I'm kind of surprised we don't have one either, especially with one of our staff being named "Kaikyaku".
I've actually started one, but I need to get back to it and work on it a bit more. The thing with a review though, is that it's a little bit limiting in that I can't get into a lot of the details. I can't even give it as high a score as I would like, because as much as I love it, I know that there are some faults, especially in the technical area as TIF mentioned.
For the record, I've watched the entire series several times and in 2009 I read every single translation of the books that I could find, which means all but one. I found to books to be incredible and amazingly detailed in how the world works and all the pieces fit together. The sad part is that the series will likely never be finished, since Fuyumi Ono has since moved on to other projects and she rather painted herself into a corner with the Taiki arc in the novels. I honestly have no idea how she could possible resolve the story other than in tragedy. She has said she will finish the story, but I haven't heard of anything recently. Writing this kind of story isn't really her passion, since she prefers horror (Shiki). I will keeping hoping though.
I do have a few comments for you, TIF. I hope my 12 Kingdoms knowledge is not too rusty.
Thus, the individual kingdoms are completely driven by a metaphysical force, and not by the aspirations of the people living in it.
They way I have seen it, is that the people and especially the ruler are supposed to live according to the Will of Heaven, but these are closer to religious principles like the 10 commandments than any kind of political platform. You could say that leaders in our world should follow these guidelines as well, only in the world of the 12 Kingdoms, they can actually be enforced through Tentei. The strategy for governing is left up to the ruler, as long as they follow the Will of Heaven and provide for the people.
As demonstrated in the longer arc with Youko, the ruler along cannot manage an entire kingdom. Without a fleet of trusted advisers and administrators, nothing would ever get done. In that sense, they people do have some power over their future (at least the sennin). It is a team effort.
I don't know what kind of bovine idiot you'd have to be to suddenly one day decide you want to be a cruel despot
I know you are exaggerating, but I thought the whole concept was an interesting study on the idea that power corrupts. Many rulers will start their reign with the best of intentions, but over time do they become arrogant? Do they lose sight of their aim? Do they become paranoid? Some rulers succumb quickly, like King Kou, while others, like King En, are able to keep going for hundreds of years. Yet there is still the expectation that no kingdom can be prosperous forever and eventually all Kings/Queens will fall. Is Tentei then dooming one person to an awful fate in each country? They have to accept that responsibility when they agree to become the ruler. Even Shoryuu knows that as good a ruler that he is, one day he will also fall.
In the end, the kingdom isn't really governed by the ruler at all, but by whatever overwhelming force is determining the "health" of the country in question based on the actions of the ruler. So why have a king or queen at all?
The Will of Heaven that the rulers have to follow is, I believe, pretty basic. As I mentioned before, it's more of a "make sure the people have food and protect them from natural disaster and don't kill them all" kind of deal. The kingdoms are ruled by the administrators and ministers, with some rulers being very involved and others not. The question of whether a King of Queen is needed is a good one, and one that is brought up in the series as well. Youko's predecessor was the Queen, but she never involved herself in any of the aspects of governing. For a short time, the country was still able to function and, if she hadn't fallen for Keiki, things might have continued that way for some time. Conversely, Hou is presently without a ruler, but has a capable administrator who is managing the country well. Yet Hou can never prosper without a ruler on the throne, due to the nature of the system. Does the government structure require a person who can make a final decision?
Also, who'd want to live in a place where all it takes is for your ruler to **** up for you to suffer for years on end with starvation and youkai attacks?
Who'd want to live on a planet where there are wars all the time, where there is mass starvation and inequality and economic structures that collapse? Well we don't have a choice do we? I always felt it was the same for the people in the 12 Kingdoms. Asking why they would want to live there is silly because there is no alternative. Their world is what is it. Tentei rules and the ruler is chosen by the Taiho. Done. In this reality, these are simple facts that can't be changed. There is a ruler because there is a ruler. Now they just have to make the best of it.
But, the author would have you believe, through the various conversations, that this is a great system of government.
Really? I never got this impression. I doubt the people of Kou or the people of Hou would speak of the system in positive terms at the moment. Related to the above, I always had the idea that it is what it is and that the characters were explaining the system rather than recommending it. There are, as with all systems, some good attributes. And evidently the system can work well, as seen in En and Sou. I don't think many would claim the system to be ideal though. Even if it was designed to be, by Tentei, in practice it is quite obviously not.
Storywise, I also think the idea of the kingdom rules limits the opportunities. You can't conquer another kingdom, so there's a sort of boring status quo.
I didn't think it was boring! I wouldn't have scoured for every bit of 12 Kingdoms goodness if I did.
The author also seems to think that divine intervention is the only thing that can stop humans from warring. Maybe she's right, even though she's set up each kingdom so that they have no want or need as long as the ruler plays nice nice.
The idea that Fuyumi Ono believes only divine intervention can stop wars is an interesting one. I believe her background in in Buddhist studies, so she may have a pacifist vibe. However, I hardly think that the rulers simply have to play nice to be successful. Look at the last story arc with Shoryuu and Atsuyu as well as the third arc with Youko, Shoukei and Suzu. Both leaders had to deal with severe challenges from within their own borders. Both conflicts required armies and clever political maneuvering. To me, the series gave the impression that issues like this would always come up for rulers. Indeed, in one of the novels Youko faces another dire political situation. I think at one point Shoryuu even comments that he hopes things never get boring, because without some rebellion to deal with he might get bored and try to start his own war.
Religion is out, as well, since there's no reason to believe in anything but the ruling force that dominates the damn world.
I always thought of religion as central to the world of the 12 Kingdoms. It is Tentei, God, after all who selects the rulers and monitors the countries. It may not be a religion in the sense that people go to church, but I think it is very much built into their dailly lives. There is only one religion because there is no reason to doubt it (for most people, though some do challenge it).
I think I just could have done without the omnipresent governance looming over the fates of the Twelve Kingdoms. It doesn't feel organic to me, but completely methodical.
It is completely artificial. There is one entity that rules the world in a direct way. I don't think the point was ever for it to feel organic. I think it was to create a fascinating world that was fundamentally different from our own and examine it through these stories and characters. The world is not just a tool of the plot. The stories are built around the foundations of the world. That, to me, is good writing.
EDIT: Wow, so many typos. Apparently I also need an editor for my forum posts.