Ok, so technically this is a Japanese anime, but I’m watching with English dubs, so I AM FILING IT AS AN ENGLISH SHOW. Please don’t yell at me… For some reason anime fans can be really touchy about all that….
there are 2 seasons for this show, or at least the DVD was released in two parts. I’m reviewing them together.
I’ve seen this show from start to finish 5 times, and I just got the DVDs from the library again. Those of you who know me know just how rare that is for a show. I don’t re-watch TV shows often, and never from start to finish over and over again (I usually just watch episodes I liked).
The plot is complicated, so I’ll try to go slow.
The show can be broken up into two parts.
You will meet here the girl the show follows from the first episode on (except for some episodes dotted here and there that really just give you back story on characters, they can be skipped entirely to be perfectly honest). Yoko is a teen who lives to please others. Her parents, teachers, even random kids at school. She has a crush on Asano, but he likes Sugimoto, a strange girl the other students avoid because of her love for stories of knights in shining armor and princesses. Yoko faces a lot of pressures due to her meek personality, and is misunderstood a lot. She gets in trouble for dying her hair bright red (it is naturally so, even though she is Japanese and both parents have black hair), and cannot stand up for herself. One day a man who calls himself Keiki comes into her classroom and bows at her feet, promising to serve her for his life. The students in her class begin to mutter that he is some kind of pimp.
A strange wind appears and the windows of the school blast inwards, severely injuring all of her friends and instructor. Keiki protects her and takes Yoko to the roof of the school, where Asano and Sugimoto are sitting together. While Keiki tries to convince Yoko to come with him (without saying where to) two creatures attack. Keiki gives Yoko a sword and tells her to let it protect her. He also puts a misty creatures in her body that can take over and fight for her. Keiki eventually has no choice but to flee with Yoko. She refuses to come without Asano and Sugimoto (don’t know why she dragged them into this) and the three are kidnapped on large flying creatures.
They end up flying though a whirlpool in the harbor and end up in the land of the 12 kingdoms.
Now let me explain the mythology here: There are 12 core kingdoms that form a diamond around a 13th central area. Each kingdom is ruled by an individual who is chosen by a Kirin. The Kirin look like men and women, except they can transform into beautiful creatures. The Kirin are born on the central kingdom, and one is born per country. The Kirin can only bow to one person in their whole lives: the king of the country they are born to protect. Royalty does not pass among family lines, and so with each king or queens death the people have an equal chance of being chosen (it is divine will that chooses). A king or queen will always be born to a family in the kingdom they will rule.
A Kirin and the king or queen are granted the Senine Power- the ability to live forever unless their lives are taken by poison or a special blade. They can also bestow this ability on others. If a king or queen does a good job, then the kingdom will prosper and have no natural disasters. If the king or queen becomes corrupt the Kirin will fall gravely ill. If the Kirin dies, then the king or queen will die within a year. If the king or queen change their ways or kill themselves, the Kirin will recover and can pick a new king or queen.
Keiki is the Kirin of the kingdom of Kay, whose ruler went mad for her love for him (Kirin do not love anyone. They can make friends, but they never wish to marry or have children, it isn’t a rule, just something none of them do) and killed all women in the palace. When Keiki fell ill she killed herself. Her little sister was just as mad, however, and imprisoned Keiki with the help of the king of Ko, a neighboring kingdom. King Ko wanted to make his suffering land seem prosperous in comparison, and as long as there is no king or queen on the throne the land will suffer more and more.
Yoko was supposed to be born to a family in the kingdom of Kay, but her spirit was thrown into Japan on accident in a horrible storm (there is a good explanation for how this happened in the show, but it is kind of complicated so I won’t explain it). Yoko is the new queen of Kay, and Keiki must bring her back and formally bow to her in the 13th kingdom so that all will know she is the true queen, not the sister of the last Queen Kay (who does not have Keiki as prisoner at this point).
On the way to Kay, however, the king of Ko makes his Kirin attack the group and help to imprison Keiki. Yoko, Asano, and Sugimoto have no idea that Yoko is supposed to be queen, they believe Keiki brought them to a strange world where no one but Yoko can understand the language (Senine Power also makes it possible to speak any language). Yoko eventually gets separated from Asano and Sugimoto. Asano falls off a cliff and is thought dead, and Sugimoto ditches Yoko, eventually becoming puppet to King Ko, who convinces her she is the real queen of Kay. Yoko begins to see strange visions of a man in blue and hears his voice in her head, constantly pestering her and making her paranoid. She eventually is saved by and befriended by a well meaning man-thing (he naturally has the form of a very large furry rat who speaks politely, but can turn into a human if forced) named Rakushun. He wants only to help her find the Kingdom of En, a prosperous land where the king has been on the throne for 500 years and was born in Japan himself, though during the period of warlords.
The first part of the story is about Yoko learning to live in this new land and trying to find a place in it. When she learns she is to be the Queen of Kay it is about her coming to terms with the fact that she can never go home and trying to free her country.
The second series is about Yoko (then Queen Kay) trying to gain control of her country and wrestle it back from corrupt officials. She does not know who to trust and which advisers are right, which leads to the suffering of her people. Queen Kay therefore decides to pose as a commoner and spy on her own people to see just what is happening to them.
Interlaced with her story is the story of three other girls. One is a servant from Japan who was thrown into the ocean during a storm and washed up in the 12 kingdoms (as happens from time to time). She is horribly abused as a servant for hundreds of years under an evil official in the kingdom of So. She decides to go to the Queen of Kay, who she heard was also from Japan and believes can help her and sympathize with her. During her journey though she learns she must take care of herself and help others, rather than wallow in self pity and wish for a hero. She meets up with Asano, who was driven mad by loneliness and plans to kill Keiki (he does not know Yoko is the queen).
At the same time you also meet the former Princess of Ho, who was a jewel in the royal palace for many decades, ignorant of her father’s wicked deeds that eventually led to his murder at the hands of rebels (who also killed the sick Kirin for her inability to give them a just ruler, though it isn’t like she had any choice in the matter). The Princess seeks to kill Queen Kay, who has everything she lost.
Finally, and to a lesser degree, the show follows Sugimoto, who is back in Japan. Sugimoto meets a boy who is silent and thought to be evil, as strange things happen around him. She comes to suspect he is from the Twelve Kingdoms, and knows he is someone important. This boy, you learn later in the story, is the kirin of the kingdom of Tai. It is unknown to anyone what happened in Tai, but after a king was chosen that king was violently murdered, and his kirin went missing. Since no new Kirin was born on the 13th kingdom, they know he is alive, but not where he is. Her story remains unresolved at the end of the series (The animators took a break while the author wrote more books, as they had caught up. They have not yet resumed production). The other two come together unknowingly with Queen Kay, and they become good friends as they plan and fight a rebellion against several evil and corrupt officials.
So the story is kind of complicated, but all this happens over two seasons and 45 episodes. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND WATCHING THIS. I”m going to start watching it for the 6th time as soon as I finish typing those reviews I promised you (so in like an hour). It is completely brilliant, and the scenery is breathtaking.
If anime isn’t your style, then I recommend going to the book story and getting the Twelve Kingdoms series by Fuyumi Ono (I might not have spelled that right, just look for Twelve Kingdoms). The show was not based on a manga (the comic books), but on actual novels.