Novel: Moribito, Guardian of the Spirit (English)

April 24th, 2012

Over on the Yuricon & ALC Publishing group on Facebook, I’ve started posting pictures of a few bad-ass female characters just for fun. Last week, I posted a picture of Balsa from Serei no Moribito. I’ve never really talked about the anime series here, because it’s not Yuri, but I’m reading the Light Novels and find that, despite the fact that they are not Yuri, I think they are worth talking about. So, here we are talking about them. ^_^

The first two volumes of the novel series were translated into English by Scholastic books. Much like the anime series, they didn’t get much play in critical or blogger circles and basically just slipped under the radar, which was a damn shame

The Moribito anime, to be brief, is stellar. I consider it, without question, to be the very best anime I’ve ever watched. Everything about it was excellent – characters, story, animation, music. The fact that the story is family-friendly and that there is someone for everyone in the family to identify with, just makes it that much better. Young, old, male, female, there’s someone to like. The strongest indicator that this was something special was when about 5 episodes in, both my wife and I realized we liked the kid. That never happens. And, not only did we like the kid, but by the end of the series, we loved him. Prince Chagum is an extraordinary character. All of them are.

The story, for those of you not familiar with it, is an episode in the life of a spear-wielding female bodyguard, Balsa. She has a tragic backstory of her own, but in the anime – and the first volume – she is drawn into an adventure of a lifetime. The second Prince of New Yogo is the target of an assassination attempt by his own father. His mother, the Second Queen, hires Balsa to save the Prince’s life. Why Chagum is being targeted and what happens, makes some of the most compelling anime ever made. The entire series is available and Media Blasters did a great job of it.

But today, we come to discuss the first novel of the series, Moribito, Guardian of the Spirit. Physically speaking, this book is gorgeous. The paper is a soft cream color and trim and text are a dark blue that gives the pages a slightly other-worldly feel.

The story follows the same outline as the anime, but is not nearly as detailed nor does it have as much character development as the anime. The long days while Balsa and Chagum build trust and a relationship are nowhere to be found in the book. The plot remains the same, but in a minimalist way, The action scenes remain intact and anyone who has watched the anime will recognize the story. For one of the few times in my life, I recommend the anime over the novel.

However, if you know of a budding young otaku and want to really encourage reading, hand them this book. It’s a good story, with likable protagonists, fantasy/myth elements and a lot of cool spear-wielding by Balsa.


Overall – 7

If you’ve read the first book and want to know whether the rest of the series is worth it, tune back in tomorrow, when we take on the next in the series. ^_^

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11 Responses

  1. Ash says:

    I was under the impression that the Moribito books were children’s novels as opposed to light novels, which may be one of the reasons they seem so “minimalist.” Either way though, they’re wonderful books.

    The anime adaptation is fabulous. It stays true to the heart of the story while expanding its scope. I read the novel before seeing the anime and I love them both tremendously.

    Balsa forever!

  2. @Ash – They are indeed YA (not children’s, per se) novels, as are so many Light Novels. (For instance, Maria-sama ga Miteru.) ^_^

  3. I’m with you, I’d recommend the anime over the book. I think the only thing that felt more developed in the book was maybe the Hunters. It’d be interseting to hear what someone who read the book but hasn’t seen the anime thinks – I couldn’t decide if I would have liked the book more or less if I hadn’t already seen the anime.

    Well, this reminded me to check on the second book. I hadn’t realized it was available in English.

  4. Cryssoberyl says:

    In the main, I’m in agreement with you about the anime being of the very highest quality, but the whole “hide by not hiding at all” excuse that the anime uses badly wounded my suspension of disbelief. Everyone’s talking about the spearwoman, here’s Balsa wandering around in broad daylight with her spear, and female spear-warriors aren’t exactly common in their society…

    That’s not to say that the results of it weren’t good; although that middle portion does drag in parts, it also has some great moments – the coin gambling was a lot of fun, and of course, Balsa as a grappler was awesome. Still, I couldn’t quite get past the fact that Balsa, such a vigilant and cautious person, would be satisfied with a plan as flimsy as “let’s hope nobody notices us”.

    These issues aren’t present in the novel. There’s no “down time”, it’s a fairly quick and exciting ride to the end. I also prefer the novel’s depiction of Balsa, which is rather and more rugged and travel worn than her clean-and-gorgeous anime self. :P

    Of course, both versions are great, and these issues are very minor complaints. but the novel definitely has some particular charms of its own.

  5. @Cryssoberyl – Wasn’t Balsa spearless during most of their hiding period? I remember something about her needing to get it fixed. I don’t think she walked around with it much when they were in hiding, so most people wouldn’t necessarily have realized what she normally did for a living.

  6. @Cryssoberyl – No, there was a bit when they lived in the mill when she had to get it fixed, but that was only one short space (also, so fabulous animation in that episode, as it happens.) She was well known as a spear-wielding body guard throw the whole series, book and anime.

    In the book, the bit where they live in the mill doesn’t exist. Which is a shame.

  7. GregC says:

    Okay, FINE. I’m watching the anime on Netflix now.

  8. RedMaigo says:

    I loved the anime series so I had to pick up the first two books at the library. I do agree that the first book is a little light on background and story compared to the anime but it was originally based on a YA/light novel. That’s not a knock against YA/light novels in general but world building and in-depth character studies sometimes get short shrift in order to move the story along, at least in the frist book of the series.
    However, the second book dives head first into the history and cultural/political intrigues that have shaped Balsa’s past along with her home country Kanbal.

    Maybe a little too much but I digress…

    What drives me crazy is that the original series of novels continue for another 10 volumes — and I’ll never be able to read them.
    Unfortunately, Scholastic is not translating the rest of the series due to low sales. This is a shame because the few fan synopses I read online were very exciting. Especially the final trilogy when Chagum and Balsa cross paths again years later.

  9. @Red Maigo – Well, there’s always time to learn to read Japanese. ^_^

    I can’t vouch for the reviews you’ve read, but I know that there’s both good and bad in the rest of the series so far, and the books often do digress into side material that doesn’t further the story along.

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