Posted by psgels on 25 October 2010 with categories: Anime Reviews

The Twelve Kingdoms: world building at its finest.

After sitting down to watch this series, I can really understand why it still stands high as a classic: I’ve seen a lot of fantasy series at this point, but out of all of them, the setting of the Twelve Kingdoms stands amongst the most detailed, original and imaginative. It comes up with a completely new world; a carefully balanced one by a mysterious deity who randomly selects people to be the king of one of the twelve countries it consists of. Far away from your typical fantasy series, this is a series that tries to portray its setting realistically. And it works out really well!

Everyone in the series has his or her own story to tell. The Twelve Kingdoms is a series that puts a ton of emphasis on character development: there are a ton of characters who go through immense changes, and who overcome huge flaws in their characters. Usually, this is a recipe for cheese, but this show actually pulls it off. It spends long strings of episodes to outline these characters, show their progression and details some of the major events in their lives, showing exactly how they mature and warrant such drastic changes in their personalities.

It’s a series that is wonderfully told, and constantly evolving, Most of its problems come from the fact that it was most likely cancelled before it could get fully completed (do correct me if I’m wrong, but the series was supposed to have gotten 63 episodes, and only ended up with 45 of them). The final five episodes are significantly less impressive than the rest of the series, they’re rather shallow and end the series with a whimper, rather than a bang. It’s a bit of a nasty aftertaste for otherwise such a great series.

Still, the final arc is more of a minor annoyance than a reason not to watch this series. The thing I really loved about this series is how much it speaks to you imagination: through its 45 episodes, this series only tells about a tiny percent of all the stories that it could have told. There is so much more that this series could have shown us, but it doesn’t really matter that the show didn’t have time for that, because it all just speaks to your imagination. There are almost an infinite amount of possibilities here.

Of course, comparisons with the other major politics series are inevitable in such a review: Saiunkoku Monogatari. About that, I’ll say the following: they’re both very good at politics, both in their own ways. The Twelve Kingdoms’s setting definitely beats the one from Saiunkoku Monogatari, however I do feel that Saiunkoku Monogatari has a better cast: it also has great character development, but on top of that it was much better at fleshing its characters out. Saiunkoku Monogatari has a cast that felt alive, The Twelve Kingdoms has a setting that feels alive.

Storytelling: 9/10 – Wonderfully told. At times it’s so believable that it could double as a deconstruction. It’s got great ideas for character-development, none of the lazy fantasy cliches appear here, though the final episodes can leave a bit of a bad taste.
Characters: 8/10 – Loves giving huge flaws to its characters, exploring them and develop them into a completely different character. In terms of the main characters it works out really well.
Production-Values: 8/10 – Ranges from beautiful to rather ugly. Studio Pierrot provided some really neat eye candy on some shots, while rushed drawings on others.
Setting: 10/10 – Pretty much as good as it gets. Detailed, alive, imaginative. Well worth the watch.

Saiunkoku Monogatari
Guin Saga

15 Responses

  1. boo says:

    yeah, it’s better to stop at the episode 39, maybe 40. The last 5 episode is not even a complete arc, just a build up.

  2. Salinea says:

    Love that series, awesome setting and character development indeed – and a great soundtrack. I think the only fantasy series I rate higher is Seirei no Moribito.

  3. hope says:

    AFAIK the series of novels this is based on is till unfinished (on hiatus?), so when the anime stopped short, it was rumored that if and when the novels get done, there might be more. Of course quite a bit of time has passed since then, so it might be wishful thinking at this point… I would love it, though.

  4. gandalf8 says:

    I’ve watched this until episode 21, at the end of the arc about the black kirin, Taiki. Based on these episodes, I completely agree about the points in your review. The story started really slowly for me, and at first, Youko’s character was really annoying but as the story gathered pace and she started to grow, it really turned up its awesome level to the max. Unfortunately, I feel very apprehensive to finish it due to the unfinished nature of the last arc, which is a continuation about Taiki, my favourite character in the series. I’m thinking of finding at least the novel about the last arc in the tv series, before I continue watching, so I can at least read the novel to really enjoy the last arc.

  5. ren says:

    I’d definitely recommend anyone watching for more of a “complete” experience, watch until maybe episode 39 and treat the rest as an OVA type format. And yes it’s true that the series wasn’t finished because of the “final arc” (which the novel was released by now…but no word from them wanting to continue the anime at all =\ )

    I’ve read all the books that have been translated in the series so far, and its just as vivid and imaginative as the series was. Highly recommended!

  6. thealien says:

    Great review! Many people have been waiting for this one.
    I desperately wish the series was continued. It’s one of my all time favourites :)

  7. Joojoobees says:

    Twelve Kingdoms is my favorite anime of all time. The only possible contender being Haibane Renmei, because it feels more “complete” in the way it ended.

    When I watched the first disc, I realized that I HATED every one of the characters. Not caring for characters isn’t that unusual, but HATING every one of the characters presented doesn’t happen by chance. Based on that experience, I purchased the complete series and have never regretted it. I have since watched the entire series several times from start to finish, and have watched selected portions on additional occasions.

    What you say about character development (and credible development at that) is so true. Another great strength of this show is the way it tackles big themes (like the responsibilities that come with positions of power).

  8. wakka9ca says:

    I have read all 12K novels written by the author, including the short stories and I have to say that the novels are even more amazing than the anime adaptation.

    (In case you didn’t notice, this series is written by the SAME author as the currently airing Shiki and also Ghost Hunt, Fuyumi Ono)

  9. Chris says:

    This is considered a classic? It only came out like a few years ago didn’t it? I remember watching it as it broadcasted… Have I just revealed what an old geezer I am? LOL!

    Loved this show when it premiered and it is still one of my favorites to this day.

  10. Crokus says:

    First anime I’ve watched starring an unlikeable main chararcter. But the setting, which was so fascinating really hooked me in right from the start.

    The Twelve Kingdoms remains one of my favorite anime to date, even in it’s incomplete status. I’ve also read all the available translated novels online and I’ve got to say my favorite would be Demon Child. It gave a more detailed explanation about Taiki. It would be awesome if that one get animated as an OVA after Shiki. =)

  11. Ingenu says:

    I encourage people to read the novels, they are just great, they are slightly different from the series, but I have to say the whole series of novels is one of the few I read and re-read regularily!

  12. elianthos says:

    Aah, I ‘m so glad you got the chance to watch it eventually. It’s one of the cases when I agree with the hype about a series :). It’s very solid in its world-building and the characters’ evolution is engaging.

  13. whatever says:

    It’s truly fascinating how The Twelve Kingdoms can make such an unlikable character like Youko to be one of the most admiring anime characters at the end of the show. We need more characters like her and Balsa, and less of those terrible cute girls with a personality that boils down to ”hey look at me being cute!”

  14. cklaighe says:


    At some point, i stopped watching this series because there were moments which were just bland and boring… But nobody should ever skip episodes… I learned that after re-watching the whole series.. And Yes, Now, I am a big fan!

  15. Hey! says:

    Come help out at the 12kingdoms wiki!

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  • Bam
    (Friday, Nov 27. 2015 02:36 AM)
    @Masky: lots of game designers aspire for realism. Now this can be done for cosmetic purposes like face textures and lighting, practical with physic engines and movement, or contextual like believable character reactions and dialogue. Now some games thrive in being ridiculous and fantastic, but some want to create a realistic setting to further the emotional impact. Nothing wrong with that.
  • Bam
    (Friday, Nov 27. 2015 02:32 AM)
    @ratsgnoF: and happy Thanksgiving to you as well.
  • Masky
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:43 PM)
    Anyway seriously though, I’d say it does actually make sense in context xD Since none of monsters are actually that threatening.
  • Masky
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:42 PM)
    .-. I have no words, mainly because whenever anyone uses word “Realism” in context of video game, I want to say rude words xD
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:40 PM)
    I think he gave it a passing glance and felt it wasn’t his thing, I remember he also felt that he thought the idea of sparing the monsters wasn’t believable or realistic given that he felt if you were realistically placed in that situation yourself, the real thing to do would be to fight back out of fear.
  • Masky
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:37 PM)
    Did he actually play the game though? I mean, did he actually discover it himself or did he just heard the spoilers?
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:35 PM)
    I had a talk with a friend about undertale and he wasn’t a fan, he prefers other types of rpgs, the choice element also made him uncomfortable and that he felt the game was too punishing.
  • Masky
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:34 PM)
    @Kaiser: Puzzle elements, outside of sparing everyone, seem to be mainly just parodying video game puzzles. Like, only place where you actually have to solve actual puzzles is in Hotland, before that pretty much every puzzle is automatically solved, really easy or has some silly twist to it. Like the puzzle you can skip by pressing a switch in tree trunk. Can’t say I’m too fond of puzzles either, but I liked how game was making fun of them
  • Masky
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:32 PM)
    Speaking of awful sense of humor and things that dorks like, just wanted to say that turns out I was right about Jitsu wa watashi wa in that main couple does get together before chapter 100(forgot what exactly, some where in 80-90 range I think). But they are such huge dorks that they do everything ridiculously slowly because they are that embarrassed, so they have had like just one date(in chapter 100). Not that I expect anyone to remember what the heck I’m talking about xD
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Thursday, Nov 26. 2015 07:32 PM)
    The battle system grew on me a bit, but I didn’t like the puzzle elements it offered, the actual gameplay looked kind of dull also. Some of the characters were likeable enough, Papyrus, Asogore, the flower guy being my favourite though the plot didn’t really get interesting until the end.

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