It seems fitting that, as the fund drive for “Women In Practical Armor” marches on, I share with you a show with a similar heart: “Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.” (I watched it on Netflix. It’s probably on other streaming services too, maybe Adult Swim, definitely on DVD somewhere.)
This one-season anime tells the story of Balsa, a bodyguard tasked with… ah, hell, the webernet’s full of synopses. It doesn’t need another. Here’s the series’ own wiki. The show is based on a book which I should probably read. Short story is it’s about a lady named Balsa who is all sccchwa-POW kya-clang-WHAM kick-ass with a short spear. (Those were all onomatopoetics. Would have made total sense if you could have seen me make the gestures. Just imagine Kung-Fu Panda trying to describe a spear-master in action.)
This show deserves notice because it has a lot more heart and realism than we often see in anime fantasy.
Here’s how it’s similar to other anime:
- Pretty female warrior does amazing things while fighting bad guys and monsters
- Emotional entanglement between her and the one she protects
- A character harbors a supernatural talisman which, if brought to the right place at the right time, will do good things.
- Meanwhile, monsters (with tentacles) try to rip said talisman carrier to bits
But here’s where Moribito stands apart:
- Balsa does her derring-do while fully dressed and armored to suit her combat style, and wearing proper support for athletic activity. The character is not sexually exploited with skimpy “armor,” low-angle upskirts, zero-gee tits, compromising shower scenes, or any instance of the famous anime eyes-down no-no-I-don’t-want-you-to-I’m-so-ashamed-but-don’t-stop blush. If you’ve ever watched any anime, you know what I’m talking about. The character depicted in this show is a fully-developed realistic human adult female combat veteran. You can respect this character, and the animation team that depicted her, and all the authors from the novelist through the script-writers.
- Most fairy tales show a male hero protecting a princess, and then they fall in love and he’s either like “okay, cool, king me, beeyatch” or all manly-standoffish like “for the good of the realm I harden my heart and wander off down a lonely road now that the danger’s passed.” Balsa is nearly 30. The prince she protects is 11. They for a very strong bond, but it’s parent/child, not romantic. It was really cool to see a fantasy explore maternal instinct in a warrior. Bonds don’t have to be sexual or romantic to matter in a story. Humans form all kinds of amazingly important connections, but most of them get sidelined for romance, especially in genre fiction. Doesn’t matter if the plot is about saving the world, rescuing someone, or changing the past – mass media’s message is almost that there ain’t no happy ending till someone gets to bump uglies. Think about that for yourself, in your future work. Does it really need to culminate in two people gettin’ it on, like every other bloody movie/book out there? I think it was great to see mother/child bonds validated as a powerful and meaningful driving force in this story.
- Balsa’s weapon is normal-sized. Everyone’s weapon is normal-sized. Sigh of relief.
- The magic in this storyline was gradually revealed. For the first few episodes I thought I was watching historical fiction. the supernatural does have a big role in this story, but so do interpersonal relationships, political intrigue, and real-life character traits like grief, perseverance, growth, skill, determination, joy, loyalty, duty and fear. Balsa doesn’t have any magic at all – she’s just a person whose blend of flaws and charms add up to someone capable and admirable. The story eventually spans two worlds, but before it gets there, you get a feeling for all the characters as realistic, complex people. Like real life, there are very few actually truly bad guys, just a bunch of people trying to do the right thing in the situation they’re in.
I link this review to “Women in Practical Armor” because the design and depiction of Balsa fits right in with the heart of the WIPA project. Balsa doesn’t wear much armor – just some arm bits and leg protectors, probably all leather. But WIPA isn’t about putting all women in fantasy into full plate. It’s about depicting strong female warriors dressing like real warriors. Many branches of Asian martial arts favor speed and maneuverability – a good defense is getting out of the way, so to speak. So a warrior of such a discipline would wear little armor at all. A wandering spear-wielding bodyguard would wear sensible, comfortable clothes adaptable to all weather. She wouldn’t wear skimpy lingerarmor. Balsa comes onto the screen already empowered, complicated, determined, open-hearted, and dressed properly.
If you’d like to know more about Moribito, check out the wiki.
If you’dd like to know more about the “Women in Practical Armor” project, please check out the content, updates and comments on the kickstarter page, and follow to stay posted for the book’s release.