I was looking for something mindless to have on when I came upon the anime series Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. To this, the show was a dreadful failure: I was unable to tear myself away from the screen. The story, the characterizations, the action; it was gripping, intelligent, relevant and entertaining.
Then I learned that it was originally a novel series by Nahoko Uehashi, and that the series only covered the first book. The library had the first two volumes, and I quickly tore my way through them.
Author Nahoko Uehashi has created a brilliant, believable world populated by interesting and human people. Issues of class, colonialism, gender, duty and tradition are masterfully interwoven into an exciting adventure narrative.
But the analysis between the books and the tv series adaptation is particularly fascinating. The tv series expands on the first book, adding episodes that are absent from the books (notably, characters in both are equally vivid; but that’s a product of the mediums used, not of the quality of the storytelling). It avoids the trap of focusing on the “action” as so often happens in adaptations of this genre: the primary focus correctly remains the human drama that unfolds for the main characters.
But there’s also other important differences. Balsa, the protagonist of the story, is described by Nahoko Uehashi as a battle-scarred older warrior that specifically depicted as not “traditionally” attractive, yet in the tv series she’s rendered as a very anime-stereotypically attractive young woman though they do keep her sensibly attired for a warrior. The racial tension between conquerors and conquered alluded to in the book is largely purged. Balsa is also given very different character development between the two mediums. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that the gender politics of the (male-directed) tv series diverges from the seeming intent of the (female) author of the books to turn traditional East Asian gender politics on its head.
Do I like the politics of the books better? Yes. But that doesn’t change the quality of the theatre of the tv series.