By now, some readers would have noticed that I do, on occasion, go ga-ga over selected Anime (Japanese animation) series. Twelve Kingdoms is just such a great experience for me.
This series is an adaptation of the novels by Fuyumi Ono, and what is refreshingly different about this series is that, there isn’t (gasp!) a romance subplot at all. Which is an unusual departure for Anime. But the show is packed with political intrigue, bloody battles with monsters and some real interesting lessons on governing a kingdom.
Briefly, the story tells of how an ordinary 17-year old (high?) school girl was approached by a silver-haired noble-looking man, who swore allegiance to her as his Queen, and subsequently drawn her into a parallel dimension/world that is at least a couple of hundred years behind modern Japan. While there, she was pursued by a political rival who sought to end her reign by sending tonnes of monsters to assassinate her. She has to uncover her enemy, overthrow an imposter queen, quell a civil uprising and in the process, learn what makes a king great.
For an in-depth look at the plot look up the episode guide, or go to this wiki page for the history of this show and a list of related links. I shan’t bore non-Anime lovers here with a blow-by-blow account of each subplot/chapter.What I like about this series, besides it being a time travel fantasy tale … just my type of story … is the growth witnessed in the main character, Youko, as she faced danger after danger, and transformed from an apathetic, timid and complacent conformer to a courageous, wise and sincere ruler who believes in being true to herself and open in her governance instead of masking her thoughts and feelings, just as she would suppress her magical sword from revealing visions of her inner world with a bespelled sheath. She’s not afraid to admit that she is ignorant and willing to learn the culture and understand her people. I think her pro-democratic, liberal views and sensitive handling of people may shock the people of those times (rules and systems are from a bygone era) but will stand her in good stead.
Besides the storyline and the inspiring lead character, the show is filled with other fascinating characters, such as the sacred Kirin, mythical creatures in the show empowered with heaven bestowed ability to choose the ruler for its home kingdom. Then, there’s a dishy-looking En ruler, Shoryu, who has supposedly been in power for 500 years, to add to the attraction of the show. Actually, I was secretly looking out for a relationship to blossom between him and Youko, but he became mentor to Youko in the early parts of the story and remained her good friend and ally even after she succeeded to the throne of the Kei Kingdom. Yeap, no romance there at all to distract the viewer from the main plot.
Another interesting point about the show is the setting’s similarity to the Warring States of ancient China. That was the period when excellent masterpieces like Water Margin and Romance of the Three Kingdom were written. The history buff in me got sucked right into the show, which will end its run (with Japanese dialogue, been watching the videos with Chinese dialogue) on the local arts channel right about next week. But no worries, I’ve got the video for when the withdrawal sets in. A pity that the series is left at ep. 45, as there are quite a number more before the whole series of novels is covered. Oh well, it’s time again to settle down for another patient wait until the studio cranks up production again.
Until then, if you can read Chinese, this wiki page gives a very thorough analysis and history of the show, while this site has great graphics. Otherwise, check out the reviews over at Cassie’s.