I’m on a constant lookout for great animes, and last year I binged on the awesomeness of “Attack on Titan“. This year I became a huge fan of “One Punch Man“. And I’m planning on starting from the beginning the new updated “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood“. Judging just from those shows, my taste on anime is mainly action based, although I really don’t have a preference when it comes it anime, maybe except those clearly made for girls, aka shojos, that are all about loooove, with few exceptions within the exception of course. Like for example I love Sailor Moon, but that’s because I grew up watching it so it’s more like a nostalgic thing for me. Few weeks ago I was kinda in between shows, and I was looking something that has already completed but has maybe more episodes than the standard 12 episodes of most animes that aren’t ongoing with multiple seasons. I stumbled upon this almost ten-year-old anime show that had 45 episodes.
The story mainly follows a red-haired Youko Nakajima, a 17-year-old high schooler who gets sucked into this epic fantasy journey in a whole new world, a land that is separated into 12 kingdoms, and it quickly turns out that Youko is the destined new queen of one of the kingdoms, Kei. And the story is all about all the hardship she goes through with a couple of side plots that comes together in the end forming a complete story. It has been praised for being one of a kind, with many anime series coming after it trying to mimic it but not done quite as well.
My first impression is the artistic value of it. The first episode, the details focusing on the faces of the main character, it’s nothing less than magnificent. It is beautifully made, with more realism in the character design than most animes, although those puppy eyes of females are still too big. Animes, even good ones, aren’t very precise with subtle facial expression. The grand ones, the shouting etc, they are well done, but they usually skip through the subtle ones when nothing big is happening. The Twelve Kingdom is a nice surprise in this matter, faces are expertly drawn and the eyes are uniquely expressive. When even the little things are done that well, the grand expressions can make quite an impact.
The world of the twelve kingdoms is unbelievably complex. Even at the latter part of the show, I’m still quite confused about all places, the kingdoms, the cities, the palaces. And not to talk about all the Japanese words used for monsters and other supernatural creatures and customs that aren’t translated in the subtitles and aren’t always explained what the hell they are talking about. Oh and the names of people, so freaking hard to remember and especially the men who aren’t main characters, they all look the same! The ladies are a bit easier to separate because they have different hair colors. It makes following the show extremely complicated. Last time I got the same overwhelming feeling was when I read the Song of Ice and Fire saga. So I wouldn’t recommend this show for those not familiar with anime, as this would be even harder to follow if you aren’t already familiar with the pacing and rhythm. But you are interested in tackling this show, I suggest you have its wikia website handy, and check those strange words in every turn.
The Twelve Kingdoms is a different show though, because at the same time it seemed incredibly dense and fast paced cos a lot happened in merely 45 episodes, but from time to time it strikes me as slow with some unnecessary stalling with supporting characters and side plots. But then, there are tons of growth in characters like I have never seen before, but a few times I did wonder whether it’s because some of these characters started from so low, that their growth just looked immense in the end. It is funny though, I think it’s a show about female empowerment, most of the important characters, the ones in charge are female. But at the same time the women, or girls, are portrayed as pathetic little cry-babies that are in desperate need of a good spanking. Eyes were rolled many of a time when, yet again, some girl broke down and cry… Well, maybe except Shushou, the queen of Kyou, a sassy teenage-looking queen who has ruled for over 90 years. She’s freaking awesome, strict but still friendly to those who deserves it. Keep an eye out for Her Highness if you decide to watch the show. 😀
Okay, so it’s not a perfect show. So why would I want to write about it then? Because of the super interesting system that the strange world of twelve kingdoms. I’ll try my best to explain. So in this world, the Heavens exist. See, in many Asian culture, ‘god’ is not one entity per se, but it’s more like a force of nature, like Mother Nature except almightier. So the Heavens created twelve kingdoms and for each kingdom its own Kirin, a mythical creature that is compassionate and pure and is said to be the manifestation of the people’s will. And the Kirin will choose the ruler for each kingdom, it can be a king or a queen. And because the Kirin is the manifestation of the people’s will, he/she will just know it when they meet the chosen one. And just by having a king or a queen in the kingdom, the said kingdom would flourish and prosper. And the longer the same ruler rules, the better a kingdom would thrive. Upon choosing a ruler, the ruler would be granted eternal life, the ruler won’t age or get sick but can still be killed. The ruler then choose ministers and lords and ladies to govern the kingdom with. But as the saying goes power corrupts minds, absolutely power corrupts absolutely. At the moment of choosing the one, he/she can be the best person for the job, but as time goes by, most people change. Some for the better, and some for the worse. But the Heavens are watching. When a ruler keeps making bad decisions, gets corrupted or just went cuckoo, they would be punished by the Heavens. The first sign of that would be that the Kirin would get sick. And if the ruler still won’t change their wicked ways, their Kirin would eventually die. And because the Kirin and the ruler’s lives are entwined in one, the ruler would follow not long after. And a kingdom without a ruler will fall and be shaken to bits by natural disasters, unnatural disasters, monster attacks etc.
Just about this system can create hundreds of stories, and ‘The Twelve Kingdoms’ only scratch the surface by telling a few stories. There are more story arcs in the books, like seven of them, and the show only covered like four, and the fourth quite hastily too. I would have loved to get to know all the kings and queens and the stories and the legends. Maybe some day it will get a remake. All in all, ‘The Twelve Kingdoms’ is a great shows with too much content stuffed into too short of a time, but it’s a rare treat and a very unique anime. I recommend it to those who like myths and legends in the era of kings and queens.
My IMDb rating: 7 stars out of 10