Written History and Oral Tradition in Seirei no Moribito

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Image credit: Minitokyo.net

I didn’t feel ready to write my final thoughts about Seirei no Moribito yet — I still have around ten episodes left to watch (seriously, I think I’ve been watching this DVD set off- and on- for at least three years now) but since I’m trying to keep up the habit of writing at least one entry every weekday, now seems a good time as any.

With capable creators at the helm — in the persons of author Nahoko UEHASHI and director/scriptwriter Kenji KAMIYAMA — Seirei no Moribito was at least guaranteed critical, if not popular, success. The story seems familiar, yet one still worth telling. Balsa, a spear-wielding bodyguard for hire, finds herself the caretaker of the young prince Chagum. The Second Queen, Chagum’s mother, sends him away with the bodyguard since she fears that he would otherwise be killed; it is revealed that the young prince carries the egg of a water spirit within him, and everyone fears that it is this spirit which has been the cause of the drought and eventually, the kingdom’s destruction.

One of my favorite scenes in Moribito is when Shuga first enters the secret archives of Nanai, the first Master Star Reader.  Shuga pushes several tabs and panels of the table, essentially a giant puzzlebox, to open up the entrance to the archives located underneath the room. The repository appears to be several stories underneath, lined with rows of shelves, each shelf containing stone slabs documenting Shin-Yogo’s history.

In a setting where physical strength and fighting ability has immense value, Shuga is an interesting standout. He is still a young Star Reader, not possessing the political influence of the Master Star Reader, but everyone acknowledges that he is a brilliant scholar.  When he realizes that the history that the other Star Readers have been teaching as canon has been corrupted because of the politics of the founding mikado and his successors, he acts immediately to remedy the situation. His concern lies not only in saving the country from the drought that’s slowly killing it, but he acts quickly in the hope that he can still save Chagum.

One of the underlying conflicts in this anime does stem from the distortion of the history that the people of Shin-Yogo have written down versus the oral tradition and storytelling of the indigenous people, the Yakoo.  The secret archives of the first Star Reader Nanai documented every minute detail of his life and his experience with the first mikado, Torogaru, because he knew that “time will always twist the truth and facts will always be changed to embellish a story or create a myth.” As the conquerors, the people of Shin-Yogo were able to propagate their traditions and practices as the norm; even though they did draw upon much of the wisdom of the Yakoo.

When I’m watching an anime series, I appreciate it when the creators add understated issues such as these within the greater narrative. Most watchers won’t pay too much attention beyond Balsa’s awesome fighting, and that’s all right. But in the task of world-building, these small touches mean a lot in establishing the complexity and depth of the story.

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