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Literature / Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

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Balsa is a wandering bodyguard, spear-wielder, and martial artist. When Chagum, the second prince of the kingdom of New Yogo, suddenly becomes possessed by what the Star Readers call a 'water demon', the Mikado finds little choice but to have the demon destroyed by killing Chagum. To protect the young prince, the Second Queen 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 New Yogo. 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.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Seirei no Moribito) is the first book in the Moribito series of Japanese fantasy novels, written by Nahoko Uehashi. Scholastic published the English translation of the novel by Cathy Hirano in June 2008 under the official title of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.

The novel has been adapted into:

  • The first season of a radio drama series written by Satoshi Maruo and broadcast by NHK FM Broadcast in 2006.
  • A manga series by Kamui Fujiwara that was serialized on Square Enix's Monthy Shonen Gangan from 2007 to 2008.
  • An anime television series produced by Production I.G and broadcast by NHK since April 2007. The anime began airing in North America as part of Cartoon Network's [adult swim] block in August 2008. It was available (with limited commercials) at Crunchyroll and Hulu, depending on your preference for subs or dubs. The license was passed around several times, from Geneon to Media Blasters to Viz Media to its current license holder, Sentai Filmworks.
  • Jin: Guardian of the Spirit Anime Side Story, a manga spin-off of the anime written by Miki Kanae and illustrated by Gatou Asou in 2008.
  • The first season of a live-action television series created and broadcast by NHK.
  • A stage play written by Tete Inoue and directed by Takashi Isshiki that is scheduled to be performed from July 29, 2022, to August 6 at the Nissay Theatre Family Festival 2023.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit provides examples of:

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    The novel 
  • Animal Stereotypes: Torogai derisively calls the Hunters "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 mikado 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 Rarunga could be considered more of a force of nature.
  • Bittersweet 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 with even more responsibility and pressure now that his beloved older brother is dead, 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.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Nyunga Ro Im lays their eggs in other life forms for incubation. On top of that, they have a complicated hatching process that has far too many points of failure in it:
    • The host animal carrying the egg must survive the incubation process.
    • The host must take a drug that helps transition the egg into Nayugu, which grows in an area full of predators that like to eat things that transition into Nayugu. The host must survive long enough to flee to an area that intersects with the migration path of a species of crane.
    • If the Ra Runga kills the host and spits out the egg, there must be a migrating crane passing overhead to catch the egg before it splatters.
    • Finally, the crane must successfully survive the migration until it reaches the ocean, which is where the egg actually hatches.
  • Composite Character: In-Universe, the water demon in The Official History of New Yogo is revealed to be a combination of two kinds of spirits: Nyunga Ro Im and Rarunga.
  • Death Faked for You: Balsa sets fire to the Second Queen's palace as she leaves to give the impression Chagum died in the fire. Nobody is fooled for a second.
  • Death of a Child: The previous Nyunga Ro Chaga — the host of Nyunga Ro Im's egg — was killed by a Rarunga while he was still a child.
  • 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.
  • Egg MacGuffin: The entire plot occurs because Prince Chagum is carrying the egg of Nyunga Ro Im within his body, at first leading many people to believe that he's possessed by the legendary demon who once brought a drought. The entire cast becomes concerned both with making sure the egg hatches successfully (since there will be a horrific drought if it doesn't) and with making sure that Chagum isn't killed in the process, with much of the drama of the latter half of the series coming from the fact that the two goals may be mutually exclusive.
  • Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors: The most basic rule of magic weaving is that earth is stronger than water and fire is stronger than earth. This is revealed as a plot point when Tanda realizes that fire should be able to counter Rarunga, the kind of earth spirit that eats the eggs of Nyunga Ro Im.
  • Everybody Lives: Aside from Sagum (who dies of natural causes), not a single character actually dies during the story and both sides of the conflict end up working together to save Chagum.
  • 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."
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Rarunga is simply following as nature dictates rather than because it's evil. It's drawn to the eggs of Nyunga Ro Im and their hosts and seeks to eat them.
  • Numerical Theme Naming: The aliases used by the Hunters are Yogoese numbers: Mon (the commander), Jin, Zen, Yun, Taga, and Sune are One, Two, Three, Four, Seven, and Eight.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Everyone in the novel is working either towards Chagum's safety or for what they believe to be the good of the country.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: In-Universe. The Official History of New Yogo states that Torugaru slew a water demon of the same kind that Chagum carries to end a drought. The legend is revealed to be a complete fabrication since New Yogo needs the egg of Nyunga Ro Im to hatch to survive a great drought every century and Rarunga, a kind of spirit that eats the eggs of the water spirit, is the true antagonist of the novel.
  • Secondary Character Title: The Guardian of the Spirit on the title is Prince Chagum, while the protagonist is Balsa, his bodyguard — or the guardian of the Guardian of the Spirit.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Torogai does not have time for your ignorance of the Spirit World, your Undying Loyalty to some Mikado, or any of that other crap! Young people...
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: The Second Queen knows that Chagum has 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: Chagum thinks Balsa and Tanda would make a great couple.
  • Starfish Alien: Rarunga looks somewhat like a mix of an anemone and an irate, beaked squid.
  • Weak to Fire: Rarunga is weak to fire as an earth spirit, which is why the midsummer festival includes a play where warriors fight the water demon (a Composite Character of Nyunga Ro Im and Rarunga) with torches.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: 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 Rarunga and the egg Chagum carries ultimately puts them all on the same side.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The Mikado secretly plans to kill his eleven-year-old son Chagum.
    • The Official History of New Yogo states the water demon devoured the soul of a child and took his form, to the grief of his Yakoo family.

    The anime 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 in the anime? 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 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.
  • Breakable Weapons: A plot point in the early episodes. Shortly after arriving in town, Balsa notes that she needs to take her spear to a blacksmith. But that night she gets taken to the palace and hired to protect Chagum before she has a chance to do so. A few days later, she gets into a fight with the Hunters and her spear ends up breaking as a direct result. An entire later episode is devoted to Balsa getting a replacement for her ruined spear.
  • Captain Ersatz: In-Universe. 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 one notices that even his clothing appears to be a Gender Flipped copy of her style.
  • 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.
    • As the court's elite guards 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 them 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.
    • 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.
  • Combat Pragmatist: 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.
  • 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.
  • Death Faked for You: 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 since the poison gas prevents them from going down and finding (or rather, failing to find) a body until much later.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The scene where Balsa and Tanda are removing Nyunga Ro Im's egg from Chagum looks and sounds more like they're coaching him through childbirth. Tanda even talks Balsa through the steps to remove it safely and without injury to Chagum.
  • *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.
  • Earthy Barefoot Character: With the exception of Tanda and Torogai, the Yakoo people go barefoot. Despite living in the mountains, they seem perfectly comfortable doing so.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Balsa and Chagum spend half the series hiding in a village on the outskirts of the capital they're trying to get away from, under their own names, with the only real disguise they use is Chagum losing his noble's topknot and changing into peasant's clothes. Balsa even carries her spear around in public. It works perfectly until they encounter people who know them personally, possibly because the superstition about commoners going blind if they look directly upon royalty means that very few people outside the court know what Chagum looks like.
  • 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: 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 Ra Runga 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.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: The slavers. Sure, Balsa gets all their current captives set free, but they get paid for all of them and there's nothing implying they aren't gonna just kidnap more people in the future to sell.
  • Lunacy: The full moon is the point when the worlds are closer together.
  • 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 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.
  • Nice Girl: Nimka tries to help Chagum return to the palace because she feels he would be happier there.
  • Reincarnation: When it's all over, the Mikado declares Chagum to be the founding Mikado Torugaru reborn.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Balsa points out to the Second Queen that trying to sell gold and jewels with the royal crest would draw too much attention when she needs to hide the prince.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Torogai's little black-and-white Head Pet ... thing.
  • Scenery Porn: The 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.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: 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 getting killed by Ra Runga 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 concerned about since it plays a vital part in preventing a great drought.
  • The Show of the Books: Production I.G adapted the book into an anime television series of the same title.
  • Spell My Name With An S: The English translation of the anime spells Nayugu and Rarunga as "Nayug" and "Ra Runga" respectively.
  • 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.
  • Weapon Tombstone: After Jiguro kills the last six King's Spears in the defense of Balsa, he uses their namesake weapons as tombstones.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In Balsa's backstory, Tanda called her out over how many people she was killing and asked if saving eight lives could have any meaning if she killed so many more in the process. Balsa took it much to heart.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Hunters 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.
  • 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 manage to convince them otherwise due to respecting her and acknowledging that she would not want credit.

    The manga 

    Jin: Guardian of the Spirit Anime Side Story 

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