Youko Nakajima has always tried to maintain a low profile and do everything that was expected of her, but while her ‘good girl’ image may work in
Back when I wrote my Sixty Anime recommendations, one of the titles I lamented not being able to include was Twelve Kingdoms, because whilst everything I had heard about it was positive, my DVD boxsets were still making their way to me from
Although the summary “girl goes to another world” may sound like an excuse for yet another round of shoujo escapism, when it comes to Twelve Kingdoms, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Much like my beloved Saiunkoku Monogatari, Twelve Kingdoms is more of an interwoven series of tales of politics and drama, with a touch of fantasy thrown in for good measure, resulting in a rich tapestry of a world that one could surely spend forever in without running out of material. Over the course of the series we not only see Youko accept her position and deal with the consequences of becoming head of state (refreshingly, things don’t magically turn out all right the moment she becomes queen), but we also get to examine the lives of various other inhabitants and rulers of the titular Twelve Kingdoms in their own arcs.
Unfortunately, having built up this wonderful world in which to explore the intertwined stories of the main characters, Twelve Kingdoms is rather abruptly cut short after 45 of the 68 episodes that were initially planned. The official word from Studio Pierrot was that the series would have to go on hiatus in order to avoid catching up with the novels, but the lengthy runs of Bleach and Naruto have prevented it from returning. Fortunately, Youko’s story at least has a satisfactory conclusion in episode 39, but various other threads are left hanging; in particular, having gone to great pains to show us the back story of the king of Hou and his Kirin (the unicorn charged with selecting the ruler of the kingdom), by the end of the series all we know is that both mysteriously went missing and that the Kirin is living as a human in our world with no memory of his past. This situation has apparently been resolved in the novels, but anime viewers are left merely wondering what was to come of this storyline.
A big part of what makes Twelve Kingdoms so compelling is its range of characters, and whilst the villains tend to be a bit one-dimensional, the protagonists are generally more well-developed. Coming of age is a big theme throughout the series, with characters forced to grow and mature under difficult circumstances. Perhaps surprisingly, there isn’t much of a romantic angle to the series, although there are some gentle undertones that are all the more meaningful for not being exploited too blatantly.
Visually, Twelve Kingdoms may not be the flashiest series but it still offers attractive character designs and technically competent animation, presenting a detailed world that combines period
Even though it remains unfinished, Twelve Kingdoms still has plenty to offer, with a richly layered and immersive world that puts many other anime settings to shame. If you’ve yet to try it, be sure to put it on your priority watch list at once.