Anime: Nabari no Ou
Original Run: Apr 7, 2008 to Sep 29, 2008
Genres: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Rokujo Miharu, a 14 year old boy who’s apathetic to everything in life, comes to know that the coveted secret art Shinrabanshou is housed inside of him and that he’s being sought by the entire Nabari world (ninja world) because of this. The knowledge does little to break Miharu’s apathy or to get him invested in his own well being despite the best efforts of his classmate and teacher who are both fellow shinobi. But a violent first meeting with one of his enemies lights a spark in Miharu that just might lead him to master the Shinrabanshou.
I don’t really remember how I came across this anime but it was probably the allure of a ninja show that’s not Naruto (I have nothing against Naruto but I couldn’t make it past a few episodes of Shippuden) that made me watch it. The end result was both better and worse than I expected.
Nabari no Ou has the interesting enough premise of ninjas and their various factions existing in the modern world using everything from schools to temp agencies as their cover. The idea of a ‘chosen one’ with a special power upon whose shoulders the fate of the (Nabari) world rests is one of the most common tropes out there but the protagonist Miharu with his total apathy towards everything is an atypical choice of hero. As expected, his indifference slowly starts to fade during the course of the story, mostly thanks to the odd friendship he develops with Yoite, the opposing faction’s designated assassin in whom Miharu finds a kindred spirit. Most of the story focuses on Miharu and Yoite’s deepening relationship as well as the inter-relationships of various members of the cast. On the romance front, there is hinted attraction between Yoite and Miharu, Raimei and Koichi as well as Lau and Raiko but nothing concrete. The main strength of the show is that it has sympathetic characters on all sides which makes the exploration of their individual motivations and struggles quite worthwhile.
But on the negative side, Nabari no Ou’s story doesn’t really go anywhere. Not a lot happens despite each episode giving that impression. The main concern with the Shinrabanshou drags on for the entirety of the show with the characters getting sidetracked a lot, which would be fine if the final payoff is worth it but unfortunately, it isn’t. The main antagonists are about as compelling as a documentary on grass growth and the protagonists have nearly zero initiative. Miharu and Yoite attempt to do a lot of things in order to fulfill Yoite’s wish of being erased but even that thread concludes on a cheesy power-of-love note. In the end, the Shinrabanshou isn’t even used properly. The only notable thing about the ending is how each of the characters has grown as individuals and while that is a definite merit, it’s not enough on its own to sustain the show.
The central focus is on the character of Miharu. He kept me hooked initially, since a protagonist who couldn’t give less of a shit about anything including his own life was interesting if only for the novelty factor. That wore off soon enough as it turned out that Miharu is not as apathetic as he tries to be. He clearly cares about his new friends and he’s downright smitten with Yoite. Still, Miharu is a likeable character, though a confusing one. His indifference is pretty much gone by the end of the show and he seems to mature a little. The most frustrating thing about him is that he seems to spend a lot of time doing nothing productive despite the fact that he does take some initiative with the Shinrabanshou research.
Yoite, whose driving force is his wish to be erased from the world – not just to die but to have his very existence snuffed out, i.e, change the past so he was never there – is one of the main characters despite being introduced as an antagonist. Yoite is, to put it simply, a hot mess. The sort that could give a psychiatrist a run for their money, though to be fair, a lot of anime characters are like that. Despite his stoic and often unnerving countenance, Yoite can be rather charming and childlike at times. The main story hinges on his rather pitiful predicament and most of its appeal lies in watching his death wish morph into a sort of resigned acceptance of his existence.
Other than the main duo, characters of some significance are Tobari, who tries and fails to be Miharu’s mentor, Raimei, an energetic girl from a samurai clan, and Koichi, a ninja with more to him that meets the eye. On Yoite’s side, there’s Yukimi, who’s been his caretaker for years, Raimei’s older brother Raiko who purportedly massacred their clan, and Lau, who goes where Raiko goes. None of them are particularly engaging but they are entertaining enough with some touching moments. Then there are a couple of ‘make peace through violence’ villains and a few other shinobi who affect the story without being a major part of it.
Art and Music:
Nabari no Ou’s art is nothing special. The background colors are muted and easy on the eyes while character designs are typical save for their elongated bodies. Exaggerated reactions lend some humor to the show. Action scenes, scant though they are, are usually swift and very ninja-y.
I didn’t find the music all that memorable (literally since I barely remember most of it) but the first ED, Hikari by Elisa, was pleasant enough.
An anime with an interesting premise but its execution is lacking. Heavy focus on the characters but the end result is somewhat disappointing on that front as well.