It’s hard enough waiting for weekly episodes of a currently airing drama, but it’s sheer torture having to go months without the sequel of a drama you liked. That was the case of Seirei no Moribito, whose first season was a solid and enjoyable watch, and it took almost a year for season 2 to air. So it was with pleasure that I sank my teeth into the drama as soon as I could get my grabby hands on it.
Balsa (Ayase Haruka) and her herbalist/shaman friend Tanda (Higashide Masahiro) rescue a brother and sister who are about to be sold off by human traffickers. They discover that the girl Asla (Suzuki Rio) possesses a strange power that can cause great destruction when unleashed. Balsa decides to become Asla’s bodyguard upon realising that a number of people are after Asla. Meanwhile, Chagum (Itagaki Mizuki) is on a mission to save New Yogo Country from the conquering ambitions of the Talsh Empire…
Season 2, titled Seirei no Moribito II Kanashiki Hakai Gami, ups the ante with more than double the number of episodes – with that came two mostly separate storylines and a boatload of new characters. There were also three new kingdoms – Rota, Sangal and Talsh – to deal with, and the drama spent the most time in Rota as that was where the two storylines eventually merged and where most of the key characters came from. I watched season 2 unaware of the plot and only realised after that it incorporated books 4-6 (with a little from 7) of the original fantasy novels, hence the expanded format. I’d thought the drama would adapt all 12 books in four-episode seasons, but I suppose this was just as well. The drama adaptation is set to air its final part in November.
Ayase continues to be kickass as Balsa, and I do like that even though four years have passed, her time with Chagum is still very much on her mind – to the extent that Tanda called her out on her desire to protect Asla as seeking a replacement for Chagum. I’m also glad we saw more flashbacks of Balsa’s time with Jiguro, how that has shaped her and how she’s trying to impart her experiences to Asla so that the girl doesn’t grow up believing her destructive power is a cure-all for the world’s ills. It’s touching how she’s almost taken on protecting Asla as a personal cause (as she had with Chagum), even if it means putting herself in danger countless times, and genuinely wants Asla to grow up happy and live a normal life. Asla too has grown attached to Balsa (as did Chagum), and the scene where she clung to Balsa unwilling to let her go was particularly moving. Suzuki Rio did well showing the various sides of Asla and I thought her chemistry with Ayase was lovely. The multiple flashbacks on the death of Asla’s mother were a chore, however, and could have been cut down since it was already obvious the kind of impact the death had on the child.
Quite a few of the new characters were particularly memorable. Even though I dislike Maki Yoko and am unlikely to ever warm up to her as an actress, her character Shihana made quite the impression in season 2. Shihana is a tough-as-nails shaman from Rota – her people are the Kashal, shamans who have been secretly serving the Rota royalty since ancient times – who is determined to capture Asla to help Ihan (Dean Fujioka) secure his reign as the new Rota king. Shihana knew what she wanted and how to get it, and I particularly enjoyed her face-off with Balsa in episode 7 – the ladies had an epic fight where neither would give an inch, and it was awesome to watch. Shihana’s about-turn in the final episode threw me off a little, but overall she was a solid addition to the plot. The only thing I didn’t really care for was having both Maki and Ayase deliberately lower their voices to sound tough – it was just unnecessary given that much of their demeanour already showed they were not women to be messed with.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see Dean Fujioka among the cast. His Ihan didn’t have much to do, but I liked how he was kind-hearted and genuinely wanted to be a good ruler even though he didn’t aspire to the throne. He also tried to make Shihana see the error of her ways, and was always trying do the right thing even if he was put in a spot. I’d have liked more insight into why Shihana chose to help Ihan – while her belief that his reign would herald change and a better life for the oppressed people was credible, I needed more meat in that regard. Still, I was just happy to see Dean Fujioka as he’d really grown on me as an actor, and I hope Ihan grows into a wise, astute ruler – he’s been showing signs in the later episodes – because Rota could be caught in the crossfire in season 3.
Another character that stood out was Hyugo (Suzuki Ryohei), who on the surface is a soldier working for the Talsh empire, but whose loyalties are pretty shifty. I could never get a good read on Hyugo, which kept me intrigued about his duality and possibly shady motives, and was always pleasantly surprised by the moves he made. I really liked Suzuki Ryohei’s portrayal of Hyugo and thought he balanced well the shades of grey of the character’s personality. If there were ships to be had, I’d have wanted Balsa with Hyugo, because they just clicked like that even though they were on seemingly opposite sides. Itagaki Mizuki was a little green as the teenage Chagum, but played the young prince with heart and I do like the appropriate reminders that Chagum misses Balsa and draws on her strength and their time together as much as she does. I also enjoyed seeing more of Jin and Jiguro, and Tanda had a lot more to do this time as he was involved in the search for Asla and Balsa almost from the get-go. He also checks Balsa when she looks like she may have gone off the rails. I do like that even if he disagrees with her, he is supportive of her desire to save those in need. Higashide Masahiro stepped up a little in season 2, making Tanda less bland and more relevant to the scheme of things. Kora Kengo as Talsh prince Raul was less evil than I’d like, but perhaps he’ll be nastier in season 3.
The plot gave us everything and more – shamanism, primitive faiths and all-powerful gods, politics and power play, friendships and forbidden love, and a good dose of life lessons. It felt like entering a rich, complex and lived-in world (mostly Rota) where the denizens felt real and for the most part relatable – the safe haven of Shirogai was warm and inviting, while the divisions of people (Rota and Talu) and imperialistic ambitions unfortunately still have modern counterparts till this day. What is seen as primitive, the worship of a (destructive) god that guides one’s way of life, is actually not too far from how the people of yore used to live and perhaps continue to do so (in other forms). Demons, real and imagined, still have to be battled. This makes the fantasy world easier to slip into and believe in, yet doesn’t rein in the imagination for what it can still achieve in that world. I have also liked the treatment of women in the series so far – capable women are seen as the norm, not an aberration. We have an abundance of them in season 2 – the likes of Balsa, Shihana, Maasa (who runs a clothing business in Shirogai), Sena the pirate princess, the shamans who serve the Rota royalty, even the maid who helps Chagum escape from Suan, and the destructive goddess of the Talu people. Their gender is not an issue, and they’re kickass because they just are. This is noteworthy because most Japanese dramas tend to make such a big, ridiculous deal of a woman achieving any position of power or strength, but in the Moribito series, it is par for the course that women make the waves on the ground and that is how it should be.
I continue to love the orchestral theme song, so much so that I wish there were a longer version of it that I could play on loop to my heart’s content. It is so majestic and mysterious, and so fitting for the series. The background music has been excellent and takes me right into the moment. There were also a number of fight scenes that were pretty well-choreographed. Some of the costumes were more than eyebrow-raising and we continue to have fake tans galore, but there have been worse elsewhere, so I’m just rolling with it. After all, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise engaging watch, and fingers crossed for an awesome season 3 to wrap things up neatly.