Though it's not really known here in the States, Moribito is actually a popular book franchise in Japan. The first two novels are available in English, though there have been several novels and adaptations in Japan. The first, Guardian of the Spirit, is probably the most well known. Production I.G. produced a 26 episode animated series back in 2007, and the license has been handled for Region 1 by Media Blasters/Anime Works.
Released over the course of eight volumes Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was a title I had always wanted to check out, but quite honestly eight volumes is a bit of an investment. Thankfully a complete collection has recently come out which repackages all eight discs in one convenient boxed set. Media Blasters has sent over the final discs (though no packaging, so I can't review that). How does the show fair?
Quite honestly Moribito is one hell of a show. I was hooked from the very first episode and I couldn't stop watching it. I literally went through disc after disc without realizing how much time went by. It's a gripping series with stunning animation, fantastic character development, and such an intriguing plot that it's hard to put down.
The show is about a woman named Balsa, who hails from the land of Kanbal, which is a foreign nation somewhere to the north. She's a bodyguard, and a heck of a good one at that. Her skill with the spear is nearly as strong as her persistence. When she says she will protect somebody, she does so as if her very life depends on it, because in all honesty it does. She's also a woman with a mysterious past, who is working to repay a debt of eight lives by saving an equal number of people in the process.
One day Balsa happens upon an ox cart accident and without thinking she leaps to the rescue of a child in need. As it turns out the kid is the Second Prince of the land and all who look upon royalty are either blinded or severely punished. With that being said when guards come looking for her, she knows to get when the getting is good. The situation isn't quite what she expects, however, and the prince, Chagum, is entrusted into her care.
It would appear that the accident wasn't exactly all it was cracked up to be. Chagum is possessed by some sort of water spirit, and the powers that be want the spirit killed to prevent an oncoming drought. The only way to kill the spirit is to kill Chagum, and his mother doesn't want any part of that. Thus Balsa becomes a bodyguard and surrogate mother for the young prince, and must teach him the ways of commoners while keeping him out of danger.
As the story continues other characters are brought into the mix such as a pair of waifs that Balsa rescued at one point, an herbal medicine man named Tanda, and a mysterious magician eager to see the spirit within Chagum. On the other side of the coin there are some people working against Balsa and Chagum, though their allegiances may not be exactly what you think they are once they're characters are developed more.
The real draw for the series isn't necessarily the characters, though they're extremely well-developed, or even the action despite its awesomeness. No, I'd say the story wins out over both. Moribito is simply one of the most compelling shows I've watched in a while and it's highly recommended if you haven't seen it yet. This collection is a no-brainer and should be on pre-order posthaste.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks fantastic, as do most Production I.G. projects, and that translates well to the picture quality. The menus disappoint with some low resolution and there's some interlacing at times, but aside from this points the show looks pretty good. Strong colors, clean details and lines, and smooth animation come together for one attractive show. Some of the aspects of the show's design also stand out and should be commended.
Moribito hits DVD with English and Japanese 2.0 and 5.1 audio tracks. The quality of the presentation is good on all fronts, though the 5.1 tracks are definitely the more robust of the choices. It's not the most engrossing bit of surround sound out there, but minor touches in battle and atmospheric noise go a long way. The quality of the dubs is also very good, though I found myself leaning towards a preference of the Japanese track.
Considering these discs are identical to the ones that are already in circulation, you can expect the same offerings for bonus features. Clean animations, trailers, some promotional trailers for the show, a nine minute Q&A discussion with some of the creators, and a seven minute press event for the show. Really that's not much spread out over eight DVDs, but I suppose one takes what they can get and it's always nice to have original Japanese bonus features.
I enjoyed Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit so much that it made me want to purchase the translated novel as soon as I finished watching it. Everything about this series is so powerful from the characters to the story. There simply isn't a bad moment in the 26 episode run. Few shows can say that, and I can't stress enough that this one is a sleeper hit for Region 1. I doubt many non-hardcore otaku know about the show, and if you've never heard of it before you should definitely give this collection some thought. I highly recommend it without a second thought! Sure the MSRP is a bit steep, but frankly this show is worth it!