Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 24th 2009
Life undercover for Balsa and Chagum means dealing with the mundane aspects of Yogoan life, but given the individuals involved, even the mundane aspects can have greater complications. When Saya passes out and falls into a deep sleep in the wake of a marriage arrangement, Tanda must go on a spirit walk to call her back, only to find it difficult for him to return. Later, Chagum gets drawn into an arranged fight with a tough visiting boy during a local festival, an affair which eventually involves Balsa, too. The incident draws unwanted attention, however, in the form of a man from Balsa's past who bears a deep grudge over a past defeat. When he threatens to involve innocent bystanders, Balsa is left with no choice but to become a tiger and confront him.
Lesson learned from this volume: forcing Balsa into a situation where she actually has to try to kill someone is a really, really bad idea for her foe.
After nearly eight months of delays and repeating the first 10 episodes twice (a practice that newer anime fans may not realize used to be commonplace for Cartoon Network/Adult Swim), Adult Swim is finally starting to broadcast the rest of Moribito. For those who could not wait, or preferred a hard copy with the full opener and original closer intact, there's always DVD volume four, which covers episodes 11-13. Sadly, the first three new episodes in quite some time have the feel of filler about them.
In fact, if “filler” content is defined as content which tells stories not drawn from the source material, then these three episodes are exactly that. While they touch on some things described in the original novel – such as what Nayugu looks like or Balsa's commitment to not taking any life – these are entirely original tales. Calling them “mundane” would not entirely be accurate, since one does involve spirit-walking and another contains a very dynamic fight scene, but none of these three episodes are more than very peripherally involved with the overall plot. Those waiting to get back to the quests of Star Reader Shuga and Madame Torogai to find out what is going on with the egg inside Chagum will apparently have to wait for episode 14 in volume 5.
As filler stories go, though, each episode has its own appeal. Episode 11 focuses as much on the relationships of the series' two main couples (Balsa and Tanda, Toya and Saya) as on the spirit-walking Tanda must do save Saya; one simple but great scene shows Chagum glancing at Balsa and Tanda knowingly after having Toya and Saya's potential relationship spelled out for him. Episode 12, by contrast, is more of a setting-building exercise in the way it details a prominent festival and the different ways city and rural folk celebrate it. Episode 13 shifts the series back into action mode, returning to the fluid, vibrant, intense fight choreography which was one of the series' early hallmarks. The allusions to a warrior assuming the spirit of a tiger (and the dangers thereof) take on a more fascinating dimension when the series shows an unusually fierce Balsa briefly but literally taking on the aspect of a tiger. The effect the incident has on Balsa also makes the episode noteworthy.
As it showed in its earliest episodes, Moribito is practically in a visual league of its own. This is Production I.G.'s artistic masterpiece; no other anime fantasy series ever made even comes close to equaling the richness of its backgrounds and character renderings or the energy and sense of movement portrayed in its action scenes. The series is not shy about using character designs that are distinctly ugly, yet even those are drawn exceptionally well. Even its opening animation, complete with a wonderfully-detailed scene of a flock of birds taking off from a pond and a gorgeous shot of an eagle soaring into sunlight-colored clouds, shows off this title's artistic excellence.
While the soundtrack is not quite as overwhelming as the artistry, it is still effective and distinctive, with its moody numbers and deep, resonating recurring themes. The wonderful L'Arc-en-Ciel opener continues through this run in full form (rather than the trimmed-down version shown on Adult Swim), while the original closer skipped over in the American TV broadcasts has been restored with intact Japanese credits; English credits follow at the end of the volume using the theme that serves as the broadcast's closer.
The Bang Zoom! dub continues to be solid (if unexceptional), with Cindy Robinson as Balsa and Mona Marshall as Chagum firmly anchoring the cast in the key roles and newcomer Amy Johnson ably serving in a key episode 13 guest role as a traveling teacher. Other performances are generally at least adequate. The English script varies a bit in some places but not in any meaningful way.
Although Media Blasters is selling this one at a lower price point, they still are offering only three episodes with no Extras for an MSRP of $24.99 – an outdated practice in the current market and definitely not a good value compared to most other releases over the past couple of years that did not have Bandai Visual somewhere on them. This volume is also available in a two-pack with vol. 3 for a better per-episode value, however. Conspicuously absent is any translation of the text inscribed on the mountainside in certain scenes in episode 13, which is one of this episode's coolest background visuals.
The one strike often laid against Moribito is that it progresses rather slowly, and this volume does nothing to allay that concern. The series is clearly stalling at this point to fill up 26 episodes for a novel not originally long enough to directly support more than 12 or 13. Even with expanding certain aspects of the story, it still drags a bit through this run. Still, it looks great, sounds good, and does its job well in world-building and character development departments. That should be enough to sustain fans until the meat of the main story returns.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Top-rate series artistry and animation, superb fight scene.
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