Seirei no Moribito (roughly translatable as 'Guardian of the Spirit' or 'Guardian of the Sacred Spirit') is the animation of the first book in the 'Moribito' series of Japanese fantasy novels, written by Nahoko Uehashi. It was animated by Production I.G in 2007.Seirei no Moribito is set in a Low Fantasy setting and a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Heian era Japan called the Yogo Empire, and is centered around the latest employment of Balsa, a wandering bodyguard, spearwielder and martial artist. When Chagum, the second son of the current emperor, suddenly becomes possessed by what the imperial sages call a 'water demon', the emperor finds little choice but to have the demon destroyed by killing Chagum. To protect the young prince, the empress secretly hires Balsa to 'kidnap' the prince and thus keep him safe from the reprisals of the court.With the support of her childhood friend Tanda and crusty shaman Torogai, Balsa must keep the prince safe while living anonymously in the Yogo empire. Meanwhile at the palace, where Chagum has been quite popular, not everyone is happy with the emperor's decision. The star diviner Shuga, the older Prince Sagum, even the tutors, servants and warriors who serve the royal family are caught between orders and convictions. Before the winter ends, the characters will have to face several hard truths and decisions as they figure out just what they're supposed to do with the spirit.The show began airing in North America as part of Cartoon Network's [adult swim] block in September 2008, under the official English title of Moribito Guardian Of The Spirit. It is now also available (with limited commercials) at Crunchyroll and Hulu, depending on your preference for subs or dubs. Viz Media recently acquired the series for a DVD and Blu-Ray rerelease, as well as for airing on Neon Alley.You might be interested to also watch Kemono no Souja Erin (Beast Player Erin), based on a novel by the same author.
Animal Stereotypes: Torogai derisively calls their pursuers "hounds". Just like a pack of hunting dogs, they're fierce, tireless and loyal, and Torogai seems angry at their readiness to follow questionable orders.
Anti-Villain: The emperor and his sages, to begin with. In fact, it's probably safe to say that there are no flat-out evil characters in the series. Even Ra Runga could be considered more of a force of nature.
The Atoner: Balsa wants to save eight lives, in exchange for eight lives that were taken in her defense, when she was a child. She also realized that doing this would only be meaningful if she didn't kill anyone while doing so.
Awesomeness by Analysis: Chagum, after having a form of gambling explained to him for the first time, not only very quickly works out the odds involved, but also how the con-men running the game are rigging it. He ends up driving them out of business by winning everybody's money back, using the con artists' own tricks against them.
Badass: Balsa takes on four elite royal guards near the beginning with a weapon that falls apart. She slashes one clear across the face, knees another firmly in the groin, and steps into an attack by their leader—taking a sword to the gut—to knock him out cold. She finishes her rounds shortly after by charging the fourth knocking him out with a rock.
Her mentor, Jiguro, perhaps took this further by killing ALL of the other King's Spears, the first two in one on one duels, and the last six at the same time! He even threw a rock when disarmed. Like teacher, like student...
Bitter Sweet Ending: The egg is taken out of Chagum and the land is saved...but Chagum has to go back to the restrictive life of being a crown prince, as well as taking the credit for the triumph in order to benefit the throne, and he's separated from his friends. This particularly hurts when it comes to Balsa, who Chagum has come to love just as much as his mother, and vice versa. It's very unlikely they'll be allowed to see each other again.
Boobs of Steel: Not terribly obvious when she's in a kimono and using a Sarashi, but Balsa is racked and stacked.
This is obvious when she's wearing her normal clothes.
Captain Ersatz: An in-universe example. An obsessed rival bodyguard discovered Balsa in hiding, and challenged her to a duel. He forced her into an exact copy of the guerrilla tactics Balsa used against him when she was trying to stop the slave traders he was guarding. Not only that, but he also abandoned his sword in favor of a spear in order to be more like her. This becomes particularly creepy when you realize that even his clothing appears to be a Gender Flipped copy of her style.
The Chains of Commanding: The mikado must stay aloof and distant from everyone, including family, in order to rule effectively. Or at least that's the attitude of the court. Several characters question this at times.
Chekhov's Gun: Surely you didn't think that scene where Chagum and Sagum tossed up stones for the bird to eat, and then took care of it as it recovered was just to show Chagum's innocence and kindness, right?
Not to mention "Flower Wine for Tanda," which initially seems to have almost no relevance to the storyline of the series, but sets up the sig salua flower and its ability to create a link between the two worlds, which pays off in a major way in the last few episodes.
Earlier, as the court's elite guard are searching about, they encounter Torogai, but not before she uses some mud to make a mystical clone of herself to fight and be a distraction to disable both guards. She uses the same trick to create a fake Balsa and Chagum, letting be seen and "killed" in the presence of a group of elite guards while the real Balsa and Chagum take another route to safety. The ruse worked for months.
Christmas Cake: In the first episode, it is revealed that Balsa has just turned 30 years old. In feudal-Japan-years, this practically makes her an Old Maid. Her evolving relationship with Prince Chagum is at least partially driven by the ticking of her biological clock echoing in her ears.
Con Man: A couple of guys running a rigged gambling game in Episode 10. Unfortunately for them, Chagum turns out to have an uncanny aptitude for spotting shenanigans. He goes up to the table, times his bets just right, and predicts the result of every single toss. Over and over. After he does it enough times, they're pretty much forced to give everyone their money back.
Drool Hello: Torogai runs into a cave in Nayug, seeking an escape route. Something splashes onto the floor beside her, and she realizes she's run into a trap. She gets out anyway... through the worm creature's digestive tract. Ick.
Elemental Eye Colours: Prince Chagum, who carries the egg of a benevolent water spirit. He also has a noble, innocent personality typical of blue eyes.
Eyes Always Shut: Zen, one of the Hunters, constantly has his eyes closed. It doesn't in the least impede his ability to fight, naturally.
Faking the Dead: Balsa sets fire to the Second Empress' palace as she leaves to give the impression Chagum died in the fire. Nobody is fooled for a second.
Later, Torogai uses a gigantic wolf to throw a fake Chagum and Balsa down a cliff into a valley filled with poison gas. The wolf brings up a cut part of the prince's real hair as "evidence" to throw off the guards. The real Balsa and Chagum have headed off another way. It works better, since the poison gas prevents them from going down and finding (or rather, failing to find) a body until much later.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Yogo is a counterpart of Heian-era Japan, complete with the immigrant Yogo people and the indigenous people who resemble the Ainu. Balsa's homeland of Kanbal resembles Mongolia or Tibet.
There's also very heavy influence of Goryeo Korea on the setting, not that they were that different at the time. Overall the author wanted to evoke a general Far East flavor rather than a specific counterpart culture.
Food Porn: Every dish looks just so delicious and tasty that you start drooling. Look no further than the luxurious lavish meal Balsa gets served in Episode 1. In Japan, the novel series even includes a cookbook.
Genius Bruiser: Balsa is highly intelligent as well as a capable warrior.
Head Pet: Torogai has a cute little something-or-other that rides around on her headband. A flashback shows her carrying a whole litter of them.
Hot-Blooded: Jin acts impulsively, loses his temper, and sometimes refuses to back off a tense situation, even under orders. Mon even takes him off of a mission because of it, saying that Jin has been known to get too invested in situations where Chagum is involved.
Idiot Ball - Around episodes 17 and 18. When Shuga encountered Balsa and Chagum in the capital, he might have dissolved the whole conflict if he hadn't been so high-handed. For Balsa's part, refusing to tell Chagum about the Rarunga even when he demanded that she explain the actions her knowledge was driving — then taking him along to find out more about the thing, unprepared for the informant to mention the most notable fact about it (that it wanted to kill and eat him) — was uncharacteristically dumb.
I Will Wait for You: Tanda has been waiting for Balsa to finish saving eight people so he can settle down and marry her...then he has to end up waiting a little longer! He indicates his impatience in a typically reserved, Tanda-like manner, but he can't bring himself to marry another, even though there seem to be eligible women who would be happy to settle down with him.
Lady of War: Despite being quite the tomboy, Balsa is very graceful, elegant, and honorable in combat. However, she will drop all of that and start fighting dirty if that's what it takes to defend her charge.
Long Dead Badass: Jigaro. He defeats a dozen of fellow spear-wielders over the years, several at once, and trains young Balsa. The only thing that kills him is an illness, a few years prior to the main story.
Mama Bear: Balsa, who will do anything but kill someone in order to protect Chagum.
Martial Pacifist: Balsa will throw down and kick ass just as well as—actually, better than—the rest of them, but she refuses to take a life.
Mix-and-Match Critters: The wildlife in the anime ranges from normal-looking donkeys and dragonflies and mildly-tweaked frogs and wolves all the way to the very-alien Ra Runga—with some recognizable mix-and-matches thrown in. Torogai's Head Pet is a kind of bunny-mouse, and at one point in Nayug we see a four-winged skate-whale.
Parental Substitute: Balsa borders on this and Cool Big Sis. Later in the series she even gives a knife to Chagum, a symbolic tradition of coming of age from her home country. Earlier in the series Tanda points out that her vow to protect Chagum until he's safe means that for all intents and purposes she has become the boy's mother. Balsa is given the same treatment in her youth, as she was protected by a friend of the family, the best spear-wielder in the realm.
Sadly Mythtaken: An In-Universe example: the official history of the empire states the founding emperor slew a water demon of the same kind that Chagum carries to end a drought; this is, to out it mildy, way off base...
This theme, by the way, continues in the second novel. The legend goes that the Mountain King periodically gifts the people of Kanbal with the gemstones on which their economy depends; based on this, the villain plots to attack him and steal all his gems. However, the myth is only a pale metaphor, and to anyone who's seen the reality, this plan is utter nonsense.
Secondary Character Title: The Guardian of the Spirits on the title is Prince Chagum, while the protagonist is Balsa, his bodyguard - or the guardian of the Guardian of the Spirits.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Played with like you wouldn't freaking believe. The characters are intent on making sure that the prophecy is played out to the letter (excluding that nasty part about the Guardian of the Sacred Spirit dying in the process), but coincidence seems intent on making sure that it doesn't: for example, a species of bird that plays a role in the prophecy being nearly extinct is something that the protagonists are very concerned about.
Sheltered Aristocrat: Chagum at first. The Queen knows that he's never experienced the outside world before and knows that she's asking a lot of Balsa, but he takes pretty quickly to learning how the real world works.
Shipper on Deck: Pretty much everyone who knows them seems to want Balsa and Tanda to get married already.
Someone Has to Die: It eventually comes out that the hatching of the water spirit's egg involves the death of the carrier. Chagum is understandably rattled when he finds out.
Speaking Simlish: The Water Folk, although they let slip a few understandable terms like "Ra Runga", "Tamago" (egg) and "Nyunga Ro Chaga" (Guardian of the Sacred Spirit).
Starfish Spirit: Ra Runga. It looks somewhat like a mix of an anemone and an irate, beaked squid. Or a sarlacc.
Stay in the Kitchen: Jiguro initially refused to train Balsa because he thought women hadn't the muscles to fight. However, he changed his mind after seeing Balsa re-enact one of his battles for an audience.
The aliases used by the Mikado's agents are Yogoan numbers: Mon (mentioned by Shuga as the alias of the commander), Jin, and Zen are One, Two, and Three. The other five (Taga, Sun, Yun, Rei, and Hyoku) are of indeterminate order, but are Four through Eight.
Tongue Tied: The servants of the Star Readers are frequently ordered to cover their faces with cloths bearing an arcane seal and ignore everything that is said in the room, while their masters are discussing highly secret and dangerous informations. It's however purely symbolic and based entirely on trust in their loyalty, with no magical compulsion behind it. As things are getting worse, a group of them eventually conspires to get information to Shuga, which the master explicitly forbade him to access.
Too Long; Didn't Dub: The official translation leaves the word 'Mikado' (an alternative title of the Emperor of Japan, Tennō) intact in all instances without explanation.
Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: A stark contrast to Lady of War mentioned above. In times of desperation, Balsa will start brawling and fight dirty and does whatever it takes to ensure Chagum's survival. She's fine if she has her spear with her, but if she loses that, you better prepare to have your eye socket crushed in by a rock.
What the Hell, Hero?: Tanda served one of these to Balsa in the backstory, calling her out over how many people she was killing and asking if saving eight lives could have any meaning if she killed so many more in the process. Balsa, as we see, took it very much to heart.
Worthy Opponent: The master weaponsmith agrees to forge a weapon for Balsa, after he hears her hunters speak of how she defeated four of them at the same time without causing serious injuries and suffering near fatal wounds because she refused to kill them.
Would Hit a Girl: Jiguro to Balsa, when she showed her early skills with the blade.