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Literature / Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

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Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Seirei no Moribito) is 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 High 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, spear-wielder 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 acquired the series in 2015 for a DVD and Blu-Ray re-release, as well as for airing on Neon Alley.

You might be interested to also watch The Beast Player Erin, based on a novel by the same author.



  • 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.
  • 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 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 Ra Runga could be considered more of a force of nature.
  • 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 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.
  • 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, 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 in the anime. This is obvious when she's wearing her normal clothes.
  • 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 you realize 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.
    • 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: 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.
  • Converse with the Unconscious: Tanda and Balsa, to each other, simultaneously, in episode eleven.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The scene where Balsa and Tanda are removing the Water Spirit'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. 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.
  • Egg MacGuffin: The entire plot occurs because Prince Chagum is carrying the egg of a water spirit 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 very 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.
  • Emergency Stash: Balsa has several of these stored away to support her and Chagum while hiding.
  • Everybody Lives: Aside from Sagum (who dies of natural causes) and many Egg Eaters during the finale, not a single character actually dies during the story and both sides of the conflict end up working together to save Chagum.
  • 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 Queen's 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.
  • 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...
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Ra Runga's weakness as an Earth Spirit is fire.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: In-Universe. 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...
  • 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...
  • 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 Second 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
  • Starfish Alien: Ra Runga looks somewhat like a mix of an anemone and an irate, beaked squid. Or a sarlacc.
  • Super-Speed Reading: One of the royal guards is capable of doing this and then memorizing everything that he's read.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Weak to Fire: The Ra Runga is intangible, which makes conventional weapons useless against it. Fire is its only weakness, although one must first drink the sap from a sig salua blossom, which allows one to cross over into Nayug, in order to touch it with the fire.
  • 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?: 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. The only truly bad people in the show would probably be the slavers, and even they leave the story on decent terms with Balsa.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: One (plus another half-episode) that explain Balsa's childhood and how she became a bodyguard.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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


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