Literature / Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
aka: Seirei No Moribito

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Moribito_4761.jpg

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Seirei no Moribito) 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 and aired on NHK in 2007.

It 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.


Tropes:

  • Action Girl: Balsa.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The anime is based on a novel less than 300 pages long which doesn't have a tenth of all the details, characters, and events depicted in the series.
  • Alien Sky: The planet has two moons, one of which is Nayug's sun.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Inverted with Balsa and Tanda.
  • 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.
  • An Arm and a Leg: In Guardian of Heaven and Earth after the battle with Talsh forces Tanda is heavily wounded and Balsa has to amputate his arm to save his life.
  • An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost: Saya ends up this way after drinking wine with a sig salua flower in it.
  • As You Know: Used by Chagum when translating "Sagu" as "this world" and "Nayug" as "the other world" - Torogai then mocks him for being such an amateur. Balsa's more tactful way of asking for her to use Layman's Terms worked better.
  • 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.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Prince Chagum, hidden among the crowd of commoners.
  • 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 and Child Duo: Balsa and Chagum are a rare gender-inverted version. Also, Balsa and Jiguro as seen in flashbacks.
  • Badass Crew: The aforementioned elite royal guards. It's no fault of their own that Balsa is simply more badass than they are.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Balsa leads an active and dangerous life, and apparently has picked up a number of scars. Are any of these scars visible normally? No. The most we ever see is one long one on her back, and one on her chest above her breasts.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Jin's very personal investment in Chagum's fate turns out to be because Chagum showed him sympathy after he'd been badly beaten for some unexplained transgression.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Nearly every time Balsa comes to someone's rescue.
  • Bishōnen: A good sprinkling. Shuga in particular.
  • 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.
    • The novel series ends a bit more optimistically with Chagum becoming new emperor after defeating the Talsh Empire and the death of his father. Also Balsa and Tanda finally become proper pair! But on the other hand it's still unknown if Balsa and Chagum see each other again after the finale of Guardian of Heaven and Earth as they part ways in the second volume.
  • Blade on a Stick: Balsa's Weapon of Choice.
  • 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? In truth, that bird is the very one needed to take the Water Spirit.
    • 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.
  • Combat Pragmatist: 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.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The whole novel series is this for Chagum.
  • Conflict Killer: The Water Spirit and Egg Eater.
  • 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.
  • Cool Big Sis: Balsa in a figurative way to Chagum.
  • Cool Old Lady: Torogai
  • Converse with the Unconscious: Tanda and Balsa, to each other, simultaneously, in episode eleven.
  • Demonic Possession: Happens to one of the characters in Guardian of the God. Twelve-year-old girl Asla becomes possessed by really dangerous blood-thirsty monster that happens to be worshipped as a god by a certain tribe living in the deep forests of Lota Kingdom. Made worse by the fact that (at least at the beginning) said girl doesn't mind it at all...
  • Distressed Dude: For the most part of the Traveler of the Blue Road Chagum is this. After being kidnapped by Talsh spy he is taken to the Southern Continent by a pirate ship.
  • *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.
  • Dying Race: The Yakoo have been largely assimilated or driven into isolated villages. Even then, most of them have let the old ways die out and a lot of knowledge with it.
  • 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.
  • Emergency Stash: Balsa has several of these stored away to support her and Chagum while hiding.
  • 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.
    • In Traveler of the Blue Road wanting to escape from the grasp of Talsh prince Chagum fakes his own suicide. Later he travels to Lota and Kanbal to forge an alliance between two kingdoms in order to stop Talsh from invading the rest of the Northern Continent.
  • Famed In-Story: As she later discovers, despite never having her most heroic deeds officially recognized, Balsa becomes world-famous thanks to certain Wandering Minstrel...
  • 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.
  • Fish out of Water: Chagum, although he adapts very well.
  • Fish People: The Water Folk.
  • 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.
  • Friend to All Children: Balsa kickstarts the entire story by becoming the bodyguard of Chagum, a young boy. She swiftly becomes a major Mama Bear to him, as well as a Parental Substitute. Additionally, she met Toya and Saya when she saved them from a group of thugs. Toya seems to regard her as an elder sister, and states that he would willingly "go through fire and water for her."
  • Genius Bruiser: Balsa is highly intelligent as well as a capable warrior.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The bear cub eaten by a Ra Runga in episode 25.
  • 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.
  • Ill Guy: Crown Prince Sagum. He dies halfway through the series.
  • Important Haircut: Chagum gets one to make him look less like a prince.
  • Improvised Weapon: Balsa is not above decking someone with a rock to save Chagum.
  • 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.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Ra Runga's weakness as an Earth Spirit is fire.
  • 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: Jiguro. 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.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Is the main theme of Guardian of the Dream.
  • Lunacy: The Full Moon is the point when the worlds are closer together.
  • 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.
  • Married to the Job: Why Balsa can't fully commit to Tanda.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Balsa and Tanda.
  • Miniature Senior Citizens: Torogai is either the shortest or second shortest amongst all the characters.
  • 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.
  • Naginatas Are Feminine: Zigzagge before ultimately being subverted. Balsa doesn't use a naginata, such as it is, but a short hewing spear, really, against mostly sword weilding foes. Ultimately this trope is subverted in that it is heavily implied that all the warriors from Balsa's homeland use knives or spears due to limited resources making it difficult to forge swords.
  • Nice Girl: Nimka, the Yakoo girl who tries to help Chagum return to the palace because she feels he would be happier there.
  • Nice Guy: Tanda.
  • Non-Action Guy: Tanda, mostly.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The Ra Runga are simply following as nature dictates rather than because its evil. It's drawn to the egg and its host and seeks to eat it.
  • Not Really a Birth Scene: In the dubbed version of the second to last episode when Balsa and Tanda are getting the egg out of Chagum.
  • Not Worth Killing: The "hounds" misconstrue Balsa refusing to kill any of them as this, and almost end up killing her in the finale over the perceived insult until they realize it's because she never kills period.
  • Old Master: Torogai, and Jiguro.
  • Oral Tradition: The Yakoo pass down their stories through this way, with story-tellers who are trained from birth to do so, to the extent that it is believed to surpass the Royal Archives. The fact that so many have assimilated or stopped training means that a lot of this knowledge had gone missing.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The Water Folk.
  • 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.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Barring Balsa and Shuga's first meeting, Shuga and Torogai get major props for averting this trope due to their efforts.
  • Posthumous Character: Jiguro
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Just about everybody - those that don't start this way tend to have a My God, What Have I Done? moment that converts them to this trope.
  • Reincarnation: When it's all over, the emperor declares Chagum to be the founding emperor Torugaru reborn.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: The second queen somewhat. Balsa points out that trying to sell gold and jewels with the royal crest would draw too much attention when she needs to hide the prince. Chagum is to an extent as well, but he's a fairly quick learner.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Torogai's little black-and-white Head Pet ... thing.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Nearly everyone in this show is working either towards Chagum's safety, or for what they believe to be the good of the country.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Later in the novels Chagum embarks on a dangerous journey to stop the Talsh Empire of the Southern Continent form invading New Yogo, Kanbal and Lota. Alone.
  • 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 mildly, 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.
  • Scenery Porn: This anime has the lush Ghibli Hills of their "real world" and the strange, spectacular Spirit World, both shown in eventless, lingering shots and accompanied by the proper soundtrack. Moribito's Scenery Porn might as well be X-rated. It's that damn good!
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Torogai does not have time for your ignorance of the Spirit World, your Undying Loyalty to a some emperor or any of that other crap! Young people...
  • Sealed Inside a Person-Shaped Can: The ending of Guardian of the God has a mere twelve-year-old girl Asla sealing really blood-thirsty 'god' inside her body in order not to let it kill even more people.
  • 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. Continued in later novels with 'guardian' in the title, and subverted with 'traveler' as it refers to Chagum, who is the protagonist of Traveler of the Void and Traveler of the Blue Road.
  • 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 because of the smoke created from crafting metals by the Yogo is something that the protagonists are very concerned about since it plays a vital part in preventing a great drought.
  • 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. And finally They Do!
  • Someone Has to Die: It eventually comes out that the hatching of the water spirit's egg involves the death of the carrier, due to the Egg Eater. Chagum is understandably rattled when he finds out late in the series.
  • 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).
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Barsa/Balsa, La Lunga/Ra Runga, Naji/Naaji/Nahji
  • Spirit World: Nayug.
  • Starfish Alien: Or 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 Stoic: Balsa, most of the time.
  • Super-Speed Reading: One of the royal guards is capable of doing this and then memorizing everything that he's read.
  • Sword Sparks: Seen in most fight scenes. Particularly obvious in the ones taking place at night, like this one.
  • Theme Naming:
    • Chagum and Sagum.
    • 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.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Balsa, being The Atoner.
  • Title Drop: In episode 5, applied to Chagum.
  • Tomboy: Balsa.
  • 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 information. 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.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Tanda vs. Ra Runga.
  • 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.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend / Victorious Childhood Friend: Tanda counts as both.
  • Weapon Tombstone: Jiguro uses the eponymous weapons of the last six King's Spears to mark their graves after he kills them.
  • 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.
  • White and Gray Morality: Almost everyone who plays any significant role in the series is trying to prevent as much human suffering as they possibly can. The conflict that drives the plot comes solely from their different understandings of what the situation is and what needs to be done to resolve it; the mikado doesn't want to have Chagum killed, but he and the star readers believe it's the only way to prevent a devastating drought. By the end of the series, learning the truth about Ra Runga and the egg Chagum carries ultimately puts them all on the same side.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: One (plus another half-episode) that explain Balsa's childhood and how she became a bodyguard.
  • The Wise Prince: Sagum and later on Chagum too.
  • Worthy Opponent: The "hounds" are deeply impressed with Balsa from their very first encounter with her, thanks to her skills, the determination with which she protects Chagum, and the fact that she does all of this without killing a single one of them.
    • In episode 6 they see through the misdirection that draws off most of the manhunt because they believe that she's too savvy to be so obvious, and are sincerely regretful when they believe that she has been killed thanks to Torogai's ruse.
    • In episode 8, after hearing the master swordsmith describe the ultimate sword as one that is used not to kill but to cut the bonds of karma, Mon describes Balsa to him as someone he thinks would be worthy of the swordsmith's ultimate blade; this is what convinces the swordsmith not to hand her over to the authorities, and to forge a new spear for her.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Jiguro to Balsa, when she showed her early skills with the blade.
  • Written by the Winners: The Royal Family's founding history about slaying a Water Demon is incorrect. They wanted to put him on a pedistal to solidify their power and erase the Yakoo's oral tradition. However, the one responsible left a failsafe so that they don't make a mistake that leads to the destruction of the country. The Fire Folk a seem intent on hiding this information as well, to the extent that they nearly kill Torogai.
  • Wuxia: It's a fantasy/adventure epic about a wandering spearwoman seeking to atone for the 8 lives she took, by saving 8 lives in return - who eventually finds herself acting as both guardian and bodyguard to a banished prince, in order to save a kingdom. It's easily on par with the likes of Princess Mononoke and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
  • You Are The Translated Foreign Word: "Moribito" means "guardian" in Japanese, and the English release titled it Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. This is likely to give it a more distinctive title than the straight translation while reminding audiences of what it means.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Mikado was considering having Balsa killed in the final episode after everything is over, likely because they need to maintain the secrecy of everything and because of Chagum's attachment. Shuga and the royal guards manages to convince them otherwise due to respecting her and acknowledging that she would not want credit.


Alternative Title(s): Seirei No Moribito, Moribito Guardian Of The Spirit

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/MoribitoGuardianOfTheSpirit?from=Anime.SeireiNoMoribito