Who did it Better? – Protecting a Spirit Vessel

In this “Who did it Better?” I compare two shows that deal primarily with individuals possessed by powerful spirits and the guardians assigned to protect them. Read on to see which one I thought used the theme better, then pick your own winner!


Intro

The trope of the powerful being inhabiting an otherwise normal person has seen countless iterations throughout myth and folklore, therefore it’s no surprise to see it used in so many works of fiction. One of the most well known examples of this in anime is the 9-tailed fox spirit sealed within the title character in Naruto.

There’s a reason this sort of story works. Powerful spirits make a habit of possessing meek vessels, bringing all sorts of danger into their lives. This tension can be used equally well for stories of epic grandeur that involve the spirit possessed individual saving everything and everyone, or quiet personal stories about them struggling to retain their sense of self under the immense weight of their destiny. The challenges to the host may even be so great that another person has to take on the responsibility of protecting them.

It’s this last point that sees heavy focus in the two shows I will be discussing today: Seirei no Moribito and RDG: Red Data Girl.

As with the last “Who did it Better?” I may spoil key points about both shows in this post. If you’ve watched the shows or don’t otherwise mind spoilers, keep reading! Else, feel free to read up on them in my spoiler free reviews.

Also, if you need quick refresher on these shows, see the below recaps:

Moribito tells the story of Balsa, a Kanballan spearwoman and her quest to protect Chagum, the Shin Yogo prince thought to be a reincarnated water demon. The pair evade imperial assassins and try to make a new life for themselves as commoners amidst an ever approaching fateful day when the Spirit Egg within Chagum will give birth to the Water Spirit.

Red Data Girl follows Izumiko Suzuhara as the Himegami spirit within her grows in power and attracts dangerous people and spirits alike. Tasked with watching over her, Miyuki Sagara and some friends at a new school make it their mission to protect her while others seek to exploit her for the potent Shinto power she possesses.


The Challenge

The theme for this match up is “Protecting a Spirit Vessel.” Using this phrase I’ll take a look at how each of these anime fared in the individual components, based on how well executed they were, before deciding which one did it better.

“Protecting” – Since the theme revolves around protecting the spirit vessel, the actual protector plays a huge part in selling the premise. Protectors must be capable in order for the viewer to believe they’re cut out for the job, but their relationship to their charge is very important as well if they’re going to be sharing the majority of screen time.

“Spirit” – This is generally why the vessel needs to be protected in the first place. An uninspiring or weak spirit hardly make for a good story impetus; as there must be a good reason why someone wants to destroy or control it. How active the spirit is in driving the story or how powerful it appears will be given the edge here.

“Vessel” – Just as important as the spirit, if not more so, is the actual vessel it inhabits. These characters’ interactions with the protector and the way in which they deal with their heavy supernatural burden are the crux of these shows. The most interesting or well developed vessel will take this point.


The Contenders

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As part of my anime watching/reviewing challenge last year, I discovered both these shows on Netflix. Had I not found them there I might not have found them at all, as neither one is very popular with perhaps Moribito being a little more well known.

Aside from the theme of this post, these two shows are quite different in terms of setting, direction, and overall goal. Moribito, a story about the fate of a nation tied to the life of a young boy, is fundamentally different from Izumiko’s struggle to keep a handle on the burgeoning power within her among the rigors of adolescence in Red Data Girl.

These differences necessitate variances in narrative structure and character arcs, which doesn’t lend itself to the most direct comparison. Still, by looking at each one as a sum of its parts, we can say which did a better job with the theme of “protecting a spirit vessel.”


The Competition

Round 1: “Protecting”

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Balsa, the iconic spearwoman of Moribito, is one of the most respectful portrayals of a female warrior seen in anime and a prime example of a protector. In her attempt to repent for eight lives lost because of her, Balsa takes on the responsibility of helping Chagum escape his own father’s assassins as the eighth life she saves.

Her drive for doing this proves to be entirely altruistic, as even the riches she demands from Chagum’s mother are used to facilitate their escape rather than line her own pockets. The many risks she takes with her own life to safeguard him are proof enough that she is fully committed to the task, even before understanding the legend of the spirit inside him.

Balsa’s martial skill makes her exceptional as a bodyguard, giving her the strength and tactical prowess to fend off elite royal soldiers and monsters alike. There are few in Moribito’s story that could hope to match her, but her true strength as a protector comes from her unyielding dedication to this task. She even battles against Chagum’s destined demise when the time comes, defying myth and legend itself to save him.

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Miyuki Sagara can hardly be considered an expert at what he does, but he brings another flavor to the role of protector that is much more appropriate for the type of story that Red Data Girl is. Much closer in age to his charge, Izumiko, he shares in many of the issues she faces. Complicating matters is contentious past between the two which makes it hard for them to get along.

Perhaps a product of his youth and inexperience, Miyuki is initially dismissive of Izumiko and refuses his responsibility to protect her until (presumably) physically forced to do so by his father. His opinion of Izumiko begins to turn around after an encounter with a rogue familiar, which she is able to dispel after her powers awaken further. As Miyuki’s feelings eventually lead toward fondness for her, he makes it his goal to keep Izumiko from being taken over by the Himegami.

Despite his youth, Miyuki is a talented Yamabushi and is able to deal with a number of supernatural threats that the pair face. He successfully wards off Mayura Souda’s challenge and even jumps in when Takiyanagi reveals himself to be a threat at school. Still, he does struggle against strong opponents like Wamiya and Masumi, which often requires Izumiko or the Himegami herself to resolve the situation at hand.

Highlights:

Moribito Balsa is the strongest bodyguard in the country She becomes like a surrogate mother to Chagum She protects him even from fate and prophecy
Red Data Girl Miyuki is skilled in Shinto magic as a Yamabushi Though he initially dislikes Izumiko, he grows to really care for her He takes it upon himself to prioritize Izumiko over the Himegami

Advantage – Seirei no Moribito

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Protecting the vessel means keeping them out of danger, which Izumiko manages to find herself in time and again. Miyuki gets an A for effort, but in terms of motivation and achieving results, Balsa outshines him as a protector.


Round 2: “Spirit”

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The supernatural force inhabiting Chagum in Moribito has a winding effect on the narrative. It appears at first to be only a superstition because the story begins before the spirit manifests itself in any noticeable way (save for the drought that supposedly prefaces its rebirth). Balsa and her allies therefore act mostly in the interest of protecting Chagum rather than seeing any prophecy play out. Because the imperial Star Readers incorrectly interpreted the legend, they believed killing Chagum themselves was the key to making the prophecy come true.

Madame Torogai confirms soon enough that Spirit and legend are real, but that Chagum hosts an egg rather than the reincarnated Water Spirit. The resulting effect of its presence is a slow affair, shifting Chagum between the corporeal and spirit world with increasing regularity as it nears maturity. It’s only in the later part of the series that we see the spirit having a more direct effect on the story, whereas only its legend drove the various characters before.

The Spirit Egg fully takes over Chagum’s actions in the final act as it lures out the Rarunga to facilitate its release from his body. Though this part is fraught with tension over what fate will befall Chagum, the actual legend behind the Spirit remains rooted in nature’s control rather than humanity’s. Able to find release from Chagum without killing him, it’s carried off by the Nahji bird to await its proper rebirth and return fertility to the land.

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The Himegami makes its presence known in almost every action Izumiko takes in RDG. It’s assumed to be responsible for her inability to use electronics without damaging them and grows in power after she cuts her bangs or takes off her glasses. Izumiko’s lack of control over it make the “goddess” appear like a split personality, with her true nature as a powerful spirit only understood by a small handful of people.

As Izumiko’s unique situation becomes known to others at Houjou Academy, Izumiko becomes an attractive ally to help secure the Student Council presidency and an eventual World Heritage candidacy. The Himegami proves to be more than they can handle though, and those who foolishly try to control her face the consequences of her anger.

Rather than act as a malevolent spirit, the Himegami reveals that she is trying to save humanity from future demise by travelling back in time through generations of women in Izumiko’s family. Izumiko’s mother even states that her daughter and the Himegami can inhabit the same body, but that Izumiko must gain strength and confidence before this is possible. Thus the Himegami’s power eventually becomes an asset to her when her safety is challenged by powerful threats.

Highlights:

Moribito All the characters have a stake in the legend The Spirit lies dormant in Chagum the entire series The egg manipulates its host into carrying out the true prophecy
Red Data Girl The Himegami has tremendous spiritual power Control over her is the driving force for many of the characters She is the catalyst for Izukimo to become stronger

Advantage – Red Data Girl

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This was a close one for me. The Spirit is at the forefront of everyone’s mind in both these anime. Still, though the logic surrounding the Himegami is messy and confusing at times, it simply has more presence in RDG than the Water Spirit does in Moribito.


Round 3: “Vessel”

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Chagum’s role as the alleged reincarnation of the Water Spirit prepared him for a life resigned to the fact that he would someday be killed. The attempts on his life, though framed to look like accidents and certainly frightening, no longer phase him. It’s with this bleak outlook that he begins his journey with Balsa, unable to figure out why she goes to such great lengths to protect him.

An intelligent and compassionate boy by nature, Chagum also possesses a strong will that helps him adjust to a life on the run with the same composure he displayed as a royal prince. He doesn’t allow the forceful departure from his family to depress him, even as he recalls fond memories of his brother; though Balsa’s constant companionship may have played a crucial part in this. His sharp mind and observant eyes help him take in every lesson Balsa imparts upon him through their travels, as he learns about the people he might have one day ruled over from afar.

As Chagum learns more about his fate, his otherwise calm demeanor gives way to a despondent realization that he will still perish despite all he has gone through. His desire to survive clashes against the destiny that the Spirit Egg itself wills him toward up until the climax of the series. It’s here that Chagum walks a fine line between life and death, armed with the knowledge the Spirit affords him to find a way to bring about its rebirth while not throwing away the life that Balsa and the others worked so hard to save.

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Izumiko’s adventure begins as she tries desperately to change something about herself, as a life of being virtually invisible begins to weigh on her. Cutting her bangs allows some of her hidden power to manifest and she inadvertently summons a familiar born from her wish to have friends. When the familiar, Wamiya, tries to take Miyuki out of the picture, she calls upon her ingrained knowledge of Shinto tradition to dismiss him.

Despite her slowly awakening power, Izumiko is almost crippled by her meek demeanor and lack of ability to assert herself. Those who aim to control the Himegami therefore try to control Izumiko instead, manipulating her feelings and insecurities to lure her to their side. This creates the need for Miyuki and the Souda twins to keep a close eye on her but helps foster a strong sense of friendship between them as well, with Miyuki seemingly moved to the point of possible romantic feelings.

Izumiko is not bereft of the ability to control the Himegami, as her Mai dance is able to channel some of that power. Her greatest hurdle throughout the series is then her self-confidence, as she is simply too unsure of herself to properly perform. But when her back is to the wall or her friends are counting on her, Izumiko has been able to gather her courage and perform the ritual dance when it’s most needed.

Highlights:

Moribito Chagum bravely faces his new life as a nomad He possesses a strong will and compassionate heart His understanding the Spirit’s will helps him survive his ordeal
Red Data Girl Izumiko’s insecurities spur her toward change She begins to come out of her shell as the story progresses Though physically and emotionally meek, she will exert power to help friends

Advantage – Seirei no Moribito

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Izumiko has some marginal successes, but RDG hints that she will always need protecting. Chagum, conversely, shows that he’s able to stand on his own at the end of Moribito, showing growth and maturity after all he has gone through.


The Champion

Seirei no Moribito (2 to 1)

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Whereas the protector/vessel dynamic between Miyuki and Izumiko felt more like a teen romance at times, Balsa’s adventures with Chagum made for a great story while still delivering a touching relationship between the two characters that were more compelling than their competing pair. In addition to that, the well crafted story and world building behind the legend of the Spirit in Moribito give it the win.


Your Choice?

You’ve read my thoughts, now which one do you think excels at the theme: “Protecting a Spirit Vessel”? Vote in the below poll and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Like this post? Feel free to rate as well and let me know how I’m doing.

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10 thoughts on “Who did it Better? – Protecting a Spirit Vessel

Add yours

  1. I haven’t seen Seirei no Moribito but I love Red Data Girl. The story certainly could be better but the relationship between Izumiko and Miyuki is fantastic and I kind of like that both are at times protected and at times the protector and it isn’t just physical or spiritual protection, they emotionally help each other out when needed (when not they tend to be the cause of each others emotional wounds but they’ll grow up eventually).
    That said, after reading this I really should add Seirei no Moribito to my watch list and get around to it sooner rather than later given it looks interesting (and just noted that it is already near the top of my 2017 watch list).
    I didn’t vote because I can’t really say who did it better when I haven’t seen on of the entries. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did get that feeling with RDG, that Miyuki and Izumiko were just a couple of kids that were feeling these things for the first time. They helped each other grow and become better, and that partnership aspect was stronger than his trying to protect her. Then there’s always the confusion about what exactly she needs protected from, so I gave the edge to Moribito for this theme.

      I’d love to know what you think of Moribito when you do get a chance to watch it. I just have to warn everyone that gets excited about it that there is a heavy mid season slump. But the first and last arcs are great, and the whole story behind the water spirit is really well done.

      Thanks for reading and the thoughtful comment. Feel free to come back and vote when you do get through Moribito.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There was that confusion about what exactly Izumiko needed protecting from. or even what happened in the future that was so bad she needed to go back and change it so many times. It all got a little bit confusing in terms of plot.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. RDG had a lot of backstory that we simply didn’t get from the 12 ep series. It’s adapted from a 6 volume LN, so I can’t complain about needing to cut things, but the actual nature of the Himegami wasn’t clear at all

          Moribito has the opposite problem. It was expanded from its source (which is why half of it can feel like filler), but they tie in everything to the legend really well, and you can clearly understand everyone’s motivations by the end.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, I had to have some time to try to come up with a comment (I knew I had something to say after this, even if I haven’t seen either anime).
    Okay! While I actually haven’t heard of Morbito but have heard of Red Data Girl, I’m actually intrigued by Morbito now. It sounds like it has an interesting concept, especially with the dynamic between the two leads; a nearly surrogate parental relationship is something I don’t see a lot between the main characters in most shows. Although I am interested in Red Data Girl now! (When I first heard the title, I assumed it would be science fiction, rather than fantasy). 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, even if you weren’t familiar with the anime I discussed 🙂

      When I reviewed these shows separately, I had starkly contrasting opinions of them. I was really happy with Moribito and rated it 4.5 out of 5. The story flowed really well, and even if it was a fantasy anime everything felt natural and believable because of some great character work.

      The title “Red Data Girl” was a stretch from the very start, getting its name from the IUCN Red Data Book, which catalogs endangered species. The “Red Data Girl” is likened to an endangered person. It’s a super weird comparison that only works on the thinnest of levels and has absolutely nothing to do with science fiction.

      It got a 2.5 from me, but don’t let me stop you from watching it. Miyuki and Izumiko’s relationship is the best part of that show, so it’s good that about half of it is dedicated to that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love fantasy where it feels plausible and real because of characters! That’s my biggest complaint with a lot of fantasy stories; the characters don’t feel real often enough. So now I’m definitely interested in Moribito.
        That’s a weird title and metaphor. It doesn’t make much sense to me, if probably would’ve worked better if it was a science fiction, because it just sounds like a flimsy comparison at best.
        I may still check it out, if only for the character work between the two leads.

        Liked by 1 person

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