When you hear the title The Twelve Kingdoms, you think epic, adventure, monsters. When you watch it, in core it's really drama, philosophical, psychological--however, the elements epic, adventure, and monsters, are still incorporated. Our main heroine Youko, is a rather insecure girl who is surrounded by a rather dense atmosphere at school. One day, a man with white hair named Keiki visits her school, and takes her away to another world. "Oh great, another fantasy anime with a girl being swept away to a medievil esque world" will most likely be your first thoughts. The first five episodes run through Youko and her friend's rough adventures through this new fantastical world filled with monsters and magic. Though don't expect an adventure that Van of Escaflowne has went through. After the concept of the world itself is established in your head with how things are ran in The Twelve Kingdoms, it's actually a heavily political drama on the surface, while welding internal psychological conflicts within.
Unfortunately, explaining the story beyond the first couple episodes would spoil many things. However, The Twelve Kingdoms isn't exactly deep in story, so you won't be missing much me not wasting space, ranting on the story. What makes The Twelve Kingdoms so brilliant is its incredibly perfect pacing. When you reach the sixth episode, you'll be hit with extremely rich characters, along with some great information regarding the detailed world of this place with twelve kingdoms. There is never a moment that can be considered to be a waste of a second, and there is never a time you question whether or not a scene was rushing anything. The Twelve Kingdoms simply doesn't waste any time, and it makes perfect use of every second it has.
The rich characters that I mentioned before come in many forms that are very relateable to people in our society, and maybe even ourselves. Unlike many shounens, the philosophy matters aren't general; they're much more personal. Youko was entrusted with a sword embedded with a spirit. This spirit loves to torment Youko and manipulate her feelings in order to make her do bad things. We as the viewer, experience what Youko goes through, similar to Shinji in the last episode in Neon Genesis Evangelion. It does a good job of detailing her every flaw, exploiting her insecurity and making fun of it. And what's worse is that this is really all relateable. Though the characters don't stop with Youko. What I love the most about The Twelve Kingdoms is how it portrays all of these characters, and their flaws within their personalities, using many different and creative methods.
Though teaching us how naive we really are isn't the only thing characters are good at. Often times, empathy is invoked within them through their long and harsh struggles, or their constant torturing. A girl, who's being deliberately punished because of her father's misdeeds, forces your emotion out of you, and makes you feel as if you were her, while hating the entire world for committing such cruel acts. Or another who's not trusted by his own country, has to stop a rebellion because they weren't following the rules.
Don't be mistaken; the story, while not very deep in twists, is still top notched. Much like in the novel "Holes", there's a particular arc that tells the story of three completely non related girls simulatiously, slowly combinging their stories together to fight for the same cause. It's just flat out amazing how things like these unravel, and they aren't really plot twists. Though the thing, and probably the only thing, that disappoints me about The Twelve Kingdoms, is how each of its arcs end, save for the third. Much of the time, a lot is left to be desired, and they just feel incomplete.
It's a good thing that's the only thing that I don't like much. The animation is one of the best out there, perfectly displaying the astonishingly detailed and imaginative world The Twelve Kingdoms is based upon. The colours are just beautifully vivid and fluid, and when it needs to be, it can be gloomy and dark. The classical music does an equally good job of complimenting the setting, though that's expected, since nothing else but classical music fits a fantasy anime.
After you're done watching this piece of anime bliss, you think to yourself that this may be the closest anime to perfection. It does almost everything good, and rarely falters in any department. A lot of people have said the first seven or six episodes were slow, and they get better afterwards. Though if you ask me, it gets instantly better at episode six. In fact, I think episode six is one of the best in the anime! It's disheartening to think that many people didn't find Rakushun's first episode to be great, oh well, that's besides the point. No matter what your dislikes or likes are; get past the introduction episodes and you'll find yourself loving such an extraordinary program.