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Seirei no Moribito

Seirei no Moribito Anime Review

An anime series with a realistic plot, beautiful animation and stunningly-executed fight scenes should be a runaway success, especially with a strong and intelligent woman as the lead.

Regrettably, network and distributor troubles gave Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Spirit) limited exposure to English-speaking audiences so it never enjoyed its rightful time in the sun.

The mind behind the show is no less spectacular. Moribito is based on a series of light novels written by Nahoko Uehashi, a PhD in cultural anthropology.

After being lucky enough to unearth this gem, I wanted to share the love.

A Review of Seirei no Moribito

AKA The Incredible Feminist Anime That’s Criminally Obscure

Seirei no Moribito begins by introducing viewers to Balsa, a spear-wielding, no-nonsense bodyguard who’s seeking to save eight lives in exchange for eight that were sacrificed to protect her. During her travels she comes across a royal procession carrying the second prince of the Yogo Empire, Chagum, who is thrown into danger under mysterious circumstances.


In a display of impressive heroics, Balsa saves the boy, then retreats as his retainers scramble to remedy the situation. Later on she’s intercepted by royal guards and reluctantly accepts a summons from the Second Empress to express her “thanks.”

I was immediately impressed with the show’s careful approach toward realism.

During the meeting it’s revealed the incident involving Chagum wasn’t so random after all. In fact, it was a calculated attempt on his life sanctioned by none other than the Mikado (emperor). Chagum had the misfortune of being chosen by a water demon to host its egg, which is expected to bring about ruin and drought to the empire.

The Second Empress begs Balsa to protect her child, seeing no other way to remove Chagum from harm’s way. As it happens, Balsa has saved seven lives so far, which would make Chagum the final eighth to end her debt. She accepts.

What follows is an exciting, mature and thoughtful show that will likely exceed your expectations.

The Right Way to Do Realism

I was immediately impressed with the show’s careful approach toward realism. Yes, it involves some magical aspects like the water demon and Nayug (spirit world), but these are dealt with in an even-headed manner and don’t overshadow character development. It was when real life situations occurred that I most appreciated Moribito‘s attention to detail.

The warriors show (not even grudging!) respect toward Balsa, admiring her skill and viewing her as a superior in battle.

For example, when the Second Empress asks Balsa to protect Chagum, she offers her a huge bag of money. More than most peasants would ever see in their lifetime. Balsa is almost comically unimpressed, and explains in no uncertain terms that using those coins would be pure idiocy, since they’re stamped with the royal seal and would be linked back to her.

Balsa with Chagum
Balsa carrying Chagum

It’s an obvious thing to note, yet how many anime would completely ignore those repercussions? Balsa does end up taking it, but Moribito never forgets the delicacy of her situation, and you see her hiding the money, portioning it out over time, saving it and sending others to use it in her stead.

This theme is carried throughout. Injuries are serious business, Balsa is muscular and wears sensible clothes, and even experienced warriors have trouble against multiple combatants. It’s such a relief when a series feels plausible and you know it isn’t going to test your suspension of disbelief.

You Can’t Hate Anyone

Pretty much everyone in Seirei no Moribito is likable. Balsa, Chagum, their friends and even the folks who initially seem bad. Take the hunters, who are a band of royal assassins sent to track down and kill Chagum and Balsa.

People are tired of “strong female characters” who are grandstanding types, pairing brash attitudes with (unrealistic) physical strength. Balsa is nothing like that.

While I don’t agree with the hunter’s actions, they do express regret and guilt over being required to perform such an awful service. The warriors show (not even grudging!) respect toward Balsa, admiring her skill and viewing her as a superior in battle.

When it comes to the main characters, I was initially worried about Chagum, expecting him to display the typical traits of displaced royalty: arrogance and distain. Instead, he’s shown to be a respectful, intelligent young man, showing discipline under stressful circumstances.

Seirei no Moribito characters
Balsa with Tanda, Torogai and Chagam

Several other characters defy expectations, with Tanda, Balsa’s long-time friend, acting as a mild-mannered healer. Torogai is Tanda’s mentor, a shaman who communicates with water spirits, wields powerful magic and gets shit done. She has an adorable pet bunny-pig-thing, and there are several moments when her gruff manner and outrageous events collide, providing humor amid a fairly serious series.

The animations are smooth, visuals are rich and Ghibli-esque, each attack feels like it carries real heft.

The crew is rounded out by Toya and Saya, two orphans Balsa saved during her sojourn. Balsa herself is, of course, fantastic. People are tired of “strong female characters” who are grandstanding types, pairing brash attitudes with (unrealistic) physical strength.

Balsa is nothing like that. She is indeed stoic, but she has her reasons, and she’s also smart, loyal, headstrong and loving in an understated way. She’s definitely become one of my favorite female characters not only in anime, but in a TV series overall.

Meaningful and Awesome Action

Since most of the battles in this series center around major plot points, I’m not going to describe too much here, but suffice to say that the action is stunning. The animations are smooth, visuals are rich and Ghibli-esque, each attack feels like it carries real heft.

This show doesn’t constantly throw fight scenes in your face, instead favoring the progression of steady plot development, which makes the combat even more impactful.

Seirei no Moribito combat
An early, intense fight scene

I was left dazed and starry-eyed after one battle in particular, in an episode where the fight has a big and draining lead-up. A story that initially seemed to be a “throwaway” is incorporated into the scene through an artistic depiction of Balsa’s rage and determination. I couldn’t help but rave about it afterwards, punctuated by a screech of, “Balsa is so cool!”

Seirei no Moribito follows a course of hills and valleys as the action ebbs and flows, which made perfect sense to me.

The surprising resolution of that fight is also connected to a prominent story from an earlier episode, which left me wondering, “Did that just happen!?” It was great. I’m not making sense right now, but to sum up, the action is not only epic but ties into plot progression. Nothing is there for the sake of creating shallow, whizz-bang fluff.

I have to be honest, though. There were moments I wish the show did feature more fight scenes because they were so well-executed and fun to watch.

A Few Lapses in Judgment

Do I have anything negative to say about Seirei no Moribito? Not a whole lot.

My main gripe is that in two instances, the plotting felt a little odd and forced. Again, I can’t go into details due to spoilers, but for a show that is so refreshingly good about being realistic, those few moments felt out of left field. Like they had to happen to push the plot a certain direction.

It felt very Japanese, in the sense of cultural values, and I liked that.

Truly though, these were minor disappointments that I don’t mind overlooking. The only other thing I’ve heard leveled against the show is that some people think it gets a little slow during the middle of its 26-episode run.

Shuga from Seirei no Moribito
This is Shuga, Chagum’s former mentor, who is involved in one of those “Huh?” moments. But I forgive him.

I’ve seen comments from U.S. viewers describing an episode that mostly involved talking/discussion of past events as dull. But ironically, it was one of my favorites. It revealed how Balsa’s history was linked to a current problem while illuminating the perspectives of both Balsa and her “enemies.”

The episode showed these warriors’ views weren’t so different after all, using themes that explored the meaning of honor and respect for life. It felt very Japanese in the sense of cultural values, and I liked that.

A Can’t-Miss Series

Seirei no Moribito follows a course of hills and valleys as the action ebbs and flows, which makes perfect sense to me. Like any series, whether you see it as well-paced or languid is a matter of perspective.

I believe that most people will greatly appreciate this show for its intelligence and artistry, but if you’re expecting constant battles just because, Moribito will feel slow during some episodes.

If, however, you like exploring the lives of the show’s unique main characters, watching their relationships grow and having those moments punctuated by action that surrounds a smart plot, this one will be sure to blow you away. Get the full series below.


Rhylan Dane

Rhylan Dane

Formerly a freelance copywriter, Rhylan now manages Armorbelle and creates marketing thingamajigs for personal clients. She has wanted to be a pirate since the age of 3, and although she still has no idea how to sail, she’s become very adept at stabbing and plundering.
Rhylan Dane

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14 thoughts to “Seirei no Moribito Anime Review”

  1. Very good synopsis of the show. I’m not a feminist but I do love a strong female lead., and Balsa is all kinds of awesome. I don’t know if you read manga but you might enjoy Blade of the Immortal. That has lots of great female characters, including one woman who’s a better fighter than all the men, including the main character, who is an immortal swordsman. Yet she’s fairly realistic, and suffers from an illness throughout.

    1. Hi Joe,

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Moribito was fantastic, although I feel a bit empty having seen such quality and wondering what to watch from here. I do read manga occasionally and appreciate the recommendation. I’ll definitely check out Blade of the Immortal.

      It sounds great; I obviously enjoy well-rounded female characters and it seems like it does them justice. After a brief search it looks like there was an anime released for it as well, but it doesn’t live up to the manga?

      1. There is a series of novels, that the anime of Moribito is based on. I think only some of them are translated into English though. I also heard Balsa was a weaker character in it and doesn’t have the same kind of presence. I think her voice and her muscular physique made her an intimidating for to be reckoned with in the anime.

        Yeah, there was a fairly poor anime released. It does at least give a taste of how awesome one of the female characters is, though.

        1. Really! I heard the novels were pretty solid, but that’s just through secondhand sources. I know the anime didn’t follow the novels’ plot exactly so I’m kind of curious to read them. I agree though, I thought her voice and physique in the anime were perfect. She demanded respect through her presence alone.

          I’ll keep the BotI manga in mind over the anime! Thanks again.

          1. They might still be good, even if they’re different. Too bad most aren’t translated. What would you say your favourite Balsa moments were? My favourite of all was probably when she clocked that guy with a rock, who was going to kill Chagum, despite being gravely injured. It showed how determined and badass she was.

            While not a warrior, I think the main character of the anime Chihayafuru is also a great female character. She’s very mentally strong and determined, despite having some vulnerabilities. She’s also more athletic than some of the make characters.

          2. I went in and changed the font color of your comment to white (can be seen with highlighting), so if anyone stumbles upon this and hasn’t seen the show yet they won’t be spoiled. 🙂

            Your question made me think of that scene, too. The one I touch on in the review is another of my favorites, where Balsa is shown as a tiger in ep. 13 when fighting Kalbo. She willingly suffers through so much just to protect the teacher and her apprentice, then ends up beyond pissed, even ready to break her oath to defend them.

            I have heard of Chihayafuru and can’t wait to see it! The subject matter seems so random (proverb card game, what!?) but it clearly draws people in regardless.

  2. Oh okay. I’m sorry about that.

    That is a great moment too. As well as the other part you described regarding the money.
    Reflecting more in Balsa, she seems a bit similar to the character The Boss in the game Metal Gear Solid 3. She’s one of the best female characters in all fiction. She’s compassionate, motherly, intelligent and very strong , both mentally and physically. She’s an antagonist in the game, but not a villain, and while she follows orders from a man, she could easily crush him if she wanted, with her superior fighting skills.

    It’s a strange type of sports anime, but also very good. I’d like to see you review more stuff, and thanks for responding to me.

    1. No worries, just wanted to let you know in case you wondered why it looked like half your comment disappeared. I need to see if I can allow visitors to do font changes on their end.

      You have great taste in characters! MGS happens to be one of my favorite game series, and The Boss is by far the best. (My personal favorite is Ocelot, but I just have an uncontrollable bias for him…) I can see a resemblance to Balsa for sure, doing the right thing and protecting her loved ones even at extremely high personal cost.

      After learning her reasons for fighting “against” you in MGS 3, that last battle was one of the hardest ones (emotionally) I’ve ever played. The series has some big issues with female characters as a whole, but somehow The Boss slipped through and became one of gaming’s biggest badasses.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and chat – I’ll get more reviews up in the future, so hope to hear from you then!

      1. I get it.

        Thanks. Ocelot is cool too, but The Boss steals the show. It would be great if we could play as her in a prequel or something.

        I agree with that. Especially when you have to make the choice to shoot her. I think there are some other good female characters too, but others not so much. What did you think of Eva? I thought she was okay.

        What do you think of Lara Croft? I much prefer the old version, rather than the new whiny one. She was really badass and confident.

        I’m looking forward to them.

        1. Oh man, I would lose it if The Boss got a prequel game. We need more focus on characters like her. Sadly Konami wasted no time making the MG zombie apocalypse game no one wanted…

          EVA was interesting. Her sexualization made sense considering her mission, and I liked that she had her own agenda (even if she did end up joining Big Boss). Her outfit was dumb, per usual, but she goes on to have a big role in the series. So yeah, I don’t think she was half bad. My biggest disappointment was Meryl. Should’ve been great, but the game treats her like trash. There’s an essay on female characters in MG here I liked.

          Good question on Lara. Showing her as a newbie could’ve been fine, but talk about ironic. She gets traumatized and stranded on an island, but can take on hundreds of enemies alone? The gameplay is so disparate from the plot. I also miss the badass Lara. I would’ve preferred to see the private side of adult Lara, like how she reconciles her crazy life with having any reliable connections or relationships.

          No doubt she feels alone sometimes in the midst of all that adventuring. In a sense it seems they wanted to make her more “palatable” to audiences, like they thought there’s no way people could connect with mature Lara, so they had to make her less intimidating… though of course she’s still this unstoppable killer, haha.

  3. I know yeah. I don’t think Konami can be trusted to produce much good anymore.

    That is true of Eva. I read that essay. It was interesting and made me see the characters in a way I didn’t before. The first game in particular, did have a lot of sexist undertones. I can see why you’d feel that way about Meryl. The Boss still falls into the trope of being subservient to men for the most part, but she is still very respected by all the men overall, and no one even makes a point of her being a woman. She also humiliates Snake for wearing a disguise at one point, which is a stark contrast to the women in the first game. This is before she then effortlessly knocks Volgin to the ground, and 3 men are on the ground while she stands triumphantly. That was a great moment that put into perspective, who really wielded the power.

    That’s all very true. You pointed out a lot of contradictions and nonsense there. I’d like to see a mature Lara too. There’s few mature women in gaming. I think the Lara in the crystal dynamics games, is the best as things are. Anniversary actually does a better job of showing how she becomes more ruthless and determined to kill as the game goes on. There’s no disparity between gameplay and story and she just shows brief sorrow at times, before putting it behind her and moving on. Some of the men acted sexist towards her, but she always bested and humiliated them in the end. This scene being one of my favourites

    1. Yes! The scene where she took down Volgin was great. I hated that jerk… like a roided up Pikachu but less cute and more conniving. 😛 I suppose that made him a good villain, as opposed to Skull Face who I can’t even take seriously enough to dislike. (I thought MGS 5 was fun, but more for its gameplay than story.) In the magical prequel world, it would be awesome to play The Boss when she formed the Cobra Unit and have them going on missions during WWII before they “defected.”

      You know, I don’t think I’ve played Anniversary. The last Lara game I played was (part of) RotTR, but before the reboot it was Angel of Darkness. I remember it being fun. That scene was great! Smart that it focused on Lara’s agility since the guy was bigger, and then of course guns are the big equalizer. Funny we’re talking about this, as I recently saw an article about Lara’s dry character on Kotaku. Seems we’re not alone!

      1. Haha. That describes him well. He was a good villain. I thought Skullface was interesting at first, but he became more boring as the game went in. I agree that the gameplay was more interesting in that, and the story wasn’t so good. Yeah, it would be interesting to see how she set up the cobra unit, and gathered all those with different powers. As things stand, the closest we can get to playing as The Boss, is playing as one of the female soldiers in MGS5, while wearing her costume. We can pretend it’s really her going in those missions, lol.

        Angel of Darkness wasn’t so good. I didn’t like the game, nor Lara’s gloomy personality. Indeed, her fighting style was interesting to watch there. She didn’t really even need the guns. She had already won the fight before taking them out. That was an interesting article. I don’t really think Lara needed to show more humour, but she did lack a lot of confidence. The best part involving her, was when she escaped from the prison cell, where she showed a lot of resourcefulness.

        Seeing as this thread is about Seirei no Moribito, I feel like letting you know that I watched the first season of the live adaptation. It was alright, but definitely not as good as the anime. The actress playing Balsa was a bit too timid and skinny for my liking, and didn’t do the role justice. I actually felt the actress Danielle Rayne, would have been far better for the role. She’s in this great Portal short

        1. Hi Joe, I’m so sorry for the huge delay in responding. I have to clear out spam comments regularly and when I look at them it marks everything as “read” so I didn’t realize you’d responded until I scrolled to the older comments.

          That’s too bad about the live adaptation of SnM. I just watched the short you linked and it’s great! I definitely appreciate the actress’ presence, though I would love to see a Japanese actress nail the role. Meiko Kaji comes to mind – always playing gang leaders and assassins. (Fun fact: One of her movies, Lady Snowbird, was a huge inspiration for Tarantino’s Kill Bill and she wrote several songs for the movie.) She’s too old for the part as presented in the series, but I would totally pay to see older Balsa kick some ass.

          Anyway, if you ever want to get in touch or just shoot the breeze feel free to write me at! Easier for me to notice messages there.

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