Saturday, September 29, 2018

REVIEW: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Episode 1 (live action TV series)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is a Japanese live action TV series adaptation of Nahoko Uehashi's fantasy book of the same title. I was very excited when I spotted it on Amazon Prime, but the kicker here is that it isn't a movie, like I at first assumed it was. It's the first episode of a 22-episode series (three seasons), the rest of which is not available on Amazon. It also isn't available on Netflix or Dramafever, the two other streaming services I use.

So I'd like to start this review off with a great big thumbs down to Amazon. If you can't get the rights to stream a full series, or even just a full season of a series, you shouldn't be streaming it at all. This isn't the first time I've seen something like this on Amazon. Their listings will say that they have an entire season available on Amazon Prime, but when you actually click through, they've really only provided access to a few random episodes. This Moribito thing is particularly annoying, however, because it wasn't clear from the outset that this was only the first episode of a much longer series.

But I watched it, so I'm going to review it. (Conveniently ignoring all the things I've read and watched that I have yet to review...)

This first episode introduces Balsa, a female spear-wielding bodyguard. She saves young prince Chagum from drowning and is immediately arrested and beaten. Chagum's mother, the Second Queen, manages to arrange to meet with Balsa and says she'll help her escape if she agrees to be Chagum's bodyguard. Chagum's father, the Mikado, is determined to kill him because he's possessed by a water demon. Balsa has multiple helpful connections in town, but she and Chagum can't evade the hunters chasing them forever - the episode ends during Balsa's first encounter with them.

The beginning of this was different enough from both the book and the anime adaptation to be jarring. Why was the story changed so that Balsa was arrested rather than invited to dine with the Second Queen as thanks? Arresting her only highlighted that something strange was going on in the palace, and I'd think the Mikado would want to avoid that.

I also cringed at the Second Queen's attempts at behaving seductively towards the Master Star Reader. It was incredibly awkward, and that awkwardness bled into her first encounter with Balsa. Was that supposed to look vaguely seductive as well? And I thought it was weird that a supposed queen would bathe with a bloodied commoner like Balsa. Yes, the Second Queen wanted to meet with her in secret, but the entire thing made it difficult for me to view her as an actual queen.

The rest was faithful to what I remembered of the book, though. Chagum was a bit annoying at first, although this was understandable due to his upbringing, and he became more likeable by the end of the episode. Shuga seemed prone to excitement and happiness at inappropriate times, but I didn't see enough of him to be sure whether I liked or disliked him. The Mikado seemed much more villainous than I remembered him being in either the book or the anime. He had some kind of magic glass globe, flew into a rage during which he practically spit on the Second Queen, and outright killed one of the people who helped the Second Queen free Balsa.

My favorite characters in this first episode were Jiguro, Balsa's savior and surrogate father, and Balsa herself. Koji Kikkawa was perfect as Jiguro, and Haruka Ayase grew on me as Balsa. I particularly liked her interactions with the boy who played Chagum.

My biggest complaints about this, other than Amazon's terrible handling of it, were the possibly unnecessary changes to the beginning of the story and the sometimes awkward special effects. That said, if the rest of the series were available, I'd probably watch it.

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