Here’s the second post on the series “Your Anime Sucks“, where I, someone who is unfamiliar with anime, casually share my opinion on a series recommended by Hikago or Eien.
The Twelve Kingdoms is adapted from a series of fantasy novels set in a mythical (and very symmetrical) world that lies on an alternate plane of existence somewhere west of Japan. This world is evenly divided into twelve kingdoms and is closely watched by its creators. The ruler of each kingdom is chosen by twelve holy unicorns (Yes. I said unicorns…), and the ruler rules the kingdom by the will of the heavens.
With a total of 45 episodes, The Twelve Kingdoms is not a small series. So far there are three major story arcs. The first follows the hero’s journey/monomyth pattern, about a Japanese high school girl who discovers that she is chosen to become the next queen of kingdom Kei. The second, unfinished arc tells the story of a missing young unicorn. The third continues the reign of the new queen of Kei after she ascended to her throne. The series ended rather abruptly, suggesting that perhaps the creators had not anticipated the premature cancellation.
There is tremendous amount of back story revolved around the rules that govern this universe. While most are simple plot devices, others propose some very interesting scenarios. For example, unlike our own, this universe seem to be static and unchanging. It is the same now as it was at its moment of inception — a feudalistic society governed indirectly by the heavens through their appointed rulers. A peaceful kingdom flourishes, while natural disaster comes to those who go against the will of the heavens. Their technology does not surpass that of the middle ages (Despite periodically having portals connecting our worlds). Of course, none of this is terrifyingly new. People have lived in such conditions, with such similar beliefs for a couple of thousand years. One may even argue that it may simply be a natural progression of society, and since there are enough alternatives, there is no immediate need for technological advances, if they are even possible given the set of physical properties of that universe.
Regardless, what this proposed interaction between heaven and earth ultimately does is relieve people of moral responsibilities on a holistic level. That is, their moral responsibility is externalized to another source, and in this case, the heavens. The people do not ever have to judge the morality of their actions. Instead, they are told what is right, and what is wrong. Even if the people are not explicitly given a moral code, they can observe heaven’s response to the behaviors of those around them.
For better or for worse, the audience is also spared from having to make any difficult choices. It is immediately apparent who the supposed evildoer are. They are always accompanied by darkness, scars, stiff expressions, anything that can dissociate them from humanity, and their actions are exaggerated beyond necessity and empathy. This does not, however, discredit this series in any way. Many very successful works of fantasy such as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings series, share this very same trait.
As for the characters, though most go through a wide arc, they remain relatively one-dimensional. Rarely do they occupy more than a single state of mind, and rarely do they display any inner conflict or hypocrisy. It is important to note that shallow characters on its own is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, No Country for Old Men, a film notorious for its flat (and unchanging) characters is presented with best picture, directors, as well as writing at this year’s Oscars. The trouble with The Twelve Kingdoms is that it often resorts to shameless melodrama without the necessary emotional buildup. Not only is the payoff unsatisfying, it often drives the audience to become unsympathetic, as Frank Capra once so famously said, “I thought drama was when the actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries”.
But The Twelve Kingdom is not without its virtues. With excellent animation, pacing, and exposition, the story is vastly enjoyable. I, on several occasions, found myself watching watching one episode after another into the wee hours of the morning. If you’re looking to be passively entertained by an Anime series, you need not to look any further.