a.k.a. Juuni Kokuki (or Kokki)
Company: Studio Pierrot
Format: 45 episodes
Dates: 4/9/2002 to 8/30/2003
Nakajima Yoko serves as her class representative and tries to lead the life of a normal high school student. But with recurring nightmares and naturally red hair, she knows she is different than everyone else and never feels as if she fits in. One day a stranger named Keiki appears and swears to protect her. He tells her that she is his master and she must go with him to his world. There, in the mysterious world of the twelve countries, Yoko will find her true destiny.
summary by Madoka
Highs: Strong story development; successfully creates a new world
Lows: Dropped story arc; weak ending
The Twelve Kingdoms is an elaborate tale of a strange world and the people that come to inhabit it. With beautiful art and a complex story, the show transports you to a land rich with magic and history. Even with one sub-plot that ends all too soon, the character development and the story development create an epic story that entertains and captures your imagination.
A complex story filled with equal parts action and political intrigue, The Twelve Kingdoms advances at a steady pace. Even the recap episodes include some new information rather than merely stringing together random flashbacks. With the overall story broken into chapters, each story arc introduces characters that are fully explored by the end of the series. One chapter in the middle of the series hints that there is more to the story, but this sub-plot is dropped as another chapter begins, leaving the mystery of Takasato Kaname never fully explained. His story arc, however, introduces a character that plays a major role in the following chapter and also serves to acquaint the viewer with the world of the story. The series ends with a small side story after wrapping up the larger plot, which is a disappointing ending for a story that was so strong for most of the series.
The art and music match the tone of the setting, giving the entire series an old, historical feel. Even the language contributes to the atmosphere, introducing new words for concepts connected only to the foreign world. Viewers might have a hard time remembering words such as “kaikyaku”, “taiho” and the like, but as the series progresses the often-used terms become recognizable. All of these components form a well-developed and familiar world as the anime reaches its end.
This series is without a doubt worth every minute you spend on it. It’s a shame that the story falters towards the end, but, like Yoko, you will stay absorbed in the involving and intricate world of The Twelve Kingdoms.
Highs: Epic characters, story and soundtrack
Lows: Nomenclature takes some getting used to; hastened final arc
Before watching The Twelve Kingdoms, I thought the first paragraph of this review was going to relate this title to Fushigi Yuugi because of the high-schooler-in-a-quasi-China-land connection. Instead, I find a far more solid link to Wings of Honneamise just by how this anime transports you to an innovative and complex world filled with more fascinating stories than you can shake a stick at.
I began with some idea of how The Twelve Kingdoms was going to be played out, but it defied almost all of my expectations without hesitation. Once Yoko is taken to the world of the twelve kingdoms, everything unravels itself before you. Everyone in this new land has his story to tell, yet the best ones involve the larger-than-life characters who directly affect the course of history. Before you know it, Yoko herself becomes a hero the likes of which you read about only in poems like “Beowulf”, but the ordeals behind how she became one and the resulting political intrigue are just a part of what makes this anime just so gripping. The series cautiously spreads itself out to expand into new characters, and, ultimately, new stories. While all of this is happening, the music’s unique composition flows perfectly with the epic atmosphere, thus enhancing the story’s tone and presence.
As much as I want to love this anime from beginning to end, there’s a problem. The beginning thrusts you into the thick of things, and to understand everything that’s going on, you need to learn a new vocabulary of more than fifty words for the first story arc alone. Or think about this: there are multiple characters that can go by more than three names. And the final arc, Sea God in the East, Vast Sea in the West, just isn’t up to par with the others. Instead of a slow but steady pace that carefully weaves each character into the plot, everything is rushed; when a rebellion is put down in only a few episodes, you know there could’ve been far more backstory.
Despite a final story arc that wants to end too quickly, The Twelve Kingdoms is a great example of epic storytelling. Chock-full of heroes and the stories of their trials, this is an anime that will remind you just what anime can truly accomplish.