Words escape me on how captivating, engaging, and wonderful this story actually is. I decided one weekend to sit down and watch this anime which I had been meaning to watch for well over 3 years. In no time at all I was completely blown away by its breathtaking characters and charm. If nothing else, this show was the best 48 hours of the past few months.

Twelve Kingdoms is an anime based of a series of books in Japan. Unlike most anime that rely off of manga or video games for their story lines, this one takes its root in actual print. It follows the life of a Japanese girl named Youko who tried very hard to be acceptable in everyone’s eyes. This is hard to do in her society which puts pressure on her to be successful, to represent her class, to be nice to everyone, to blend in. Into her world of feeling like an empty puppet a man named Keiki comes and kneels before her asking her to accept his pledge of undying devotion and protection. Confused and frightened she accepts and is taken to another world.

In this new world, which is never really named, she it attacked and separated from Keiki. Alone and with a magic sword that constantly torments her with visions of what other people think of her she tries to discover why she is in this new world and why people hate and fear her. It is ultimately revealed that she was chosen by Keiki to become the new empress of a nation called Kei and that she must choose this fate or leave the people of the land desolate and abandoned.

Thinking about the mythology and the world it was in, since it was based on feudal Japan and China’s government and politics, it makes me want to be a part of a culture where respect, honor, and shame dictate actions and morality. While it is easy to see in some countries like Hou that an emperor can be dangerous, it also shows that if a good emperor is on the throne like in En that the it is healthy and prosperous with few discontents. It makes me question the society we live in and the idea that everyone is their own king and can do anything they wish.

I have to say that in all the years I have read books and watched movies, I have never watched a show that I felt this attached to. Youko develops, within 13 episodes, from a social puppet to a fully mature adult. The stages she goes through are identical to ones I have experienced: betrayal, loss, confusion, self-pity, responsibility, acceptance, perseverance, and ultimately triumph. Maybe it is because I am older now, but as I watched Youko struggle with being alone in a world and being able to trust no one and ultimately becoming an empress and respected I felt myself believe and feel as though I were the one going through the same things. I have been through the same obstacles as Youko in the last 8 months and I have to ask myself, Have I also arrived? Have I become what I need to be?

There are of course other characters in the show as well. Each of them has their own story of struggle. No character has super powers. No character is infallible. Every character is flawed in some way and has regrets and wishes of their own. Not all characters are redeemed by the end of the show. All of them have doubts and insecurities. They all are human. And in each character I found something else that I could relate to.

Suzu, a sage who wanted to meet the Empress of Kei and have her rescue her from her torment at the hands of her overseer, felt that she was the only person in the world suffering and that no one had it worse than she. She looses friends on her way to Kei and learns that she is the only person who can control her suffering. She learns that all people suffer and are happy and that just because she had a hard life didnt mean she deserved to be rescued or to be happy.

Shoukei was a spoiled princess who never fended for herself and was cast from her life of luxury when her country rebelled against her harsh father. She felt that she deserved Youko’s position more and set out to take it from her. She meets Youko’s friend Rakushun who accepts her as a person but also teaches her what it means to truly have respect for others and herself, something he also did for Youko.

By the end of the series (which was far too short despite being 45 episodes), I was emotionally drained and asking myself serious questions. What if I was presented with the same choices as Youko? Could I be a good ruler like En-ou? Am I also a puppet being controlled by everyone’s acceptance of me? What makes a good person and a good leader? Will the self-pity I have for myself affect me like it did Suzu? I wanted to see more. I wanted to be in that world. I wanted to be there, not for the same reason Sugimoto did, for power and self-vindication, but to have a new chance at becoming like Youko and everyone else. I wanted to go there and become friends with the characters because I felt as if I had connected with each and everyone of them in some way.

After coming away from it it feels like now that there are no episodes to be watched that I have lost several close friends. It is as if I had been there, experienced everything, and then came home again probably never to see my friends again. I cant help but think that I have finally found role models for myself and models for who I want my friends and wife to be like. I want strong, true friends and a wife who is like Youko: beautiful, flawed, strong, and wise.

Even so, every time I catch myself think about the show and its effect its had on me, I feel myself wishing I was back there and it almost makes me choke up with joy and sadness. I am thrilled I was able to experience this show in such a profound and touching way but I am almost heartbroken that it had to end and that I had to return to this life.

There are countless lessons to be learned from the Twelve Kingdoms. I will never forget the paths and wisdom that were shown through the characters. I hope that someday I too will be able to live up to the same measure. I hope I can be redeemed someday as well. I hope that, if needed, I could be found humble and worthy of becoming a leader. I hope that, I can accept a lowly status in life as much as I would also be able to accept a powerful one. I also hope that someday new novels come out so there is more anime so I can return to that place once more.

Because of my personal experience with this show, the fact that the plot is intricate and deliberate, the characters and development are as real as they come in fiction, the mythology is exquisite and the world amazing, because I have never found myself wanting so badly to return to a story once its over and experience it again and again and for it never to end, because of all that, Juuni Kokuki is the best anime, the best show, the best story I have ever had the privilege of being a part of.

Rating: ★★★★★