The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

The Twelve Kingdoms

Title: The Twelve Kingdoms aka Juuni Kokki
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio Pierrot
Format: 45 episodes
Dates: 9 Apr 2002 – 30 Aug 2003

Synopsis: Nakajima Youko is a quiet, humble highschool student with odd coloured hair. She is not disliked, but not liked either. She just wants to please everyone. One day, while at school, a tall white-haired man named Keiki appears before her and pledges his allegiance forever. He demands she accept him as her servant and she meekly agrees. A bird demon descends upon the school and she flees to the roof where Keiki hands her a sword to slay the demon. Before she realizes it, the demon is dead and she and two of her classmates are entering a portal into a parallel world completely unlike her own.

The Highlights
Learning curve: A lot of history and vocabulary to learn.
Nakajima Youko: Grows so much through the series.
Shoryuu and Rokuta: Quite possibly the best duo ever.
World building: Intricate and absolutely fascinating.

What is leadership? It’s a question that has been tackled in countless books, courses and studies. There is no clear-cut answer. It’s not even the same for every person. Ask any leader — it’s hard. Youko knows this even before she ever meets Keiki. She a compromiser, an appeaser who doesn’t want to stand out. As president of her class, she just wants everyone to get along. But as it has been said, you cannot lead others until you can first lead yourself. This is especially true for Youko, who soon realizes that in order to survive almost completely alone in an unfamiliar world, she must become stronger. Her journey is an incredible one, blended with rich politics and a cast of wonderful characters in a fascinating world .

The land of the Twelve Kingdoms is amazing. It is detailed and well-established, with a rich sense of history. To our eyes, magic exists there, but to the people there, it’s simply the way the world works. But just as we have the laws of physics, they have the laws of Tentei, and these rules are strict. The world of the Twelve Kingdoms provides a clear framework within which the characters must live. There will never be that all-powerful spell or that magical sword which will fix all the protagonist’s problems. Youko has only her wits and a few friends to help her.

The supporting characters in The Twelve Kingdoms are well developed, and the interplay between them is genuine and natural. Shoryuu and Rokuta in particular are a perfect pair. Their subtle jabs at each other show how comfortable they are together, contrasting with Youko and Keiki, who struggle to understand one another. I sympathized with Taiki as he agonized over his important decision, and I forgave Shoukei her selfishness. In short, I loved these characters and the relationships between them.

It is for these reasons that The Twelve Kingdoms ranks among my favourite series. I should mention that it is based on a series of novels and short stories by Ono Fuyumi, who later wrote Shiki. The Twelve Kingdoms anime is split into four sections based on four of the seven books in the series. Ono herself said that she doesn’t think of the Twelve Kingdoms stories as fantasy tales, but rather as a historical drama set in a fictional world. I am inclined to agree. But as much as I love this series, it is, alas, imperfect.

Technically, there is a lack of consistency in the animation that often makes the characters appear warped, especially in their faces. Plus, many of the demons sound like 12-year-olds screeching into a microphone. In an effort to provide Youko with more interaction, two new characters, Sugimoto and Asano, were added into the anime from the original novel. While not terrible, their presence introduces some inconsistencies in an otherwise tight story. Because the world of The Twelve Kingdoms is so detailed, there is a lot of vocabulary that must be learned and a steep learning curve to the series. This, along with the early whininess of Youko and Suzu, may turn some people away, but it is absolutely worth it to stick it out. I will also say that the last arc of the series is not as strong as the previous ones, causing the series to end on a weaker note. Originally, more of Ono’s stories were to be included in the anime adaptation, but sadly this was not to be. The stories included in the 45 episodes produced are complete, but true fans will need to turn to the novels to find out what happens next.

What the series does do well is capture how epic this story is, setting the stage with a fully orchestrated opening piece set to images that reflect the art of ancient China. The soundtrack, provided by Kunihiko Ryu, echoes this theme and adds some stunning piano and string pieces.

The Twelve Kingdoms is not like many other “girl transported to another world” anime. There is no tragic love story, no magical items, no fate. Here is an intricate and fascinating world of believable characters and politics. This is a series about friendship, determination, leadership and responsibility, and it one of my all-time favourites.


The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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