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Twelve Kingdoms Vol. 1: Shoku (2002)

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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Anime Works
Genre: Anime, Fantasy Anime
Running Time: 125 min.
Languages: English, Japanese
Subtitles: English
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The story opens with the everyday life of Youko Nakajima. Upon being confronted by a mysterious stranger, Youko is made aware of her destiny and pulled away into another world. Along with two of her classmates, Sugimoto and Asano, she is abandoned of foreign shores. This begins Youko's epic journey to the Kingdom of Kei on a perilous road of espionage, terror, and betrayal. The mystic world of The Twelve Kindoms assils her with one savage challenge after another. Will Youko have the courage to embrace her destiny?

Contains episodes 1-5.

GreenCine Member Reviews

Epic Tales of Swords, Sorcery, Monsters, and Intrigue by wesjfrank August 27, 2007 - 3:55 PM PDT
In The Twelve Kingdoms we have a magnificently drawn and scripted high fantasy adventure series. It stands well off to the "naturalistic" side of anime, where the women have normal bosoms, where the warriors fight without taking timeouts for bombast, and where the female lead has more to do than pine after that cute local lord with the big sword and the brooding angst. There is, instead, an abundance of drama, beauty, thought, and humor, all painted on a wondrously enchanted canvas.

The series is based on the best-selling novels of Fuyumi Ono. Forty-five episodes on ten disks provide plenty of room for monsters, swordfights, battles, murder, and intrigue, neatly interwoven with Fuyumi's meditations on character and leadership. The gorgeous backdrops and naturalistic character designs can be stiff or enchanting, depending on your tastes. The musical score ranges from haunting Chinese traditional to thrilling modern classical themes.

The four stories told in the series combine personal journeys with tales of war and political intrigue and a kaleidoscope of characters and creatures.

Shadow of the Moon, Sea of the Shadow (Episodes 1-13)

The series begins, as apparently all great anime adventures must, in a Japanese high school. Youko Nakajima, an attractive, popular girl, is nonetheless plagued by self-doubt. When an exotic looking man called Keiki--actually a kirin, an Asian unicorn of immense spiritual power---suddenly appears in her classroom, she is both baffled by his offer of eternal fealty and frantic about the gossipy comments from her classmates. Youma, demonic monsters in the shape of luridly transformed animals, attack the school. Youko agrees to accept Keikis offer and is carried off by his servants through a shoku, a magical storm, to another world. There, she learns that the kirin has chosen her as queen of one of the twelve realms.

Events separate Youko from Keiki and she finds herself stalked by monsters, a turncoat companion, a taunting nightmare being, and a mad king. Youko's sheltered upbringing has left her ill equipped, physically or emotionally, for this violent, hardscrabble world. This is a tale where the goal is less the throne of a kingdom than it is Youko's attempt to survive and become worthy of it.

Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Labyrinth (Episodes 15-20)

In the Twelve Kingdoms, humans, animals, and kirin are not born of the body, but from ranka, the fruit of sacred trees. Parents wishing to raise children gain them by praying at a holy site. Kirin are born of a tree on the sacred Mount Hou, where they are tended by priestesses and guarded by lesser gods. A shoku can carry off fruit from a sacred tree to Hourai (Japan). That child, called a taika, is born to parents in our world in the usual fashion. Youko learns that she is a taika, as are Shoryu, the King of En who mentors her, Rokuta, the Kirin of En, and the black kirin called Taiki.

In this story arc, the tale of Taiki is related to Youko as she meets with Rokuta and Shoryu on Mount Hou. Taiki, like Youko, was brought up in Tokyo and was carried off to Mount Hou as a young boy, ignorant of his true nature. The Sea of Wind, the Shore of the Maze is more a character study than the other story arcs. We learn how a child from Japan struggled to come to terms with the powers, the dangers, and the responsibility of a semi-divine destiny.

A Thousand Miles of Wind, The Sky of Dawn (Episodes 23-39)

The third story arc of The Twelve Kingdoms is a grand, complex adventure. We begin with the three young women in three different kingdoms fighting to gain control of their lives and destinies. Their stories are interwoven with a sophisticated tale of political intrigue, brutal oppression, and rebellion in a province of the Kingdom of Kei.

Youko, the newly enthroned Queen of Kei, flees her capital, leaving the realm in the hands of contemptuous ministers while she teaches herself to lead and rule. We also meet Shoukei, a tyrant's daughter who lived through his reign as an ornament in the royal palace. Hated by all and consumed by self-pity, she decides on a whim to go to Kei to overthrow the girl queen now possessing the wealth and respect she lost. Finally, a serving girl named Suzu also hears of the new queen of Kei. Suzu is Japanese, carried off to the Kingdom of Sai by a shoku a hundred years ago. She escapes from the abusive priestess who owns her and flees to Kei, hoping that Youko will free her and take her in.

The mix of secondary characters in A Thousand Miles of Wind, The Sky of Dawn is dazzling. There are conspiring court officials, corrupt governors and generals, a psychotic town boss, cut-throat soldiers, and mercenary rebels, along with common folk just trying to survive hard times. All the characters and factions gather to fight for a province of Kei and the attention of Kei's ruler. Even as they do this, Youko hides among them, looking for a way to bring peace and justice to her realm. War, murder, intrigue, and tragedy ensue, leading to a rousing double ending to the story arc and profound changes in the lives of all involved.

Sea God of the East, Azure Sea of the West (Episodes 41-45)

Five centuries ago, soon after the kirin Rokuta brought Shoryu from Japan to take up the throne of En, the new king faced a possible civil war. Shoryu's opponent, Atsuyu, was young, popular, and just and wise in the arts of war and governance. He held the respect and loyalty of much of the kingdom, while Shoryu's intentions and worth were suspect. The last completed story arc of The Twelve Kingdoms is the tale of this conflict, related by Shoryu to Youko as a parable. Was there any great difference between the two men, the one who succeeded, and the one who failed? Who would truly have made the better king? As the tale of Shoryu's chess-like political duel with Atsuyu unfolds, we come back again to the grave Shoryu visits at the beginning of the story, wondering, as he does, if there can be any final judgment.

People who enjoyed the series regret not just the two dozen or so planned episodes that were never finished, but many more stories told in Fuyumi Ono's novels. What of the other kingdoms, the ones described only in passing? What of their monarchs, their kirin, their cultures, and their gods? Possibly this series will find a creative team with the means to build on what has already been done. For those who have already felt the wonder of Fuyumi's creation, it would be wonderful to get lost amid The Twelve Kingdoms once again.

Poorly written and executed by k9999 March 9, 2006 - 12:19 PM PST
0 out of 5 members found this review helpful
Three major flaws:

1. The animation is crude. I often felt like I was watching a slide show. The action sequences are executed with a Dragonball-esque level of competence (which is to say, they're stiffly animated and unoriginal).

2. The sound design (on the Japanese track at least) is also crude. Beastial monsters play a large role in this story, but when they roar, it sounds exactly like some guy going "rowr!" into a microphone. And that guy isn't even trying very hard. It's bad enough to break suspension of disbelief. I mean, this series sounds worse than Thundercats.

3. The protagonist is extremely annoying, both in how she's written and how she's voice-acted. She breaks into tears at the drop of a hat, and therefore spends half the first disc wailing semi-coherently in a high-pitched voice (again, this is the Japanese track) that gets grating really quickly. Imagine one of those wailing village women in Seven Samurai, the ones who spend the entire movie running, bowing, and crying hysterically. Now put one of them in a schoolgirl uniform, give her a magical sword, and make her the star of the story. Sound like something you'd want to watch?

Miaka in the Land of Mononoke Hime... kinda... by roadwarrior November 5, 2004 - 7:57 AM PST
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful
Take Fushigi Yugi, remove most of the humor and most of the bishounen, add some fantastic variations on classical mythic creatures, improve the artwork, and streeeetch out the plot. Now you have an idea of what you'll get with the first disc of this series. Although the animation is uneven at times, the well done battle sequences kept me interested enough to hang in there waiting for the plot to develop. And boy, do you wait. Five episodes on this disc makes for a pretty good value, so that's another plus. The preview for the first ep of the second disc has a "Through the Looking Glass" feel to it, so we'll see how that develops.

You may need to take notes as this show offers a completely developed new mythology (well, new to many of us in the West) including beings, events, and relationships that have a nomenclature all their own. One of the principal characters, Rakushun (a talking rat, no less!), explains nearly everything in its entirety in Chapter 14 of disc 3, and I found myself saying, "oh, so that's the reason...", but you've spent twelve chapters trying to keep up with everything until that time.

If you can hang on, I believe you will be rewarded with what is ultimately a satisfying tale with plenty of suspense, drama, action, and its share of tragic as well as comedic moments. Youko discovers hidden facts about herself and facets of her personality that had lain dormant due to a twist in the circumstances of her birth. Greatness is thrust upon her and through a series of trials, she becomes heroic. My rating for this first disc is a 7, but having gone through chapter 14, my rating for the series goes up to an 8.

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