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.|