Combine a lot of backstory dealing with Balsa's past with the rather more pressing problems presented by Chagum's egg and the need to get it hatched safely, and there's plenty of ground for this set of Moribito to cover. Which it does with aplomb...
What They Say
She carries the pain of eight souls. He carries the burden of one sacred spirit. 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 is 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?
Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 surround tracks. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. It's a competent stereo mix, with good placement of voices and effects on the soundstage to add some depth to proceedings. There's not much opportunity with what happens in these episodes to really show off, though. There were no obvious encoding issues.
Video is provided in its original 1.78:1 format, enhanced for anamorphic playback. There's heavy use of dark colours in many scenes in the set, which can often be a recipe for problems, but the transfer is good with no obvious signs for banding. There's also a good amount of detail used in the animation, and that also comes across well. Overall, it's a fairly impressive-looking series.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
As usual these days, the main screen is a simple static affair, with an image of Balsa and a collection of her pursuers on the right set against a mountainous background, while options are provided along the bottom for Play All, Setup and Episodes (and Trailers on Disc Two only). There are no sub-menus as such - choosing Setup or Extras simply opens a small window on the left of the screen with the relevant options. It all very simple and quick to use.
Nothing to see here, move along...
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
In her efforts to find out what's nesting inside Chagum, Torogai has visited the Knot, to speak with the Water Folk there. She learns that the egg inside him is of a creature that, rather than bring drought, will bring rain to both worlds - the opposite of what his countryfolk believe. But she also learns that bearing the egg is a cruel fate for him, a bringer of certain death. On returning to the outside world, she knows she has to spread the word of what she's learnt - but that proves to be more easily said than done. Shuga, meanwhile, is also learning that the official history of Shin-Yogo is a fabrication, a discovery that leaves him despondent - but ever more eager to learn the truth...
"The truth", of course, being almost 180 degrees separated from reality in some ways, with the need to keep Chagum alive now having replaced the mikado's earlier desire to see him killed. These are the things that happen when you mess with history. It's Shuga who's mainly been behind the efforts to uncover the truth at the royal court, resorting to some rather dangerous methods to do so - all the records he needs from the last time Shin-Yogo went through these events still exist, but access to them is strictly controlled and initially at least he's not on the list to see them, but the information he's able to recover from them - and the untimely death of the Crown Prince, leaving Chagum as the heir to the throne - leads to a change of approach from trying to kill Chagum to trying to bring him home.
This still represents a problem for Balsa, first as she's become rather attached to Chagum and doesn't want to be separated from him, but also because no-one seems to trust the abiity of Shuga and the royal guard to do what will need to be done when the time comes for the egg within Chagum to hatch - and event that, if not handled properly, could well lead to his death.
The volume splits into three main segments, then. The first covers the efforts of both Shuga and Torogai to work out what will happen when the egg hatches, and the efforts of the royal court to find Chagum again (and with the Hunters still being in charge of the search, they're still not being subtle about it). The second takes a break from the main story and allows Balsa to tell the story of her own escape from Kanbal and the years she spend with her mentor, Jiguro, which turned her into the woman she now is - at first glance not the most relevant of things to take a diversion to, but it does turn out to have its own importance and is engrossing to watch in its own right. Finally, there's the hatching of Chagum's egg and the efforts of both sides to both make sure that it goes well (thereby preventing the drought that threatens the country) and that Chagum survives the experience. The series slips smoothly from one arc to the next, with clear character development along the way - we've got unexpected conflict between Chagum and Balsa, the feelings Chagum has to deal with when he hears of the death of his brother, and Tanda making some rather cack-handed attempts to woo Balsa, amongst other things. It's all good stuff.
The final arc also gives us perhaps the biggest dose of pure action that the series produces, as the Rarunga - huge carnivores from the alternate world of Nayug - seek to kill Chagum and ensure the egg within him never gets to hatch. With Moribito displaying high production values throughout, the battle sequences are hugely impressive to watch, adding to the suitably climactic feeling that the final arc has about it.
The final episode is a simple epilogue, tying up the loose ends of Chagum's return to royal life and what happens to Balsa, Torogai and Tanda when they no longer have responsibility for looking after him. It's a bit of a comedown from the action of the episodes before it, but enjoyable nonetheless.
I went into Moribito with very little idea of what to expect, other than a history of not particularly liking shows with this sort of feudal setting. It's managed to impress and entertain me throughout, with a good split of character-driven story and occasional action scenes helping to tell a wonderful story. This volume continues the good work that the first volume began, and is engrossing viewing from beginning to end. Moribito really should have a higher profile than it has, and is well worth watching.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.