Earlier this year, Viz Media announced that they’d gotten the rights to 2007’s Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit, the excellent action anime from Production I.G. (Blood: The Last Vampire, Attack On Titan) and director Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex). But while they’ve just rereleased the series on Blu-ray and DVD, this new version isn’t an improvement over the original editions.
For those unfamiliar with this series, or the Nahoko Uehashi novel of the same name on which it’s based, Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit follows a spear-wielding bodyguard named Balsa who, after rescuing a young prince named Chagum, is asked by the kid’s mom to take him and run away. Chagum, it turns out, has been possessed by a water spirit, and his dad is convinced that the kid has to die to prevent a drought. So after faking his death, Balsa steals away in the night with the young prince, only to be pursued by the forces not fooled by her ruse.
It’s a gripping tale, one that has some truly unexpected twists and engaging fights, and it’s complimented by some outstanding art that’s on par with anything Production I.G. have done before or since. And while Balsa and Chagum’s journey lasts twenty-six episodes, it never feels like they’re just killing time to make the story longer. Though it also helps that while Balsa is a fierce but flawed warrior, the real journey occurs within Chagum, who is as scared as you’d expect a kid to be in this situation, but is able to grow as a person as the story progresses.
Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit also has some great voice acting on the English side. Yes, I know, true anime fans only watch them with the original Japanese voice cast. But as someone who first saw Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit when it aired on Adult Swim, where they showed it in English, this is how I chose to watch this ’toon. And you might, too, if you heard what a good job voice actors Cindy Robinson (GTO, Cyborg 009) and Mona Marshall (Blue Exorcist, South Park) do as Balsa and Chagum, respectfully.
Ironically, it’s the audio where the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD runs into problems. As fans know, Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit was previously released on Blu-ray and DVD by Anime Works, who presented the episodes in Japanese and English in both 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo. But this new version, for some reason, only has the stereo tracks. Which may not make a difference to you, but it does to me, given how the 5.1 surround sound mix worked so well on the Viz Blu-ray.
Even odder, you can’t switch on the fly between the Japanese and English audio tracks and subtitles (which are connected), on the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD. Instead, you have to go back to the menu, make the switch there, and start over. Which, again, doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Annoyingly, this inability to switch also plagues the extras included on the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD. Which is too bad since, for fans of this show, these extras are informative.
As is required by law, apparently, the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD has textless versions of the opening and closing credits. What’s far more interesting is the footage from a press conference announcing the show, which included appearances by Uehashi, Kamiyama, along with the Japanese voice actors Mabuki Andou (Balsa) and Naoto Adachi (Chagum), and singer Sachi Tainaka, who performs the song that plays over the show’s end credits. At seven minutes long, it’s obviously not as good as a making-of featurette, but it does give some good insight into how these people felt about working on this show and, in the case of Andou and Adachi, their respective characters.
Along the same lines, the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD also has a ten minute long discussion panel with Uehashi and Kamiyama, which covers the same topics as the press conference, but goes into a little more detail.
What’s weird is that, tacked on to the end of this video, are the episode credits in English (when you watch the episodes, they only include the Japanese credits). Which doesn’t make any sense. Sure, not including the English credits in their respective episodes preserves how they were presented originally, but why put them here, at the end of this panel discussion? If the panel was the English cash and crew, then it would make a little more sense, I suppose, but even then it would seem out of place.
Also included in the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD are some promotional videos, including the original Japanese trailers, a five-minute-long promo video that explains the show, and a three-minute-long “Pilot Film” that has Uehashi and Kamiyama explaining the show and its story. All of which are interesting to see, though they don’t tell you anything you don’t already learn from the press conference and panel discussion. Still, as a completist, I’d rather have them and not watch them than not have them and be left wondering what they are or why they were left off, especially since they were on the original Anime Works versions.
Annoyingly, as I mentioned earlier, if you want to enjoy any of the extras on the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD in English, you have to remember to make the switch to the “English With English Subtitles” before you start watching them, as you can’t turn them on with your remote’s subtitle button once you start watching them. Granted, you’ll only ever watch these once or twice, so it’s not a big deal, more just something to keep in mind.
That said, I do appreciate that the people who assembled the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD put the press conference and panel discussion/English credit videos are on the last disc, since you don’t want to watch them before you see every episode. But that doesn’t explain why the original Japanese trailers, the promo film, and the pilot film are on the second disc, as opposed to the first, since you’d might want to watch the trailers before watching the show, and the other two after you’re done.
As for how the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD compares to the original Blu-rays and DVDs put out by Anime Works, well, aside from the lack of the surround sound track, the latter also let you switch the audio tracks and subtitles on the fly, without having to going back to the menus. The Anime Works ones also had more readable menus, while the Viz version has different cover art, as comes as a single, four-disc collection, not two separate two-disc edition.
But in terms of the content (which is what really matters) the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray and DVD are the same as the Anime Works versions.
So…what to do, what to do. Well, if you already own Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit on Blu-ray, you can stick with the one you got, while the same goes if you own it on DVD, and don’t have a Blu-ray player. And if you care enough about the sound that the absence of the 5.1 surround sound track makes a difference to you, then you should track down the originals as well. But if want to upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray, and don’t mind the tiny type in the menus, having the switch the audio and subtitles in those menus, and the lack of surround sound, then the Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit: The Complete Series Blu-ray is the way to go.
Either way, though, just make sure you own it. Because regardless of which format and which edition you have, Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit remains one of the best, most engaging, and most exciting anime TV shows ever made. Don’t let this slight downgrade make you think any different.