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Twelve Kingdoms: A MUST WATCH Anime...

Started by Andy Kitkowski, April 07, 2005, 04:50:31 PM

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Andy Kitkowski

Twelve Kingdoms

So, for the Forge Birthday folks, I give to you this gift: If you can enjoy anime, check it out. The chance that it doesn't resonate with you is extremely low.

If you can watch Anime (ie don't have a weird aversion to it), I implore you to give this one a shot. If you're here at the Forge, I'm making some assumptions about you (you like RPGs, you can dig fantasy, you're open to different cultures), and I think you'd get a kick out of it.

The short and sweet:
* It's about this parallel world, a world that seems like fantasy China with its own particular fantastic spin.
* It's long, epic, and ALL the main characters grow, change and develop over time.
* It makes you first revile and despise the rigidity of such a culture (ancient Chinese analogue), but as the anime progresses and you see how everything flows (and see the main character come to terms with it in the end), it almost makes you wish you could live under a deific monarchy.
* Almost all characters control demons (for the Sorcerer fans)
* The main character is a girl that gets whisked from modern Japan to this fantasy China and has to cope with it.  The main sub-character is her "friend", who also gets taken with her.  This friend is big into fantasy literature, and the way that she reacts to the new world is much like one of US put into that world- with all the good and bad elements that entails. Tres interesting.
* No panty shots, titilation (it's produced by public TV in Japan, NHK)
* I'm a total whore for good anime, and this is the best series that I've seen in about two or three years. It's my favorite anime, tied neck and neck with one called "Fruits Basket".
* I like particularly epic, long stories... AS LONG AS THEY PAY OFF.  For me, there's no point in watching a long series or mini-series if it doesn't drop my jaw.  This show is 45 or so episodes long, which is roughly 20 solid hours of story. Good story.  Ups and downs. Emotional moments, jaw-dropping moments, stand up and cheer moments.

Here's the long description (originally posted to RPGNet a few weeks back):

Currently, upon our second watching of Twelve Kingdoms, my wife and I have upgraded the status of this anime from "Second favorite series, ever", to "Sharing the throne with Fruits Basket as our favorite Anime or TV series, ever".

It's scary watching this anime, because as you continuously watch it, you begin to realize that you will never see another anime that was so superbly crafted as this one. It almost is painful realizing that you're watching pretty much the pinnacle of serialized television anime, because it's hard to stomach going back to BitTorrent or whatever, thinking "I wonder if I'll find something nearly as good as Twelve Kingdoms". The answer for me is, of course, "no", but that doesn't stop me from trying .

OK, blowjobs aside, let's get down to the anime:

Basically, it's about this average Japanese high school girl, Yuko Nakajima. She is kinda uptight, always playing it so that her family, "friends" (classmates) and others think that she's a Good Girl, but in reality she seems to have no personality of her own. She is recently plagued by weird dreams.

Well, one day at school a mysterious stranger in Chinese garb shows up, swears his loyalty to her, and whisks her and two of her classmates (Sugimoto and Asano) to another world, as Yuko was being attacked by strange, large mythical creatures. From there, we get taken to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms.

At this point (episode 1), I was like, "Oh, fuck, another of THOSE anime" (thinking back to Escaflowne or Fushigi Yuugi). Unlike those anime, though, this one is not a comedy (FY), and the main characters all have realistic human issues that they stumble through (Esc), they're not just "Schoolgirls in another land".

Anyway, there's 44 episodes in the anime. However, this is not the end of the saga- While making the anime, the author of the books that they're based on became ill for a while and took a break from writing. Now that she's better, and has been writing more novels, we can only hope to one day see more Twelve Kingdoms anime.

Here's the high points of the anime, where I will group story elements with extraneous stuff (see point 1):


1) NHK (Japanese public TV) did this anime, not one of the satellite TV anime channels. NHK only tends to show anime of some sort of higher cultural merit. Think of them like PBS but with an enormous budget. So they tend to never show "Panty Shot Princess Bigtits in the Land of Titilating Sexual Situations" style anime.

2) Also, this anime is based on a series of novels by... crap, forgot her name. Anyway, not only are they bestsellers in Japan, they're also pretty highly regarded even by critics (ala Harry Potter, etc). The issues that they deal with are not "schoolgirl issues", but everyman issues. So the anime has some rich background stories to draw upon. (note: I tried reading the novels, but critically fumbled. I'm giving them another shot later this year once I've boned up on a couple hundred more kanji).

3) The soundtrack is incredible. Again, probably because of the NHK funding, but it's classical mixed with Chinese-sounding instruments. Incredible placement within the anime itself, as well.


4) Again, this is an anime that takes place in a Chinese fantasy world, but the characters in it all have human issues. That's what makes this anime so compelling. They have to make hard choices, and face the consequences.

5) The character Sugimoto is, as a friend remarked, basically what would happen if one of us (that is, an RPGNet regular, who is generally prone to thinking, "Holy shit! A magical Chinese fantasy world that exists next to ours! I want to live here!!!") were in the world of Twelve Kingdoms. With all the good and bad things that implies.

6) The characters grow, evolve, and become more complex. The main character in episode 1, heck episode 13 (the end of the first story arc), is still very different than the character at the end of episode 44. At times she goes through sudden, massive personality shifts, but its an effect of condensing a series of novels into anime... and it works out in the end.

7) It makes you want to run a game set in feudal China. There's so much inspiration and coolness to draw upon, it's ripe... well, not to make a 12 Kingdoms game per se, becuase the countries tend not to war with each other, but to life huge chunks of the culture, background, beastiary, etc and put them in your own campaign. Heck, ever a 12 Kingdoms story would be interesting, though challenging.

8) Incredibly moving moments. Even the second time through, in the first story arc (the first 13 episodes) there were no fewer than about 3-5 times that I got teary-eyed.

9) Cultural coolness. For a while, much later in the series, we see the main character, a product of modern western values and civilization, "trapped" in the social rules of a culture like ancient China. It feels very much like China, and for a time you may find yourself longing for a god-appointed absolute ruler in this world. And yet, the character (as we see in the last episode) still gets to reconcile her past in modern westernized Japan with the present social atmosphere in the Twelve Kingdoms.

10) Really cool characters. I don't want to spoil anything, but just about every main or sub-character is great. I am especially fond of the "hanjuu" (half animal/half human) characters that appear.

And this wouldn't be fair if I didn't weigh in with some Minuses, right?


1) The story is not "100% complete". The author is still writing the novels. But, like Fruits basket and other works based on an ongoing series, the anime finds a great place to stop. Unfortunately, there are more than a few loose ends (the second story arc doesn't find a solid ending, though it is a great story arc).

2) Inundation with terms. Doesn't matter if you're Japanese, Chinese or American; You're gonna get hit, and hard, with LOTS of new terms. Shouko, Taiho, Saiho, people names, place names, province names, blah blah blah. It's quite formidable. At times, I forget who or what the fuck they're talking about (a Taiho is a Saiho? Enki is a Kirin? Why does Enko have like 4 different names???), even though they mention the name several times in a row. It's a heady buy-in, but worth it: Immersion is Fucking There, if you can get past the terms.

3) Main character whininess. I won't spoil things, but she starts off as a whiny, crying bitch. As time goes on... things change. By the end, she is an incredibly rich and interesting character. However, in that first story arc, she has about 2 dramatic personality shifts. If you can bear it, it's worth it. It Does Get Better.

4) General confusion. You'll be watching, thinking "damn, I don't know who this is, or what they're talking about!!!". Don't worry, it WILL all make sense. This isn't one of those shows you have to watch over and over again to "get it". Rather, it reveals certain elements to you at the beginning or middle of the first story arc, that become clear later. Certainly, a second viewing will clarify things a lot... But this isn't one of those "Oh, you HAVE to watch it no fewer than X times to REALLY understand it" shows (that I tend to avoid).

5) No boxed set. The last, 10th DVD just came out last month. Unlike the Australian release, though, Media Blasters is NOT releasing a cool 12 Kingdoms boxed set with encyclopedia and maps and cool shit. No, gotta hunt down all 10 volumes seperately. What a fucking loss of an opportunity. "Media Blasters, here's my fucking money! I'll buy TWO!" Too bad...

6) The dubbing is atrocious. As usual for anime, this one all but proves that US voice actors are just going through the motions. When Famous Actors play parts in US animated movies (Shreck, Pixar titles, etc), or when they dub Hao Miyazaki releases, they tend to really get into it, ham it up, modulate their voices, etc. I'll be the first to admit it when I hear a dub that's good (Cowboy Bebop, Hao Miyazaki animes, etc), but this isn't it. Listen to the character of Rakushun the Half-rat in Japanese (sounds nasal and 'rat-like') then in English (sounds like... "just some guy") to have this point hammered in.

Anyway, that's all. If you can read this, and you like anime, you owe it to yourself to pick this up and give it a try. The first story arc is 13 episodes, and is spread between DVDs 1-3. Note: Netflix has this available, but Blockbuster online does not (in fact, don't expect to be able to rent anything after "DVD 4": They're all in "extreme long wait" status. Fucking Blockbuster online, I did this as an extremely cheap one-month trial, thank god I'm pulling the plug). I'm right now hunting for a place to buy all the DVDs in one go. Amazon is decent, but I'm hunting for online anime stores to see what kind of deal I can get.

Oh, and note: eBay sells the "Official Chinese release" (with Japn voices, Chinese and English subtitles) version for approx $36 with shipping in tons of auctions, but after seeing the screen caps, I'm 95% certain that the subbing in English will be "Poor", and I'm 50% certain that that Poor subbing will be Downright Shitty and Unintelligible (like the Chinese versions of Fruits Basket, Last Exile). Be warned.

Also, if anyone else saw it, and have something to say about it (positive or negative), go right ahead.
The Story Games Community - It's like RPGNet for small press games and new play styles.

Ben Lehman

Having watched a chunk of this show, I'd just like to say that it is very compelling, particularly the character of Sugimoto, someone who desperately wants a fantasy world to escape to.

Because that want doesn't go away just when you've entered one.

It's quite a good show.  It is probably in my top five anime series (so miyazaki's movies don't count), but I haven't seen the whole thing.

For what it is worth, the others in the top five:

Haibane Renmei (13 episodes, you can watch it in an afternoon)
Serial Experiments Lain (ditto)
Revolutionary Girl Utena
The Irresponsible Captain Tyler


Andy Kitkowski

Quote from: Ben LehmanI'd just like to say that it is very compelling, particularly the character of Sugimoto, someone who desperately wants a fantasy world to escape to.

Because that want doesn't go away just when you've entered one.

WOW.  Quite perceptive, and poignant.  That's a pretty poetic way to describe the tragic flaws of that character.  Tres cool.
The Story Games Community - It's like RPGNet for small press games and new play styles.


Neat, I'll have to check it out.  As it stands now, my favorites are Giant Robo(with the original english dub on the VHS), Hakkenden and Macross Plus.  Has reached translation status, or can I grab a copy via Chinatown and get my HK english subs?

Andy Kitkowski

Quote from: BankueiHas reached translation status, or can I grab a copy via Chinatown and get my HK english subs?

Oh, it's translated and released (I originally got it via Bittorrent -gasp- but then began buying the DVDs from ).  Unfortunately, from what I've seen of the HK version, the english subs were sub-par.  At worst, they could be like the HK versions of Fruits Basket or Last Exile that I got, which look like they were written by someone who was translating Chinese->English with a dictionary in their lap, having never uttered a word of English in their life.
The Story Games Community - It's like RPGNet for small press games and new play styles.


I really want to get my hands on this, but I'm broke, and I'd hate having to start in the middle of the series.


That's fine.  I've gotten used to re-translating HK-lish to actual understanding.  It's scary now.  But, if there's an official translation, I'll check it out.