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The Twelve Kingdoms Collection One
The Twelve Kingdoms Collection One
Genres: Television, Anime & Manga, Animation
UR     2007     9hr 10min

Studio: Media Blasters Inc. Release Date: 08/27/2007


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Movie Details

Genres: Television, Anime & Manga, Animation
Sub-Genres: Television, Anime & Manga, Animation
Studio: Anime Works
Format: DVD - Color - Animated,Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 06/19/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/2002
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2002
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 9hr 10min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 5
SwapaDVD Credits: 5
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Japanese, English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Epic Tales of Swords, Sorcery, Monsters, and Intrigue
Midland | The Midwest | 08/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Twelve Kingdoms is a well-written, magnificently drawn high fantasy adventure series, if one not necessarily to the taste of all anime fans. It stands well off to the "naturalistic" side of anime, where the women have normal bosoms, where the warriors fight without taking timeouts for bombast, and where the female lead doesn't spend any time pining after that cute local lord with the big sword and the brooding angst. There is, instead, an abundance of drama, beauty, thought, and humor, all painted on a wondrously enchanted canvas.

The Twelve Kingdoms are based on the best-selling novels of Fuyumi Ono. Forty-five episodes on ten disks provide plenty of room for monsters, swordfights, battles, murder, and intrigue, neatly interwoven with Fuyumi's meditations on character and leadership. The gorgeous backdrops and naturalistic character designs can be stiff or enchanting, depending on your tastes. The musical score ranges from haunting Chinese traditional to thrilling modern classical themes. I found myself listening to the opening credits at each episode on the disk, just to get back into the mystical atmosphere of the story.

The four stories told in the series combine personal journeys with tales of war and political intrigue, a kaleidoscope of characters and creatures, battle scenes that do not flinch from showing the ravages and random violence of war, and a number of asides to educate the viewer about the language and laws governing the Twelve Kingdoms.

Shadow of the Moon, Sea of the Shadow (Episodes 1-13)

The series begins, as apparently all great anime adventures must, in a Japanese high school. Youko Nakajima, an attractive, popular girl, is president of her class, but is nonetheless plagued by self-doubt. When an exotic looking man called Keiki--actually a kirin, an Asian unicorn of immense spiritual power---suddenly appears in her classroom, she is both baffled by his offer of eternal fealty and frantic about the gossipy comments from her classmates. Youma, demonic monsters in the shape of luridly transformed animals, attack the school and attempt to kill Youko. She agrees to accept Keiki's offer and his servant youma carry her and two companions off to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. There, she learns Keiki has chosen her as queen of one of the twelve realms. Pursued by assassins and youma, she must try to survive and understand what has happened to her.
As events separate Youko from the kirin, she finds herself stalked by monsters, a turncoat companion, a taunting nightmare being, and a mad king. While Youko cries a bit more than the average anime heroine, she has plenty of reason to do so. Her upbringing has left her ill equipped, physically or emotionally, for this violent, hardscrabble world. This is a tale where the goal is less the throne of a kingdom than it is Youko's attempt to recreate herself and become worthy of it. The story follows her as she desperately fights to stay alive, to adapt, and to keep her sanity. If she cannot learn to tell friend from enemy, to believe in her own strength and judgment, she will perish and everyone she meets on her journeys will suffer for her failure.

Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Labyrinth (Episodes 15-20)
Tentei, the creator god of the Twelve Kingdoms, provides each realm with a guardian kirin, a powerful spirit being, wise, pure of heart, and endlessly compassionate. However, ruling a country is a complex matter, requiring knowledge of both good and evil and the ability to make harsh decisions at need. Consequently, the rule of the kingdom is given to a human, a man or woman selected by the kirin through its semi-divine intuition and rendered immortal as long as he or she rules in a way that does not poison the kirin's compassionate spirit. This arrangement, even though divinely ordained, often fails to produce peace and just rule. Such is human nature and folly, and such is the limit of even a kirin's wisdom.
In the Twelve Kingdoms, humans and kirin are not born of the body, but from ranka, the fruit of sacred trees. Parents wishing to raise children gain them by praying at a holy site. Kirin are born of a tree on the sacred Mount Hou, where they are tended by priestesses and guarded by lesser gods. A shoku can carry off fruit from a sacred tree to Hourai (Japan). That child, called a taika, is born to parents in our world in the usual fashion. In the stories, Youko is a taika, as are Shoryu, the King of En, Rokuta, the Kirin of En, and the black Kirin called Taiki.
In the story arc, the tale of Taiki is related to Youko as she meets with Rokuta and Shoryu on Mount Hou. Taiki, like Youko, was brought up in Tokyo and was carried off to Mount Hou as a young boy, ignorant of his true nature. The Sea of Wind, the Shore of the Maze is more a character study than the other story arcs. As Rokuta and the priestesses narrate the tale, we learn how a child from Japan came to terms with the powers, the dangers, and the responsibility of a semi-divine destiny. We also learn how he fulfilled the duty of judging someone fit to rule the kingdom of Kei.
Sadly, this story arc could easily have been subtitled "First of Two Parts," as a mystery is revealed in parallel with the main story. Sugimoto, who traveled to the Twelve Kingdoms with Youko and returned to Japan battered but wiser, realizes that a strange boy in her neighborhood is more than he seems. She suspects, and we know, that this is Taiki, somehow exiled again to Hourai, his memories lost, sickened and alone. His kirin nature makes it difficult for him to pass as a normal boy. Worse, he is guarded in his exile by youma, and people who threaten him are mysteriously injured or killed. The story of how the young black kirin and the ruler he chose were driven from the Kingdom of Tai was left unfinished by production problems with the series.

A Thousand Miles of Wind, The Sky of Dawn (Episodes 23-39)

The third story arc of The Twelve Kingdoms is a grand, complex adventure. We begin with the three young women in three different kingdoms fighting to gain control of their lives and destinies. Their stories are interwoven with a sophisticated tale of political intrigue, brutal oppression, and rebellion in a province of the Kingdom of Kei.

Youko, the newly enthroned Queen of Kei, is profoundly aware of how little she knows of her land and her duties. She flees her palace, leaving the realm in the hands of contemptuous ministers while she tries to learn how to lead and rule. In the Kingdom of Hou, Shoukei, a tyrant's daughter who lived through his reign as an ornament in the royal palace, is cast out of the palace after outraged lords rise up against her father and kill him before her eyes. Too consumed by self-pity to be of use anywhere in her homeland, she decides on a whim to go to Kei to meet and overthrow the girl queen who has all the wealth and respect she has lost. Finally, in the Kingdom of Sai, a serving girl named Suzu also hears of the new queen of Kei. Suzu is also Japanese, carried off to Sai by a shoku a hundred years ago. She escapes from the abusive priestess who has been tormenting her for so many years and flees to Kei, hoping that Youko will free her and take her in.

The mix of secondary characters in A Thousand Miles of Wind, The Sky of Dawn is dazzling. The story involves conspiring court officials, monarchs both good and evil, corrupt governors and generals, a psychotic town boss, cut-throat soldiers and kindly mercenaries, shape-changers, rebels, and many common folk just trying to survive hard times. Trickery and maneuvering by all the characters and factions bring them together to fight for control of a province of Kei and the attention of Kei's ruler. Even as they do so, Youko hides among them seeking to gain control of her throne and bring peace and justice to her realm. The result is a rousing double ending to the story arc and a profound change in the lives of all involved.

Sea God of the East, Azure Sea of the West (Episodes 41-45)

Five centuries ago, soon after the kirin Rokuta brought the new king Shoryu from Japan to take up the throne of En, the new king faced a possible civil war. The chaos caused by the death of the last king had left En, a devastated and impoverished country. Shoryu's opponent, Atsuyu, was young, popular, and just and wise in the arts of war and governance. He held the respect and loyalty of much of the kingdom, while Shoryu's intentions and worth were suspect. The last completed story arc of The Twelve Kingdoms is the tale of this conflict, related by Shoryu to Youko as a parable. Was there any great difference between the two men, the one who succeeded, and the one who failed? Who would truly have made the better king?

Amid the tangled intrigues and plotting, we learn more of the centuries-spanning big brother-little brother friendship of Rokuta and Shoryu. Both man and kirin were born and lived amid the savage wars of feudal Japan. Rokuta, now the embodiment of the Kingdom of En's spirit and conscience distrusted kings and hated violence. Shoryu, a stranger to the land in that time as Youko is in her time, needed to win the kirin's trust as well as the kingdom's. As the tale of Shoryu's duel of wits with Atsuyu unfolds, we side with the king, but we come back again to the grave Shoryu visits at the beginning of the story, wondering, as he does, if there can be any final judgment.

Episodes 14, 21, 22, 31, and 40 of The Twelve Kingdom series all either review the past story arcs or fill in details about the personalities, people and culture of the land. People who enjoyed the series regret not just the two dozen or so planned episodes that were never finished, but many more stories that could have been told from Fuyumi Ono's published works. Even a casual viewing of the series suggests many more tales to be told. What of the other kingdoms, the ones described only in passing? What of their monarchs, their kirin, their cultures, and their traditions and artifacts, of which we learn so little? What purpose do the lesser gods of Mount Hou serve in the world the Tentei has created?

There are far less colorful and intricate worlds than this that have run on to series after series in the history of Japanese animation. Possibly this one will find a creative team with the means to build on what has already been done. For those who have already felt the wonder of Fuyumi's creation, it would be wonderful to get lost amid The Twelve Kingdoms once again.
High fantasy, infused with parable
Skexis | 03/02/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"-"But I always feel empty after the dream is over."
-"Of course you do."

Twelve Kingdoms is an anime that is hard to pin down. It begins in much the same way epic fantasies do, with the lead character being a relatively normal person who is uprooted and placed into a world where monsters roam free, where swords and sorcery are a part of everyday life, and this character is forced to come to terms with it in their own way.

Youko, the teenage girl that begins the series at home in Japan, is visited by a strange white-haired man who promises his unending devotion, but when the school she's in is systematically destroyed by monstrous birds, and she is rescued by monsters of her own, her world is turned upside down. In this case, somewhat literally as she flies into the sea, only to emerge into the sky on the other end. Youko, in all the confusion, insists on bringing her two closest friends with her into the unknown, but when the white-haired man disappears, they are left to sink or swim on their own in this wide and forbidding place.

But that is only the first 13 episodes. When you see the series as a whole, it becomes clear that the goal here is not escapist fantasy. Sure, there's lots of fantastical creatures and adventures going on, but the focus many times in this series is not on what happens to the people involved, but how they deal with it. Youko is put in a difficult position of trying to make a living in a place where no one that knows or cares about her. In fact, the people of this new country they reside in have a special prejudice for her because she is from Japan, the world across the sea. Her friends Sugimoto and Asano are even worse off, because they cannot understand the language, where Youko can. But each of them adapts to their situation differently. The question poised to the viewer seems to be, what would you do in their situation? Would you resort to robbery to survive? Would you get lost in a fantasy you concoct in your head, and blind yourself to what was happening around you? Is it even possible that when you were taken out of your element, you would suffer a complete mental breakdown? These are hard questions, ones that Twelve Kingdoms delights in composing and putting towards the viewer.

This is certainly a fantasy anime, but its characters are not written as stereotypical heroes or villains. Instead, you see facets of human existence writ large and put into conflict with one another. The need for acceptance. The need to feel secure. The weight of responsibility. Ambition. Greed. Resentment. The characters here stand as parables to our own day-to-day lives, reminding us that in the face of adversity, we should not avoid the hard truths presented to us.

The quotes at the beginning of the review come from a child of one of the Twelve Kingdoms, speaking to a girl from Japan who was transported there and given immortality, only to also be given a job for a hundred years as a menial serving girl. Daydreaming, the boy says, is obviously going to make you feel empty eventually when you realize that all the time you've spent imagining your situation improving has not really improved it. Many of the parables presented to the audience have this kind of instructional undercurrent to them, giving the series a kind of Buddhist/religious feel, especially when the characters talk about how to deal with suffering.

It's understandable, then, why people who are new to this series would think it boring or that it doesn't do enough with its characters, because most of the action is going on in discussions with one another, or in realizations that people make, or in the gradual growth and maturity that characters come to show.

It's the kind of thinking that doesn't fly well with modern audiences, so I was pleasantly surprised when I came to understand just what the series wanted to achieve. (It took me a good 20-25 episodes to decide that I really did like it)

On the other hand, there are two downsides worth mentioning. One: the amount of recapping that goes on to keep the audience caught up with what is going on in the episodes. It's more understandable for a TV series, but on DVD, it feels unnecessary. Two: the fact that the middle story arc (Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Labyrinth) gets cut off so abruptly is also sad, given that it seems to just be picking up when the next arc begins. These are relatively small problems compared to the scope of the anime as a whole, so if you can overlook this, there is no reason not to enjoy the plot of the episodes themselves.

Bottom line: It won't be for everyone, but this anime has a lot to offer anyone with a bit of patience. Just don't go into it expecting a traditional action series, and you'll come to appreciate it more."
Great Anime
Enaam Khayat | Saudi Arabia | 10/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"12 Kingdoms is one of the best adventure/action anime. It's full of suspense, drama and mystery. The main story is about Yoko who goes through a major transformation from a shy ideal high school girl to a great empress in another world. The box set is beautiful and well-organized for collectors."