo and makes fun of the Mikado. That pushes Chagum over the edge a bit and the two makes a deal to wrestle each other to show who is better. Balsa is against the idea of Chagum even going to the festival so he doesn’t tell her about this part since he doesn’t want to worry her. She’s simply worried about visitors from around seeing them in the village and causing trouble. Chagum comes across very well in this, earnest about what he believes but not pushy and dominating. Simply clear and forward about it and he won’t back down from stating what he believes. It’s a good growth moment for him, but one that will cost when Balsa eventually deals with him.
Where Moribito manages to shake things up a bit is with the final episode here as Balsa is formally challenged. Initially it’s thought to be someone who is after her and Chagum, but it turns out to be a former opponent who lost to her on a job. Threatening her until she gives in to his demands, he intends to kill everyone who tries to leave the village she’s staying in until he gets the fight with her he wants. He goes so far as to recreate their last encounter, swapping their positions in it of course, and spending a lot of time trying to tweak and torment her before he takes her down entirely. Of course, Balsa has been through so many changes since the two originally fought that she’s not easily phased and that only serves to frustrate him more. Unlike most of the recent episodes, there’s a good bit of action and storytelling provided here and that’s quite welcome since we haven’t seen Balsa really get into it at all for a bit. There’s a real beauty to the design of the fight, particularly the location, which helps it a lot in making it memorable and exciting.
Moribito is a show that took time to really connect with me the first time around because of the delays and the short amount of episodes. Watching it in this form is almost like a completely different show, from the pacing of the story to the way the animation and audio comes across. The story here is one that shows us a number of challenges being faced, from Balsa's redemption, Chagum's being on the run for his life while coping with what's inside him and the disaster about to befall the nation because of the drought. Moribito has a lot going for it and this half season set brings out all the more and ties it together in a way that's harder to see episode by episode or the way it was released before. This is a beautiful show with a great amount of detail that makes it more realized than most shows dare to dream about. This is easily a must-own release that I can't recommend enough.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Promo Film, Trailers, Press Conference, Discussion Panel
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC
Series: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit