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Twelve Kingdoms Review

Genres: Fantasy Drama All
Series' Year of Release: 2002
Number of Episodes: 45
Review Date: 29-7-2009
Review Language: Dub
Review DVD Region: R4 Available in Australia
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Review By: Bradley Beeck

The Twelve Kingdoms is a land hidden in the sea, a land ruled by divine laws and populated by mythical creatures. The ruler of each of the Twelve Kingdoms is chosen by a Kirin, a creature that embodies godís will. Keiki is the Kirin of Kei and he has searched the lands to find the next ruler of his kingdom. After years of trying he begins searching outside the Twelve Kingdoms where he finds Youko. Youko must accept her new destiny and home in the Twelve Kingdoms. Her friends Yuka and Asano accompany her on this journey that will change them all.

twelve_kingdoms011The Twelve Kingdoms is a fantasy series adapted from a group of novels deep in Chinese mythology. Itís hugely complex and has been called the Lord of the Rings of the east. The anime runs for 45 episodes but even that isnít enough to tell the entire story. For once the source material is slowly being released in English so some loose threads could be tied up in that.

twelve_kingdoms014The Twelve Kingdoms doesnít just tell one characterís story. It starts off with Youko, Asano, and Yuka making their way through this harsh world but then it delves into many other characters along the way. Such as the Kirin of Tai, the King of En, the Princess of Hou and the hanjyuu Rakushun. Youko is the central figure through the series and serves as a vehicle for these other stories. Some of these tales are distinctly better than others, for instance the arc on the Princess of Hou is superior to the arc about the Kirin of Tai. The Kirinís story just felt irrelevant, a red herring even as his story wasnít completely explained. Still the vast majority of the arcs are excellent and I wished there was more. The series ends without any fanfare and the last lines of dialogue arenít even said by Youko.

twelve_kingdoms047The thing that makes the Twelve Kingdoms really stand out is the characterization. Each character starts at a point then goes through a harsh journey and comes to understand their own flaws. Youko begins as someone whoís always trying to please everyone by being a good girl but thatís not how she ends up. Itís the same for Yuka and Asano. The only problem with this is the cast at the start of the series arenít likeable. I thought Yuka was a narcissistic bitch and Youko was pathetic. However you donít have to persevere long as Youko picks herself up after 5 or so episodes.

twelve_kingdoms016As I said earlier the series is hugely complex and establishes a detailed fictional world. Consequently itís rich in foreign terms: A hanjyuu is a person who can turn into an animal and a Kirin is the holy creature that selects the ruler of a kingdom. The DVD release explains these terms on the inside of the jacket in addition to the show itself. The amount of foreign words might be overwhelming and a barrier to someone new to anime.

twelve_kingdoms045The series features generally great animation and the backgrounds are a highlight. Although Youkoís appearance was inconsistent in the Great Distance in the Wind, the Sky at Dawn chapter. The music is a mixed bag of sounds ranging from something with an electronic/dance beat to traditional soft Chinese instruments. The OP song Juuni Genmukyoku by Kunihiko Ryo encapsulates this. Both the OP and the ED, Getsumei Fuuei by Mika Arisaka, are used for entire length of the series. I enjoyed them both and listened to them more often than not. While watching the show I noticed that two lines of dialogue were missing or had been dropped in the dub. Theyíre obvious because thereís an extended period of silence. The first one isnít important but the second one is and should have been said by the Princess of Hou.

The Twelve Kingdoms is an exceptional show. It features a complex fully realized fictional world that is used to tell a multithreaded story. The characters truly live in this world and grow and change as the series progresses. In other words the Twelve Kingdoms is a triumph of characterization.