For the past year or two I’ve been watching about one episode of anime per day. Some days I watch two or three. Others I don’t watch any at all. So since I’m watching about 3 or 4 different series at once, it takes a month or more to get through a typical 26-episode series. I don’t blog about everything I watch. Hence, this blog has fallen on black days as of late. But nowhere in the midst of my casual viewing or busy schedule do I currently intend on shutting this blog down. I really like blogging. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. I think I’m just content to privately reflect on most things that I watch rather than to try getting my thoughts down in any kind of review/essay. I know, I know. Should’ve figured that one out before starting this blog! But I like having this site as an expression of my fondness for different things I’ve enjoyed, and I like watching it (slowly) grow as a collection of my personal experiences in media or on the internet. I don’t know if I’m making any sense or not. This is my first day back at school after having a month off and I have a three-hour break in between classes. Been meaning to write something here and now is as good a time as any.
I’m not aware of Nabari no Ou having a sizable or particularly vocal fanbase. I wasn’t blogging quite yet when it was released in 2008-2009, but I was certainly on the internet and tuned in to what was popular at the time. Having finished the series just after the holidays, I’m left wondering why that is. The series is a visual masterpiece, and the storytelling was particularly smart. I really enjoyed spending time with the characters and getting to know them. Do viewers only fall for characters who fit stereotypes or who possess generic anime traits? I know that’s a big generalization, but on a mass scale that’s what it seems like to me. Anyway, there’s a noticeable lack of fanart on the Internet for this series. I don’t know if that’s a good indicator of how big of a following a series has or not, but it’s what I’ve tended to use to gauge popularity. And I know it doesn’t matter if a series is popular or not, but it seems a crime that this one wasn’t a bigger hit than it was.
To my knowledge, there’s never been a real lack of action series featuring martial arts, so Nabari follows in a deep (some might say overused?) tradition. But its portrayal of ninjas and ninja culture is very different from, say, Naruto. Nabari depicts a complex world in which warring factions of ninjas exist in vast underground societies unknown to the rest of the world. Each are pursuing the Shinra Banshou, a source of great wisdom and power with potential to profoundly change the world. The exact nature of the Shinra Banshou and the intentions of those who want to obtain it are… well, the subject of a much more in-depth blog post than this one. To be honest, the Shinra Banshou is a MacGuffin, and fully understanding it isn’t completely essential to following the plot. The Shinra Banshou resides within the body of 14 year-old Miharu Rokujou, a quiet and aloof boy who unwillingly finds himself thrust into a power struggle for the secrets he carries. Initially, he’s protected by a teacher (Tobari) and a fellow student (Kouichi), both ninjas from the village of Banten. Also by his side is Raimei, a young samurai seeking to avenge her brother for the killing of their family. It would appear from the outset that there’s a clear divide between the protagonists and the antagonists, but after Miharu meets Yoite, a young ninja from the Kiroushu who has been cursed with the Kira, a deadly technique that makes him one of the strongest characters in the series, but which is also slowly killing him, the line between good and evil grows murky. The complex and shifting web of relationships and alliances in Nabari is one of the most engaging elements of the series, spurring growth and development in the individual characters that’s believable and intriguing.
What drew me to the series initially was the character design. Characters are drawn in particularly lanky style, maybe not as exaggerated as anything done by Clamp, but are undeniably svelte. I appreciated the detail to which they were drawn, and how often the animators changed characters’ outfits and appearances. It bugs me when characters wear the same clothes throughout an entire series. I understand the reasons for it, but I always like to see more variety, as is the case here. Facial features are especially detailed. Characters are extremely expressive, too. Altogether, the visuals in the series were as good as any I’ve seen before. The series has a look all its own, an undeniable identity that I feel sets it apart from most others released in the last five years.
Though Nabari focuses on conflicts within the ninja world, it’s not as action-packed as you might expect. There are battles and plenty of fight scenes, but many episodes contain no such action at all. This makes the action scenes particularly rewarding, and when such scenes do arise, they’re very well-composed and animated. The plot doesn’t completely hinge on the outcome of fights (though several are particularly important), but rather on the decisions that the characters make. The divide between the ninja world and the surface world is emphasized throughout the series, but the choices that the characters face are dilemmas that paint them as relatable, sympathetic people rather than exotic “fighters” with extreme powers. Each character plays an essential role in the series; there are no “useless” characters, as many fans love to hate these days.
Maybe I’m wrong (and I hope I am) but I feel like this series was slept on — Too slowly paced? Not enough fanservice? A morally grey plot that required viewers to actually think for themselves? Who knows. — and in the wake of Bleach ending and Naruto trudging into (another) often filler-interrupted story arc, I think this series could fill a void for viewers looking for a good shonen series to lose themselves in. The first few episodes didn’t completely hook me, but soon afterwards it became a lot more intriguing. Give it a half-dozen episodes and you’ll surely want to see it through to the end.