The heavens are angered

The Twelve Kingdoms feels very much like a shoujo anime, but it’s more akin to Utena and Toward the Terra than Escaflowne, and by that what I mean to say is, while there are no melodramatic love triangles here, The Twelve Kingdoms is all about exploring and externalising the feelings of its characters; that’s girly stuff, right?

Pictured above is Taiki, and if he looks worried, it’s because his divine task is to choose the next ruler of his kingdom; a country named Tai. As a Kirin, he’s destined to receive a revelation upon first meeting the future King or Queen, but, having met literally thousands of hopeful candidates during the traditional ceremony, he’s still unsure of whether or not he’s found the right person.

Racked with self-doubt, but still not wanting to let anyone down, he eventually just follows his intuition and chooses the man he feels most drawn to, and captured above is that uncertainty, as he goes through the climatic ritual of appointing his new King; pledging himself, on his knees, to the man standing before him.

When a new King or Queen is appointed, they become immortal and able to rule their respective Kingdom’s until the heavens are angered. I’m yet to see further than episode 24, but, so far, whole countries have gone to war, genocide has been committed and monarchies have been over-thrown; basically, the heavens have been angered!

As personal as it can seem at times, The Twelve Kingdoms has a broad sweep, where the clearing of every psychological barrier is accompanied by an escalating sense of scale. We’re dealing here with Kings and Queens, and when things do get serious, there’s a palpable sense of distance and size; armies are seen marching into battle and attacking fortresses; years pass in the blink of an eye, eras coming and going.

Of course, it wouldn’t be fantasy if there weren’t magical creatures, but just as impressive is the…

… refinement on show. As the series moves on, the very Chinese aesthetic and sense of culture comes to the fore, where every tiny movement is a carefully considered, subtle display of manners and intent; hair adorned by flower buds, arms and posture held in ways to best portray a sense of elegance at all times,  and the palaces themselves; built amidst impossibly picturesque lush green and blue waterfalls, or up in the clouds, flanked by miles of jagged mountains.

The above image best captures The Twelve Kingdom‘s poetic mix of beauty and emotion; the serene colours conflicting with Taiki’s worried expression; his reflection transparent against the water, betraying his weak sense of self, intertwined with the natural, fragrant beauty of the water lilies, themselves casting dark shadows across the pool’s bed.

This is an intoxicating series that, on the evidence so far, is well worth watching.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

29 thoughts on “The heavens are angered”

  1. As I recall, The Twelve Kingdom’s seemed to dip a little bit in the final story arcs; but you’re right, the sense of scale it offered was refreshing – if anything scale is what made things like Code Geass watchable, or things like LoGH as sweeping as it was. However, it’s hard to wrestle with keeping a story on that scale but keeping it human. I quite liked Taiki as well, actually, his arc was cute :)

    1. I heard it just… ends, but I’m also looking forward to finally being able to say I’ve actually seen The Twelve Kingdoms. It’s a show that I’ve wanted to watch for a while now :)

  2. I liked this arc too, although we aren’t really shown the ‘aftermath’ of Taiki’s decision (only that we know what ultimately happened). My favourite part of the series has to be the first 12 episodes, and towards the later part of episode 39. Like Celeste, last arc was very weak, maybe we should consider it as extra.

    One thing I love about this series is a clear sense of direction and development. Series like Seirei no Moribito spends numerous fillers doing this and that and when they reach the climax, the impact is never there because the series spent too much time sightseeing this wonderful fantasy world, and not enough on the characters or the main conflict. I just love how Twelve Kingdom orchestrates all sub-plots and side characters that fits into this epic scale you’re talking about, and that’s why the final moments have so much impact at the end.

    1. I think perhaps its clear sense of direction might be a result of this coming from an actual (non light) novel, and thus is written in such a way to actually tell a story from beginning to end. It has a similar feeling to Legend of the Galactic Heroes in this way, it just feels really self assured and confident in what it’s trying to achieve. The soundtrack, too, is gorgeous, which always helps!

      I’m really looking forward to the third story arc, it’s the one everyone tells me is the best!

      1. I am actually pretty certain Juuni Kokki is a “light novel series” too.

        The Third Story arc (the one with Shoukei and Suzu) is definitely my favorite. It’s not very often that you have a series with not one but 3 great female characters.

        1. The correct spelling would be Juuni (or Jūni) Kokuki. The misspelling is caused by the fact that the u between the k’s is barely distinguishable in normal speech. Kinda like the last u in the word “desu”.

          I’m not entirely sure you can believe Wikipedia when it calls the series a “light novel series”, considering the books are twice as long as most light novels, but since I haven’t read them, I can’t say how “light” they actually are.

      2. I agree, that’s probably the cause. I’ve noticed that most of the best scifi/fantasy anime are based on novels (often light). Bakemonogatari, Ghost Hunt (also by Fuyumi Ono, the author of 12 Kingdoms), Shakugan no Shana (although personally I don’t think it’s that good, it’s still popular almost to the point of being a modern day classic), Shounen Onmyouji, Seirei no Moribito, Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu (again, not one of my personal favourites, but for some reason it became a real phenomenon), To Aru Kagaku no Index, Banner of the Stars, Asura Cryin’, Black Blood Brothers, Spice and Wolf ect.

        My theory is that because the novelists – unlike the mangaka – can’t rely on cool pictures, they need to actually create a good story to get published. :P

        1. Excuse me, I meant “To Aru MAJUTSU no Index” – I’m tired and I confused it to the manga, “To Aru Kagaku no Railgun”, for a moment… -.-‘

  3. 12 Kingdoms is one of the books that any people with interest in politics should consider reading. Not only does it have intriguing characters drama in a fantastical setting, it also brings to attention many things about society and government that people should occasionally think about. My wife and I really enjoyed both the book and the anime series. Still feels the goose bumps when seeing Yoko address the imperial army on top of Keiki in Kirin form.

    1. I really want to read the novels once I’m finished with the TV series, if just to see what happens at the end of Taiki’s story. Do you know if it’s still being published in English? I see the first 4 books have been released, but I was wondering about the rest, too. Anyway, I totally agree, as much as it’s a fantasy anime, there’s so much here that’s about politics, society and leadership. It’s a fascinating series!

  4. FINALLLLLLLY!!! Only took you 4 years to watch it. Lmao… I think I was halfway through university when I recommended this to you. This and Legend of Galactic Heroes are the only anime that I’ve seen that flow like an epic novel. The intricate amount of time devoted to characters and plot is impressive. I recommend you stop at episode 39 for closure.

    1. I know, sorry. My backlog at this point is so ridiculous that it will take me literally years to watch everything I’ve said I will. I’ll probably watch this right to its last episode for completion’s sake, but I’ll keep in mind that anything after ep. 39 is… unfinished.

      1. well, episode 40~45 is another mini arc, which brings closure to the mini arc itself but is obviously way too weak and has no finality fitting for a series this epic. Kinda like after episode 19 of kare kano.

        1. I actually never watched the final episodes because I heard they were not that good and were more a side story. I own the series so I could watch it whenever I wanted to but I thought the end of the art with Youko/Suzu/Shoukei was a better place to stop.

          1. It’s true that the last arc is weak, but it’s not because it’s a “side story”, it’s because it’s got half the space that the other arcs had. If only they’d left out the recap episodes and given that screentime to the last arc, it could be a fine arc, though not the best.

            Anyway, on my opinion it’s still worth watching, if not for any other reason, then at least because it tells the story of one of the great mysteries of the earlier arcs: Kenrou Shinkun, the guy who lives in the central island with a red youma – that has the same name as the Kirin of En – and is called a god by some…

  5. “The Twelve Kingdoms is all about exploring and externalising the feelings of its characters; that’s girly stuff, right?”

    Have to admit, I snickered.

    I recall hearing about Twelve Kingdoms some time back – the whole setup of “school-girl transported to vaguely Warring States era China” made it seem a whole lot similar to Fushigi Yuugi – use ancient politics as a metaphor for the travails of adolescence, etc. This post does make it seem a bit different – how does Twelve Kingdoms stack up?

    1. The series is separated out into story arcs and the one you just described is the first, the second is what I’ve described in the post itself and the third I’m just watching at the moment. The school girl in question, Yoko, is probably the closest thing the series has to a main character; the first arc is all about her ascension to her country’s throne and, in turn, her growth from a bratty girl to a strong, confident Queen.

    2. How does it stack up? Yoko’s main arc ends at episode 13.

      I enjoy the books almost as much as the anime, this is a rare case where I believe the adaptation did a great job.

  6. I remember falling heads over heels over this when it first aired. The next arc I believe is my favorite. I remember it having great music. Its too bad they didn’t finish it up though, or did they?

    1. Sadly, I don’t think so :(

      I’ve not seen the whole series yet, but I think it’s a similar deal to Seirei no Moribito and Guin Saga in the sense that it’s based on a series of fantasy novels, and only the first 4 actually got animated. It’s all quite self contained, though! :)

    1. To me it is not similar to Fushigi Yuugi at all except for the girl goes into another world storyline. In fact I would even say it is the antithesis to Fushigi Yuuigi in many ways.

  7. First of all, I’m so glad you’re blogging about The Twelve Kingdoms, because it’s my favourite anime and it deserves more attention. Wait till you get to the third arc, it’s by far the best one in the anime, and there’s an unrivalled crowning moment of awesome at the end. It was a sad day when they decided to end the show with two arcs of material still left unanimated. When my Japanese skills reach a high enough level to read light novels, these are the first books I’m going to read.

    For me, the best part is the unique world. The system is almost utopistic, yet the story is built on the flaws of the system. Plus, the sheer amount of imagination used to create a world so different – yet relatable – from ours is pretty amazing.

    I also loved it how deep and philosophical some of the themes were, that’s a rare treat. Although, I would’ve actually preferred if there was a romance. But I suppose the extreme platonicity (is that even a word? lol) of all the relationships, the lack of anything resembling heathy sexuality, is a part of the flawed utopia, an attempt to ensure equality between genders. Wars without rapes, children born from trees, love being most visible in the former Queen of Kei’s madness… the only thing hinting that the people of that world are even ABLE to have sex is the fact that there are brothels. Perhaps the story would’ve touched the subject in later arcs.

    Then there’s of course the heavy stress on character development. Especially evident in the first and the third arc, where three less than likeable characters believably change into pretty decent people with a good amount of wisdom. Of course, stress on character development is characteristical for japanese stories, but few do it as well as Ono Fuyumi (the author of the original novels).

    I don’t need to say much about the quality of the art, animation and graphic direction, the blog post covers that part well. I’ll just say that as far as production quality and direction go, I think Yuuni Kokuki is high up there. I doubt the world would be half as enchanting if the graphic art department wasn’t worthy of the task.

    1. It’s awesome to see you’re so enthusiastic about this series, Krozam! I feel like I can’t really add anything to what you’ve said here, partly because you already seem to know everything there is to know about the story, and partly because I’m still watching it! I watched episode 28 just last night, so I’ll hopefully have more to add in due course (maybe even in a new post?)

  8. Truly this is my favorite anime, despite the fact that it got canceled before they could finish the other stories. This is one of those stories that attempts to offer something important to think about — not that it offers easy answers, but it does show the importance of pushing yourself, and of accepting responsibility for your own life. The only other show that compares to this in terms of the ambition of the themes discussed was Haibane Renmei, and it, of course, did not operate on the same scale.

  9. “The Twelve Kingdoms feels very much like a shoujo anime”
    What ?

    “but it’s more akin to Utena ”
    …what ? Didnt bother to read this silly nonsense further.

  10. well twelve kingdoms seems very much like Fushigi Yuugi, almost same story, almost same events, almost same set of characters >_<

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