The Best Anime Ever


Is that unambiguous enough?

Since I’m topping old series recommendations for the new year, why not the ultimate recommendation for the ultimate anime?  Original post date 7/3/2010.

I’ve watched an awful lot of series, movies, OVAs. Been impacted by many of them, moved by many, changed by a few. Certainly consider Evangelion the most important of them all, in terms of the impact it had on the genre.

But for me, the greatest of them all is a woefully under-appreciated series from 2007 – a gem from Production I.G. (the best studio in the biz over the last five years) that premiered to a fair amount of hype but generated mediocre ratings. It’s based on the first of a hugely popular 10-volume series of YA novels by Nahoko Uehashi, a Japanese professor of anthropology, and it’s called Seirei no Moribito. Loosely translated, this means “Guardian of the Sacred Spirit”.

It’s hard to do a series like this justice by trying to describe what happens. Broadly, it’s the story of a female bodyguard named Balsa – a warrior of unmatched talent with the spear, nearing thirty and living the life of a loner and vagabond traveler. Through no will of her own, her fate is tangled with that of Chagum, the 11 year-old Second Prince of the fictional empire of Yogo (which seems a lot like Korea). The anime takes the novel’s story of these two people and expands it greatly, developing them with almost unparalleled patience and care over the course of 26 episodes. There are other excellent characters – all of them are memorable, and none of them are one-dimensional place-holders – but really, it’s these two remarkable people and the bond between them that elevates this story above and beyond all challengers. The fantasy world Uehashi creates reflects her background as a Cultural Anthropologist – while undeniably a fantasy, this also feels like a beautiful re-telling of Asian history, complete with subtle and powerful political commentary of the plight of indigenous peoples.

There are contradictions here. This is not an action series – in fact, “not enough action” is the most common complaint against it. Yet, the combat sequences are probably the best of any TV anime – impeccably choreographed and animated. Check out a few examples:

Episode 3 spear fights

It’s not just the action sequences. The animation is tremendous across the board – and unlike so many longer series, remains uniformly stellar throughout. It’s cinematic in quality, acknowledged even by many detractors as the best of any TV anime. The soundtrack is remarkable, as well – legendary composer Kenji Kawai provided the BGM and inset songs, including the haunting and unforgettable “Nahji no Uta”. While the OP is somewhat overwrought and forgettable, the ED is gorgeous both visually and lyrically – a message from Chagum to Balsa, a bookend to the OP’s being a message from her to him.


Director Kenji Kamiyama is a legend himself – he of Ghost in the Shell: Stand-alone Complex fame. He adapted Uehashi’s novel and bettered it in every way, then directed it in true auteur fashion. Moribito feels like an anime that was made exactly the way Kamiyama and the creative team at I.G. wanted, with no concessions to commercial concerns. Entire episodes are given over to character development, to exploring the subtle changes to the relationships between Balsa, Chagum, the healer Tanda and shaman Torogai – he her childhood playmate and she a teacher and spiritual adviser to the young Balsa. Without question, the anime suffers for this in terms of its popularity – yet, how many hundreds of series did make those compromises? How much more valuable is it to have one for posterity that did everything for reasons of artistry, and damn the consequences?

So, sum it all up – why do I love this series above all others?

I respect and admire any story (be it anime, novel, film or other) that stays true to it’s characters. Seirei no Moribito was faithful and honest here, and every development in the last act was earned by hard work in the earlier acts. Every character in the story behaved in a manner that was true to themselves. The four characters at the heart of the story feel incredibly alive and real – even Torogai, who seemed like a walking cliche (if a well-rendered one) at first blossoms into a full, complex and endearing figure. Tanda is a nearly unique character in anime – he is sensitive, kind, thoughtful and loyal – in many ways the “wife” in his relationship with Balsa – but in no way is he less than honorable and formidable. He is quietly brave, physically tough when he needs to be, and while never free of frustration at his relationship with Balsa, never selfish. He grows into his role as Chagum’s confidant and father figure and thrives as part of his new family.


But essentially, this is a story of two rich, indelible, believable, sympathetic, beautiful and unique characters and how fate brings them together. The growing love between them is the engine that drives the story and the reason those middle eps had to play out as they did – slowly, honestly, and completely true to the story and the characters. Balsa is a true heroine – a fierce, stubborn warrior who is nonetheless no mere stand-in for a male lead. She’s completely believable as a woman as tough as any man, but indisputably a woman – complex, damaged, layered, difficult at times but always endearing. Chagum shatters every cliche of the child lead – he’s spoiled at first without being obnoxiously so, mature beyond his years without being annoyingly precocious. He cries when he needs to, feels self-pity when his strength fails him, but always pulls it together to do what needs to be done. He is noble in the true sense – noble of character, not of birth.

In the end, Seirei no Moribito is as close to perfect as any anime has ever been – certainly any of this length. It’s incredibly smart, incredibly moving and utterly respects the intelligence and sensitivity of its audience., It’s worth an investment of your time and your emotion – trust me, both will be paid back with compound interest. Get to know these people, and the richly created world in which they live.

One last note: I was sufficiently inspired by this brilliant story that I felt compelled to author a rather lengthy companion piece, which combines elements of the series and the first two novels. If anyone would care to check it out, you can follow the FF.net link in the “links” section or just go here:

Part I
Part II
Part III

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49 comments

  1. e

    Another praise – applause -worthy post. Moribito is one of the anime that has touched and involved the most, from aestehtics to the leisure ad care it put into the exploration of its characters and beliefs.
    Talking about characters… I'd warmly recommend you to check out Rose of Versailles. Andrè Grandier (the male co-protagonist of RoV) can be seen as one of Tanda's forefathers in terms of core qualities and relationship dynamics with the strong female protagonist he loves… a similar consideration can be done about said lady, Oscar, in regards to Balsa. If you feel like to savour some old school animation and brave the sparkle overdose (the latter does end as soon as the recently deceased Osamu Dezaki became director for the series ) then after the first half the payoff is tremendous :D.

  2. Wasn't ROV the play that Nitorin's class did in Hourou Musuko?

  3. e

    They did. I haven't reached that point in the manga yet and and I have yet to watch the anime though, hence I'm not sure if they stayed closer to the ROV anime, to the ROV manga or rather opted for a more Takarazuka version(s) :>… there are some differeneces between them, some major, some less so.

  4. Wow, watch that one – terrific series. There's a scene in episode one that almost moved me to tears not because of sadness, but because it was so brilliantly staged.

  5. e

    It's on my watch list already ;D.

  6. A

    It's definitely not what I was expecting…

    IT'S JUST TOO AWESOME!!

  7. T

    Seirei no Moribito is definitely one of the more unappreciated series out there. It's not overtly action or story oriented, but instead opts for a very natural balance between the two. That balance works really well in conjunction with the story. Unfortunately, a lot of people see this series as a "slow" series, while I personally think the pacing is almost perfect. I think a "mature narrative" would be a perfect way to describe this series.

    Maybe you should check out Kemono no Souja Erin sometime. While it's not exactly similar to Seirei no Moribito, both of their stories are from the same author, and Kemono no Souja Erin also has a more mature narrative. Warning though, it starts off very, very slow.

  8. LOL, Thanks Tsuki but you're not the first person to make that suggestion by a long shot. I know all about Erin and I have tried to get into it, but it just doesn't capture me the way Moribito did.

    Have you read any of the books Seirei was based on? The first two are translated. While the series is better, the books are quite good as well. Hugely, hugely popular in Japan.

  9. A

    I just love the anime and the two novels.

    I want the rest of them but I can´t read japanese (those editors $%ª@& ) :(

  10. I feel your pain, I'm in the same boat. It's a real shame.

  11. S

    Wow, thanks for recommending this in your recent post, Enzo. Only just watched the first ep but wow is it already getting me hooked. Beautiful (absolutely gorgeous) animation/drawing and episode setup was brilliant.

  12. What I'd give to be able to watch Moribito again for the first time. You're in for a special experience.

  13. A

    I found this page after watching this series again.
    After reading mediocre, misguided review after review, I was compelled to search google for SOME proof that I'm not daft and hopelessly alone in thinking that this is the most finely crafted, emotionally thrilling anime to date (at least of the bunch I've seen).
    Thank you for reaffirming I'm not completely insane! 😛

  14. Thanks. You're definitely sane – this is the best anime ever in my book!

  15. e

    It's mine at long last *insert manic cackle here * and at 21 euros for the whole season in a single box-set print it's very affordable even in the current state of economy. Region 2 Moribito fans, check the Play.com site and rejoice.

    (Re-)watching in on TV compared to my first fansub viewing on a laptop screen definitely enhances the experience (save for the Japanese audio and English dvd subs that wouldn't show no matter how much I clicked on sub and language buttons. They eventually 'awakened' after a couple of excruciating moments. Whew.
    The NA dub doesn't sound bad btw – the few seconds I listenes to at least – but I tend to find the voice work inferior to the original Japanese one in general).
    I'm a but bummed neither in this boxset not in the other sets cover art I browsed online I can see Tanda, and the whole package + summary is trying very much to sell this as a mostly action series. Eh. I can't say if such advertising choice benefitted the series sales in Western markets in some measure. If fansub watchers' reactions were any indication…
    Anyway, I'm a very, VERY happy fan right now. Just to give you the picture: among the anime titles I've bought in my 32 years of life so far, only two are them are anime *series*. The other series is… well I think you can guess its title already, Enzo ;p.

  16. Post some pics for us, please!

    Moribito was a tough series to market, and I'm not sure it would have mattered how they tried to do it. I think in the end it was just a case of a studio making something the right way because it deserved to be.

  17. e

    'I think in the end it was just a case of a studio making something the right way because it deserved to be.'
    I think so too, I was just wondering about foreign licensors' purchase&advertising choices: I picked the English subs version also because this was never licensed for my country – our market and audience have shrunk both in quantity and (I'd be tempted to say) taste, 40 years of anime masss exposition nonwithstanding – and I doubt it'll ever be.
    Pics? Sure. Pics of the case/discs you mean? Screenshots? A soon as I'm finished with dinner.
    In the meantime, here you can see the outside of the case and also purchase the region 2 single box-set, free shipping:
    http://www.play.com/DVD/DVD/4-/22626118/Moribito-Collection/Product.html?searchstring=moribito+dvd&searchsource=0&searchtype=allproducts&searchfilters=s{moribito+dvd+}%2bc{57}%2b&urlrefer=search
    The first seller in the list in the page, MVMent, is the cheapest one so far and was my pick. Simple bubble-wrap letter envelope, 3 days from UK to Italy via standard international shipping. No damage to the case or to the discs.

    The Moribito region 1 Collection and Premium edition covers are prettier I must say, ahah.

  18. e

    P.S.: I'm uploading all the the pics here
    http://imageshack.us/g/545/moris3.jpg/
    I'm transferring the snapshots of the dvd case (back cover and inside + size comparison with a standard dvd case ) as soon as I can find my digital camera USB wire.
    EDIT: found.

    Which version among the SNM region 1 dvd editions have you purchased, Enzo?

  19. e

    EDIT: seems like imageshack doesn't let me arrange new pics into an older album (anymore?) . Sorry, separate album link for the case pics. My camera batteries run out hence two of said pics are without flash. Sorry again…

    http://imageshack.us/g/856/snmr2singleboxsetinside.jpg/

    As you can say, there are four disc slots in total inside the case. Disc #1-2 have the Chagum & Balsa pic (same as the menu background one), while disc #3-4 have the same illustration as the front cover. Each one contains 6 episodes.
    While they could have use some more variety for the illustrations of this set, in terms of or archive comfort the size of the case is really handy, as you can see compared to a standard single dvd case. Btw, Northanger Abbey is one of the best on-screen adaptations (and among the closest to its spirit… it's half romance half meta parody of gothic novels and their fans ) of Jane Austen's novels ;). Even if you're not an Austenite you might enjoy NA, it's a bit of an odd beast among her finished novels.

  20. Wow – you work fast! Thanks for the pics.

  21. e

    Well, my Moribito and my koibito are powerful incentives, not even lack of Duracell batteries could hinder me :p. You are welcome.

  22. S

    I finally got around to watching Moribito after first learning of it's existence from your blog about a year ago or so.

    Definitely an extremely well made masterpiece of a series, the grandmasterpiece of masterpieces. Easily makes my top 5 list of greatest anime I've ever watched, though it would actually be in the top 4. I've already ordered the first two novels yesterday. Can't wait to read them.

    I hope Production I.G can adapt the remaining novels as well. If they cover all 12 novels with 26 episodes each, the whole Moribito series could be 312 episodes total. That would be a pretty epic franchise.

    Balsa is a great main female protagonist in every way, I wonder if she inspired Avatar's Korra in any way. The whole main and supporting cast were pretty likeable too, I especially found Shuga, Mon and Jin to be pretty interesting characters. I also liked how there really wasn't a true antagonistic character, well aside from maybe the unseen character during the Jiguro flashback that started the whole story in the first place. Also, Nāji no Uta is an amazing song, as well as the rest of the series music.

    Thanks for posting about this anime! If there ever was a series that could truly be called "the best anime ever," Moribito is definitely worthy of such high praise and recognition.

  23. Thanks, Samurai. I sincerely doubt we'll ever see more Moribito anime – it a grievous miscarriage of justice the first one didn't sell many DVDs, and you can see how expensive it was to make. It's sad, but it is what it is.

    Nevertheless, it's truly a beautiful, imaginative, humanistic and magnificent series. Still, IMO, the best ever.

  24. S

    Even though it probably wouldn't make much sense, I wish Seirei no Moribito was the rerun series to air on Noitamina next year instead of Katanagatari.
    Production I.G and Noitamina seem to work well together from what I've seen.

  25. S

    This review makes me so happy :). I watched Seirei no Moribito a while back and was a little let down when I saw ppl didn't really enjoy it. It's the best anime EVER in my opinion as well and has never gotten the appreciation it deserves! Great review.

  26. T

    So finally finding time to sit down and watch all of this show after finding out about it from your blog. All i have to say is "damn".

    This is quite the fantastic show in every single sense. While not may favorite(it did get close) it has to be what I would consider objectively the best anime I have ever seen. The story, characters, and the progression of both are astounding. Balsa and Chagum have one of the best and one of my favorite relationships in probably any medium. It is all so well developed and what makes it so great is how genuine the love feels.
    Amazing series and thank you Enzo for showing the me how great a show it is.

  27. Sigh… Another convert. I really would love to watch this again, but given that it's 2X subbed and 1X dubbed, I just can't justify the time. Oh, to be able to see it again for the first time…

  28. P

    Enzo, you already know this but this is most likely my favourite fantasy anime of all time, and it won't be till 2013 of the fall season in Shin Sekai Yori that I would feel anything remotely close to it in quality. But of course SSY still has to prove itself with its ending to make sure it doesn't trainwreck, but even if it ended well I don't think it'll overtake it due to some consistency issues here and there which Moribito does not really have.

    A side point, IIRC, PA Works (before they became independent) did a significant if not the majority of the actual work on visuals and animation whilst IG did the majority of the planning, scripting, packaging, directing etc. To this very day, PA Works has yet to achieve quality in "visuals" from what they did in Moribito. True Tears came close (but it was obvious towards the end they resorted to budget cutting techniques with watercolour stills) and Hanasaku Iroha was brilliantly made as well, but the picture quality of Moribito still remains to be hardly matched even today.

  29. Yes, PA Works was very much a partner in this – I think a "majority" of the visuals is an overstatement, but it was a lot. Much like what IG did on FLCL.

  30. M

    WHAT. Oh my god. HOW did I not know that this was an anime? Really, I'm ashamed of myself. I read the first two novels, fell in love, and then threw a fit when I found out that the translation of the rest of the books was cancelled. And there's an anime adaptation of the first book. The best anime ever??? Well, I know what I'm going to do this weekend. Thank you thank you in advance for recommending this.

  31. No problem! Glad I was of service.

  32. s

    Wow, its funny because as i was loading this site i said to myself "yesterday we got a cross game post, i can almost guarantee that we are going to get a seirei no moribito post today". Low and behold, tadaaaaaaaa, it's here. It really just goes to show what fantastic (and i mean this in every sense of the word) story-telling and writing can do for a series. What amazes me even more, is how production I.G was able to extend one novel into 26 eps and not make it feel bloated or unnecessary at all (and made it better??? WHAT?? what dark magic is this?). Just major props to them for being able to do that. Hell, most studios struggle at adapting things that arent even based on source material.

    While I cant quite call this series a masterpiece in the way some others can, I can definitely say that the story-telling and writing was indeed masterful, which is something i can rarely say for anything i generally watch, anime or not. Seirei no moribito is truly a superb piece of worksmenship and a worthy addition to my list of truly superb anime. I remember those times it aired on adult swim fondly and because i missed quite a few eps, i had to go find the entire series elsewhere. Luckily i did, and watching it in its sub version was quite the experience (Im no sub elitist, but i actually can discern the certain nuances in the japanese language along with voice acting and i found the japanese dub to be the superior version as it carried more of the authenticity of the narrative and the characters better than in the english dub. It does beg mentioning that the eng dub was in no way a slouch). To finish off, it brings me dismay to think that we may not get more moribito. I would really like more Bleeping moribito production ig…get on that thank you very much : D

    On a completely different yet relevant topic: why didnt Red Data Girl get the same treatment in the expansion of the source material when converted to anime form; man i could only imagine. Im fine with what we got but then i look at this series and i cant help but think what could have been.

  33. Well, "may" is hardly the issue – there's virtually zero chance of more anime.

    Kamiyama dramatically rewrote the script – I would argue for the better. It has less of a "YA feel", and the relationships are deeper and more subtle. He added some entirely new material (like the episode where Chagum beats the swindlers at their own game) and he also slyly inserted some elements from the second book.

  34. s

    See, and this is why many of your favorite series never get sequels: you're soooo pessimistic hombre hahaha : D….think positive thoughts..we may get a sequel in 2020 maybe even 2040?????…………hang in there meng. All jokes aside, I just really love the way this was adapted and it really is a shame. There is a reason why i love anime and why i think it is an excellent medium of art and story-telling and this series reflects a good amount of those reasons.

  35. y

    Moribito was a product of its time……basically a blip when the anime industry thought their shows could draw in millions of American fans, across a wide range of age groups. US distributors had them fooled good through bidding wars that promised (but never delivered) millions of dollars in licensing fees/royalties.

    In short, the trickery allowed Production IG and Gonzo to go public (JASDAQ) and receive funding they'd never dreamed of. This gave us Gankutsuou, Le Chevalier D'Eon, and Moribito…….but alas, it was only a dream. The market they thought they had never existed.

  36. Z

    ^ A good post!

  37. a

    I just ADORE Seirei no Moribito, and your post just outlines why perfectly.
    I find myself re-watching it at least once a year, sometimes more, and still feel moved throughout it all like I did the very first time I watched it. I remember beginning to watch the series via downloading it in 2010, well after it had finished releasing, and before I got to episode five, I ended up ordering the DVDs and waiting to watch the rest of it on them instead. Well worth it!

  38. F

    Hmm… We have talked about this one on and off before, but for myself my tastes go to the other series – Kemono no Souja Erin.

    For whatever reasons it just hits all the right notes for me time and time again. Moribito didn't do that for me, though, like Kyousogiga, I could see it was very well done and a lot of care went into it on a lot of levels, at the end of the day it didn't engage me anywhere near as much as you.

    But – oh well, eh? ^^

  39. 1

    Hey Enzo, I think you mispelled Aria.

    -Proto

  40. 1

    j/k. I agree with the sentiment. Seirei no Moribito is genius. Your reluctance to like Erin kinda takes away from your credibility, but I'm willing to overlook that. :p

  41. Reluctance? I did give it a good try, it just didn't… connect.

  42. J

    I found this series pretty hard to get into, personally. For the first few episodes the dialogue was stilted and forced as all hell. The characters didn't talk or interact, they just spoke at one another describing their thoughts and exposing. Also the first two episodess tried a little too hard to sell Balsa to me, while her interactions with Chagum, Tanda and everyone else felt a lot more natural.

    But yeah, I'm on episode 16 right now and enjoying it a tonne. The swordsmith episode had maybe some of the best and rewarding dialogue I've ever seen.

  43. Wow, couldn't disagree more about those early episodes, but to each his own.

  44. J

    My only quibble is that I think it would have been better to have some "period" music for the OP.

  45. Well, yeah – I love the ED, but the OP isn't on the same level. With Kawai Kenji doing incredible BGM in period style a period OP would have been interesting.

    I will say, the OP and ED have to be listened to as a pair, though. Lyrically they're intended as a conversation between Balsa and Chagum – the OP is Balsa's perspective and the ED is Chagum's response.

  46. J

    Via Crunchyroll: Viz Media has quietly announced a license rescue today, as it revealed that it has picked up Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit for future release on Blu-Ray and DVD, as well as picking up the series for broadcast on Neon Alley later this month.

  47. Yeah, I noticed that and retweeed it. Good to see.

  48. M

    FYI, this series is undergoing a rather crazy discount. 😀

    http://www.rightstuf.com/rssite/action/store/item/Item?ItemName=awdvd1034

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