The Twelve Kingdoms

Schoolgirl and friends get sucked into ancient China-like place that is not, in fact, ancient China, can’t get back home, and have adventures. The Twelve Kingdoms focuses on individual character development through carefully organized plot and a fantastic array of supporting characters. Based on a popular fantasy novel series by Fuyumi Ono, the Twelve Kingdoms follows the story of Youko Nakajima, a quiet and extremely self-conscious girl who is obedient to her parents and respected by teachers and students. When a mysterious man appears at her school, Youko is taken through a portal in the sea and soon finds herself lost and abandoned in another world and pursued by creatures both mythical and malevolent.

Initially, she deals with this the same way that many insecure, confused, and frightened anime heroines have – and scores no points whatsoever with anybody – by crying, and then whining, and finally breaking down (over and over and over). However, as she is forced to deal with a string of betrayals and to accept that she may never return home, she finally shows evidence of some backbone, transforming her into a heroic character.

On a definite plus side for the dub, the actors made a valiant effort to pronounce an extraordinary amount of Japanese words, with mostly positive results – an impressive feat when you consider that the show is sprinkled with not only Japanese names but also series-specific terms such as “kaikyaku,” “youma,” and “shoku”, etc.

Even if the lingo confuses you, Twelve Kingdoms is still worth watching simply for the sake of the animation. The character designs are based off pictures drawn by the author, and the detail portrayed in the novels is brought to vivid life in the anime. Each character or creature Youko encounters has a unique look, and a startling amount of attention was devoted to sketching patterns on fur or clothing. A scene as simple as a kirin walking across a glade is gorgeous, simply to behold the flowing hair.

The background artists also did some serious world-building, creating detailed decorations on and in buildings and washing everything in dusky yellow tones and bright colors that contrast sharply with the drab greens and grays of Youko’s present-day Japan. Enhancing the animation is a beautiful soundtrack with a dynastic, ancient Chinese folk music flare. The Twelve Kingdoms promises much for those who are willing to make a commitment. Others should probably look elsewhere.

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6 Responses to “The Twelve Kingdoms”

  1. Your reviews (movies too) are getting better and better and it’s a really nice review. Every word is in place and nothing is too much or too little.

  2. What Sitara says. Great review, Anocturne!

  3. hee! i get to watch a lot of anime these days because of the kids, you know, and sometimes something as breathtaking as the Twelve Kingdoms comes along, and for a high fantasy buff like me, gets the perfect blend of myth, background detail, and strong characters like Youko and the kings and the kirin, AND the graphics. well, i just feel lucky.
    btw, don’t you think the japanese have this weird fixation on schoolgirls with tiny uniforms??

  4. Going to answer your question via e-mail. I’d hate to be rapped on the knuckles by your Japanese readers! 😉

  5. ha, you mean your gaijin mama!

  6. and i just finished watching the 3rd DVD from the series, and can hardly wait for 4, which 64 people have put on hold already. aww man.

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