Twelve Kingdoms: Preaching the word about its awesomeness

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 Japan, when she gets taken to another world, she soon realises that she will have to grow up fast. For Youko is the queen of the kingdom of Kei, and although there are many obstacles in her path, she must find the strength to take up the mantle of one of the rulers of the Twelve Kingdoms.


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 America. Now that I’ve finally had the chance to watch and enjoy the series for myself, however, there are no obstacles in the way of fangirling about it to my heart’s content.

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 Asia with various fantasy elements such as mythical beasts and humanoid animals. As with SaiMono, the music has a similar tranquil period feel that sounds perfect in the context of the series but probably wouldn’t make for very stimulating listening on its own.

Final Thoughts
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.
Tier: Gold+

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2 Responses to Twelve Kingdoms: Preaching the word about its awesomeness

  1. You should try the novel, translation issues aside it makes the anime look crap >.

  2. Meh, it cut my comment off lol, was supposed to say :

    You should try the novel, translation issues aside it makes the anime look crap

    I love the anime, and saw it long before i read the book. I have the DVD’s and i frequently rewatch them. But the novel is a million times better. Youko is more real in the novel than the anime, he way of thinking and stuff is drawn out more. At times i really hated her in the novel, and by the end i loved her. You don’t get that in the anime, from the outset all i felt was pity in the anime.

    The story flows a lot differently aswell in the novel, since only Youko is taken, which allows her to go through some radical changes that i loved.

    My main grief with the anime is that Youko is supposed to go through some serious, almost total changes, but they never really showed it in the anime. Even when she died her hair blak, it’s still red 🙁

    As for a continuation, it’s not likely to happen for a while, Ono-sensei was ill for a long while, which is why they stopped the anime. When she came back she dropped the project to focus on other projects, and has said she wont go back to 12 kingdoms for a while. Which is a shame, since i feel it has the potential to be an epic, much like Lord of the Rings is.

    Tokyopop are releasing the book now, volume 2 is due out shortly 🙂 can’t wait for that

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