Rokujou’s sole aim in life is simple: to be carefree, free of all cares, and in general, carefree. And he is very good at it. Anything that he is not interested in, does not want involving him, or he just likes better out of sight, he can ignore or avoid with uncanny ease. And then a world that specializes in the arts of stalking and avoiding takes over, and even he can’t run anymore. The world of Ninjas – of Nabari – has for centuries been obsessed with the existence of The Secret Art – an existence than contains all the wisdom of mankind, and that grants that knowledge to its holder, making anything and everything possible. And Rokujou Miharu has it. You cannot ignore, run, or hide from the ninja world – no one knows that art better than they. The only choice is to face them, and rise to the top. His teacher, a skilled ninja of the Banten village, tells him the name – Nabari no Ou – the King of Nabari. Nothing else will bring him peace. Which is no less complicated than it should be…
Saiga Mitsuki as Yoite
Kugimiya Rie as Miharu Rokujou
Fujimura Ayumi as Raimei Shimizu
Namikawa Daisuke as Durandal Tobari Kumohira
Nakata Jouji as Toujuurou Hattori
Okiayu Ryotaro as Kotarou Fuuma
Hino Satoshi as Kouichi Aizawa
Action, Comedy, Supernatural, Drama
Ninja style anime have taken a beating with the fall of Naruto, first glorified by it and then dragged down along with. And now, right at the point when nearly all the former fans have begun to agree that it won’t come back, a new ninja anime comes on the scene. No, this will not be an eternally running marathon series – twenty six episodes, over and done. And the style is not much like Naruto, though a few things bring it to mind – the opening song makes me think of it, and one or two plot elements did in the beginning – but that ended quickly. But we have the action, we have the techniques, and we have an independently excellent story. Scarred ex-Naruto watchers, give this one a try. It’s not much like it, and that’s the best part about it.
Which is not an insult to Naruto, of course, but the first bad sign in an anime is leaning too hard on unassociated successes in the genre, and Nabari no Ou avoids that well. Characters don’t bear much resemblance at all – in fact the entire art style is different, and takes some getting used to – a world of stick figures, it sometimes seems. Main character, Rokujou Miharu. A gentle looking kid who stares into space unless someone is talking to him – and sometimes then too. Some of the most humorous moments in the show are associated with his ability to tune out anything, to disappear at the most inappropriate times without a care, and his devious tendency to twist almost anyone around his finger. Raimei -”Miharu, you understand my feelings, right?” Miharu – (points at sky) “Ah, look, a vapor trail.” Right. Thobari, his teacher in school, is a ninja who does not like traditional ninja – apparently he was made a part of the Nabari world against his will by his grandfather. Now with too many ties to leave, he tries to practice a more gentle way of life than most shinobi would preach – however, it may well be too gentle, as he cannot even kill people who must be killed. Even for Miharu, who he has sworn to protect and teach to destroy the Secret Art for eternity. Also part of the original team is Aizawa, a white haired classmate who is also a skilled member of Nabari. He is with the village of Banten, unquestionably trustworthy, but also capable of the kind of ruthlessness that Thobari is not. If not for him, people who needed to die never would. Falling into place – literally – in episode two is Raimei, a Samurai, member of a family who has regulated Nabari from the sidelines for generations. Charged with maintaining order and the balance, and more recently with ensuring that no one abuses the power of Shinra Banshou, she has come to fulfill that ancient role. She’s an ally, all right, but her motivations and willpower are her own, at least at first. Energetic, enthusiastic, and with a tendency to talk to the wrong person when she gets excited, she is a very easy character to like. All fun, that girl. Strong too. Her katana is no ornament. For antagonists we have Kairoushu, a rival ninja village that wants the power of Shinra Banshou. However, here is where the depth of the story really begins to show. Because there is really no line dividing up ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides here. The total count of people you could actually hate as enemies and bad guys are…two. Among primary characters, anyway. And even they are pretty ambiguous at times. Despite what they do, it’s often hard to be sure they are ‘bad’, at least until pretty deep in. All the other members either clearly believe in what they are doing or are clearly not evil, or even both, though they are going along with orders for now. Because, unlike most anime containing a power that can rule the world, no one is actually planning to do it. There are, for a wonder, no megalomaniacs. The camps are those who believe it should be destroyed, and those who believe it’s power should be used to save the world, to make it better. The only way to make evil of anyone is by looking at how they would try to save it. Which lends a dark and twisting strength to the anime, as we find ourselves wondering who to cheer for. Who is right? Would using Shinra Banshou only bring misery regardless of what you intended, or is it indeed a power that can redeem all, one it would be a crime to destroy? Neither view has that redeeming flavor of ‘bad’, that tells us where to go. And so the plot develops…
And in the end, it all comes down to Rokujou. The Shinra Banshou is all powerful, and the one who holds it is he; no one can really control him. And so, throughout the various struggles as Banten and Kairoushu try to collect the five villages Secret Arts, the only things that can possibly give a clue how to control or destroy the Shinra Banshou, the one constant note is Rokujou’s struggles, mostly emotional, as he slowly stops being carefree and chooses just what it is he cares for most – and what he will do about it. The action is excellent, but in the end, it is the character plots that make this series great. The profoundness and strength that we are shown over and over throughout have few rivals indeed. Naruto might have had more punch sometimes, but never more depth. What drives the characters, what that means, and how it affects the outcome, all are superbly orchestrated, astounding me more than once. And in the end we have two separate climax – the action climax, where those who should die are finally labeled and finished, and the last mysteries revealed – and the characters climax, as Rokujou make his final decision, and life returns for all – and for most, in a better way. The ending was potent, satisfying, and a little sad – but in a good way, they did it well. Not the way some do (What is Important to Mages, Summer Sky, to name the most recent example I’ve encountered. Absolutely depressing).
Many good series achieve this level at the end, and rate a four. Nabari no Ou achieved this height several times throughout the series, making it a four point five. It was a pleasure to watch, and I hope you agree. Those of you who have become rather sarcastic when it comes to ninja anime, here is your anti-dote. Unlike most medicine, you will not need to hold your nose.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
This review was brought to you by Z.N. Singer
Facts such as cast and airtime are courtesy of ANN’s encyclopedia entries. All else is and always will be the original creation of the author.
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