Reviewby Theron Martin,
The Twelve Kingdoms
DVD 10: Atonement
Youko and Rakushun listen as the King of En relates a story from the earlier years of his reign. During that time, Rokuta (aka Enki) encountered and befriended a boy who had been raised by youma and formed such a strong bond with one that he could mostly control its actions. Twenty years later Rokuta again encounters the boy as a young man, but this time Kouya (the boy) kidnaps him to be used as a hostage for Atsuyu, a provincial lord who seeks only the betterment and security of his people but who has also become ambitious over time. Though he willingly cooperates at first because of his disgust over the behavior of Shouryuu (aka the king of En), Rokuta eventually realizes how corrupted Atsuyu has become. Ultimately it is up to Shouryuu himself to rescue his kirin.
The biggest problem with this most recent volume of Twelve Kingdoms, which covers episodes 41-45, is that it's also the last... at least for now. The series, which was originally supposed to be much longer, ends with episode 45 because the show's creators did not feel that they had enough information from the novels on which it's based to continue. Does this mean we may eventually see a continuation of the series? Possibly, but nothing has been announced by the time of this writing so anything more is likely to be years off. That's depressing, because Twelve Kingdoms has, during its run, been one of the most engrossing fantasy anime produced to date. Certainly there's no better fantasy series out there when it comes to world-building, and it's among the best in character development. Those jumping on at this point should have little problem understanding the story, though the complexities of the world's structure, naming conventions, and a few background references will be lost on novice viewers. Really, though, why would you start viewing a series with its last volume? If this one interests you, go back and watch the earlier volumes first, if you haven't already!
This particular volume contains all of the “The God of the Sea in the East, The Mighty Ocean in the West” storyline, which was set up with episode 40 of the previous volume and runs through episodes 41-44. It marks the third time in the series that Youko, the overall central figure, has sat and listened as other characters relate a multi-episode story from the histories of the Twelve Kingdoms and its characters. Most other series couldn't get away with this, but Twelve Kingdoms is so rich in its detailed world and diversity of characters that fans of the series are unlikely to be bothered. This time, events focus once again on the King of En and his kirin Enki, who have been two of the more interesting recurring characters since first appearing in the early episodes of the series. They are fine characters for carrying a short story arc, especially since Shouryuu's abrasive, devil-may-care attitude hides a great degree of competence and self-assuredness—a marked and refreshing contrast to Youko's inexperience and uncertainty. Ultimately the story becomes yet another object lesson for Youko as a ruler, though one with a more subtle message: be wary of letting a quest for even the most worthy and righteous of ideals lead you astray. Episode 45 is another recap episode and wrap-up to the “God of the Sea” story arc; though it does not leave plot threads hanging beyond the ultimate disposition of Shoko (and the storyline of Taiki from earlier in the series), neither does it have the feel of a close-out episode.
This volume recovers from the artistic and animation flaws that marred the previous one, returning Twelve Kingdoms to its status as one of the prettiest of all recent anime series. Not only are the character designs, costuming, and background art exquisite, but exceptional detail is applied to use of shadows in even the most basic of scenes. Animation and integration of foreground and background artistry are both excellent. The soundtrack is flawless in its support of the storytelling, while the opener and closer remain unchanged since the first episode.
The English scripting for this volume is weaker than in previous volumes. It is more verbose than the original Japanese script, mostly to fill in gaps in the word flaps, and this effect is sometimes a bit cumbersome. The vocal performances for some characters are also a bit more stilted than normal for the series, as it seems like the voice actors were more focused on lip synching to the animation than smoothly speaking their lines. The casting is still good, though, with Lex Lang being an excellent fit as Shouryuu and David Lelyved holding his own as Rokuta. Both capture the attitudes of their characters quite well, as does newcomer Scott Page-Pagter as the older Kouya. Overall, it's still a solid and watchable dub despite some minor flaws.
Graphic content in this volume is not as strong as in the previous one, but there are still some scenes of implied intense violence. The series originally played on Japanese TV in a Saturday morning time slot, so it would be considered appropriate for family viewing over there. Over here, though, it still deserves a PG-13 rating.
As with previous volumes, “Reverie” is sorely lacking in extras. Nothing beyond trailers is to be found, and there are no liner notes. Balancing this is the presence of five full episodes, though, and a separate Set Up option for playing the English language track with subtitles on. The packaging is still quite appealing.
Twelve Kingdoms may be over for now, but it certainly won't be forgotten. It isn't often that a gem like this one comes along.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ exceptional artistic merits, well-developed setting
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