May 16, 2019

Twelve Kingdoms on Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll is streaming the anime series originally broadcast on NHK in 2002 and 2003. Crunchyroll acquired the rights from Discotek Media, which will release a Blu-ray edition later this month. The Discotek Media license is limited to North America. The series is also available on Amazon (dub only).

The NHK adaptation audaciously tried to cover all of the books in print at the time. But 45 episodes are not nearly enough to do the material justice. As a result, the sped-up storylines overlap (Taiki gets an early mention devoid of context), plot elements and characters are mixed and matched, while others are invented out of whole cloth.

To get an idea of how fast the narrative is paced, Rakushun shows up in episode 5, too early in the hero's journey for Youko to convincingly hit her physical and metaphysical "abyss." The plotting at that point instead turns on the invented elements.

Sugimoto makes a compelling proxy for both Suzu and the monkey. In fact, she's got an interesting enough arc to justify her own isekai series. She just doesn't belong in this one (beyond chapter 3 of Shadow of the Moon).

On the other hand, I have no idea what Asano is doing there as he hardly does anything. I imagine some marketing executive insisted on giving Youko a male classmate to broaden the demographic appeal. Unfortunately, the presence of these characters dilutes the dramatic impact of Youko's moral transformation.

And there are still three more books to go plus a couple of short stories.

In any case, the NHK series makes for a decent sort of Cliff's Notes guide. In the process, it leaves plenty of room for future (more faithful) adaptations. As with the remake of Space Battleship Yamato, 26 episodes for Shadow of the Moon and 26 episodes for A Thousand Leagues of Wind would be a nice start.

For historical fantasy world building on a similar scale, with a similar setting (though derived from medieval Korea rather than from China) and a similar main character arc, I recommend Yona of the Dawn. It is not an isekai series and I can't say how closely it tracks the original manga.

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# posted by Anonymous Westshore
5/23/2019 12:00 PM   
I saw the Twelve Kingdoms and I was so excited that I considered watching it for the 3rd since it's on Crunchyroll. However, I remembered that Sugimoto and Asano was in there and it turned me off. Those two characters aren't in the book when Youko went to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, so I would understand putting Asano in for demographic appeal. I just wish they had more spine so it'll be more interesting to watch, but instead they are the cliched full-of-fear characters.

I'm re-reading the book again, this time your translation instead of the official one on my bookshelf. I'm digging it so far!
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
5/27/2019 12:33 PM   
I enjoyed the 12 kingdoms anime, especially as I never would have discovered the books without it. I still rewatch parts of it from time to time.

Yes, the novels are a bit better as a story, but changing the medium requires some alterations in even the most faithful adaptations.

I don't mind the additional characters, as they are a visual medium for exploring the world without Youko, when they're separated.

# posted by Blogger Recynon
7/25/2021 9:51 AM   
Sugimoto and Asano's additions mostly interfered with Youko's arc during the first arc because her being utterly alone was instrumental for her growth. And yes, Youko had her turning point way too early but it was kind of necessary; because she had two other people there, she was a crybaby for way longer in the series than in the book, which made her much harder to tolerate and sympathize with.

I think the director or writer said they included the two new characters in order to externalize Youko's struggles. In the book much of her journey was simply her trying to survive in the wilderness, and without some type of narration of her inner monologue a 26 episode series would have been very repetitive. Though I'd much prefer they take the narration route rather than add two new characters because I don't think that approach succeeded.

The third arc was a great adaptation though, with very little left out, and they even used Asano to make a great exchange with Youko that wasn't in the book.

Now that the Taiki arc has concluded I would love to see a Twelve Kingdoms remake, but this isn't the early 2000s anymore and I fear there might not be many people left around who can transmit the grounded feel and earnest spirit of Fuyumi Ono. It's all light hearted pandering cutesy crap nowadays or edgy bishounen urban fantasies. The original was lucky to get Sho Aikawa, who, although not great at making entertaining series, was at least earnest in trying to put ideas to the screen that were in touch with real, gritty life. This year we were lucky to get Megalo Box Season 2, which has just the type of grounded approach that a Twelve Kingdoms remake needs.
# posted by Blogger Recynon
7/25/2021 11:01 AM   
Also I would not recommend Yona of the Dawn. Sure it's a similar premise but they're totally different in terms of spirit. Yona is a shoujo reverse harem with all the depth and merit that that description connotes and while the Twelve Kingdoms adaptation isn't perfect it's leagues ahead of Yona. Erin or Moribito are less similar to Youko's arc in terms of premise but you can tell the authors are the same kind of sincere people. Erin is actually very similar to the fourth arc of the 12K anime while Moribito seems like it's Taiki's story.