Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, NHK-BS2
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Caution: potential spoilers.
This is based on the first in a series of fantasy novels (which I'm afraid I haven't read). The main character is a woman named Balsa, a spear-wielding warrior from a place called Kanbal. In the first episode, she shows up in a place called the Shin Yogo Empire, which she hasn't been to in two years. She saves the life of a young prince named Chagum, and is later invited by the Second Queen to the palace, to thank her. But the Queen wants more than to express her gratitude. She wants Balsa, who is a renowned bodyguard, to take Chagum with her and protect him, as he has already survived a few murder attempts by his own father, the Mikado (emperor). Balsa doesn't seem pleased by the position she's been put in, but she accepts. She says she once took the lives of eight people she considered very dear, and to appease their souls, she has vowed to save the lives of eight people she considers their equal. Chagum will be the eighth. Chagum himself isn't happy about the arrangement, at first, but he soon comes to appreciate her (and over time, comes to love her almost like a mother, it seems).
There are also a couple of orphans who are friends of Balsa's, a boy named Toya and a girl named Saya. They help out sometimes. And when assassins are sent after Balsa and Chagum, and Balsa is seriously injured, we meet her childhood friend Tanda, an herbalist who often treats her battle wounds. (It seems there's the possibility of romance between them, but not until she's completed her self-imposed mission to save those eight lives.) Meanwhile, there's an organization of "star readers," who work for the Mikado. They're aware that a drought is coming. And that Chagum has been possessed by a spirit or something. And then there's Tanda's teacher, Torogai, an old woman who practices a kind of natural magic that the star readers look down upon. (Torogai is a member of the Yakoo people, who lived in this land before the Shin Yogo Empire was established.) She's also aware of the impending drought, and whatever's going on with Chagum. It all has to do with the spirit world called Nayug, and a spirit egg which is apparently residing within Chagum....
While most of the story focuses on Balsa and Chagum trying to avoid detection by hunters sent out by the Empire to find Chagum (who is supposed to be dead, though there is some doubt about that point), we also sometimes see things concerning other characters. There's Chagum's older brother, Prince Sagum, who misses his beloved brother, and who also isn't really cut out for all the duties he's forced to assume. Also there is Chagum's former tutor, Shuga, a star reader who isn't sure Chagum is really dead. He investigates the sign of the impending drought, and eventually learns that the official history of the Empire was fabricated, though there are records of the true history. Shuga is often at odds with the Master Star Reader.
Eventually, Shuga and the hunters will join forces with Balsa and Torogai and the others, and try to protect Chagum from the La Lunga (egg-eating monsters from Nayug), though it seems it might be necessary to let one of them kill him, in order for the egg to be born and become a water spirit, thus preventing the drought, which would devastate the land. Still, there's always hope that this fate might be prevented. We also eventually learn of Balsa's past, and how she came to be raised by a warrior named Jiguro (who had actually taken the lives Balsa felt responsible for, since it was done to protect her). There's a parallel between her past, and Chagum's present situation, which is interesting, and ultimately leads to greater understanding for both Balsa and Chagum.
Anyway, much of the story is quite simple, in a good way. Easy, pleasant, old-fashioned, classical, whatever. But there's also a lot of complicated stuff going on, but the pace of the story is slow, it feels like it takes quite awhile for plot developments to, you know, develop. But it's a nice pace, I feel. And I quite like the animation, it's really beautiful, as is the background music. Also, I think Balsa is an interesting character... strong, independent, intelligent, with little regard for distinction between social classes, but a strong sense of duty and loyalty to her friends. Actually, all of the characters are pretty good. And um... I won't say how it all ends. But one thing I must say is that as interesting as the more complicated, fantastical elements of the story may be, it remains the simpler stories that make me love the show. And even the fantasy elements seem much more naturalistic than in most fantasy stories, which is also a nice change of pace....