Balsa is a wandering warrior from Kanbul whose choice of weapon is the spear. In order to redeem the eight lives her foster father took to keep her safe, Balsa also takes jobs as a bodyguard and protects the weak from those who would exploit them.
Balsa is traveling in the country of New Yogo when a member of the royal family is thrown into the river she is crossing. Balsa’s instincts kick in, and almost before the boy’s body has had time to hit the water, she dives in to save him and manages to bring him safely to shore.
The boy is Chagum, the Second Prince of New Yogo, and his mother, the Second Queen, has been looking for a bodyguard to protect Chagum from his father, the Mikado. The Second Queen summons Balsa to Ninomiya Palace and explains that the accident on the river was in fact an assassination attempt by the Mikado. She tells the story of the unusual events that prompted the attempts on Chagum’s life: Two months before, the prince began having strange dreams and a strong feeling of wanting to “go home.” When the story reached the Mikado, he came to the prince with a Star Reader in tow.
The Star Readers are a mystical people who dedicate their entire life to the study of Tendo, or the universal balance. They are also the Mikado’s prophets and advisors in all things political and spiritual. According to the Star Reader, Chagum is possessed by a water demon– according to legend, the same water demon that tried to interfere with the founding of New Yogo two centuries before.
Despite this supposed threat to her country, all the Second Queen wants is for Chagum to live. She extends her offer to Balsa, and the bodyguard agrees to protect Chagum and teach him to live like a commoner, so that he may live his life unnoticed.
But the Mikado and the Star Readers decide on a different plan. They arrange for the Hunters, the eight elite warriors who guard the Mikado and do whatever he needs done, to follow Chagum and Balsa. The Hunter’s orders are simple: Eliminate Balsa bring the Second Prince back to the city to the Mikado to be dealt with.
Balsa and the prince manage to escape the Hunters, and she brings him to the hidden home of her childhood friend Tanda. Tanda and his teacher, the magic-weaver Master Torogai, are immensely interested in Chagum’s “water demon” and do what they can to help Balsa. The two of them begin to research the matter, and discover that what is affecting Chagum isn’t a demon, but an ancient ritual that assures the prosperity of New Yogo.
According to the legends of the natives of New Yogo, the Yakoo, the water spirit Nyunga Ro Im lays its eggs once a century. A number of them are laid in the spirit world, but one is attached spiritually to a young person in the physical world to be protected from Rarunga, the Egg Eater. Chagum had been chosen as the Moribito, the Guardian of the Spirit, as he had a strong chance of protecting the egg until it hatched on Midsummer.
Still, Rarunga isn’t the only enemy Balsa must protect Chagum from. They may have evaded the Hunters once, but the Hunters are not ones to give up immediately. Luckily for Balsa, though, she may have an unexpected ally among the Star Readers. . . .
I actually came across Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit because I saw a commercial on a Huntik DVD for the anime based on the book. I decided to read the book before I watched the anime, and I must say that Moribito lived up to the vision of awesomely awesomeness I had in mind based on the commercial.
Because Moribito was translated into English from Japanese, the style is different from what we Americans are used to. Nonetheless, it is a pleasant difference, and Moribito is engrossing, to say the least. In Japan, the Moribito is a series that includes ten books and an anime; in America, I have found that the next Moribito book, Guardian of the Darkness, has been translated and published, and of course I mentioned the anime earlier. I can’t wait to get my hands on both!
Nahoko Uehashi is an amazing author, and of course I must credit Cathy Hirano for her equally excellent translation of the book. She managed to keep the flavor of the story while still making it easier for Americans to understand. Likewise, ignoring Yuko Shimizu’s illustrations would be amiss of me, because the illustrations fit the story perfectly. I also like the pictures for their own merit, but then, I love the Asian style of art.
I could go on gushing about Moribito in general, Uehashi’s attention to plot and detail, Hirano’s careful translation, Shimizu’s perfect illustrations. . . . But then I would be long-winded and boring. So, instead of taking my word for it, just go out and read Moribito. Then read the sequel. And then tell me what you think!