Yuhki Kamatani and Kunihisa Sugishima’s Nabari

nabariThe anime series Nabari is based on the manga series Nabari no Ou by Yuhki Kamatani. It’s one of those series with a lot of comedy and very serious undertones.

In broad outline, the story is rather simple: Rokujo Miharu is a school boy who contains within himself the most powerful secret art of the ninja, the Shinrabansho. Miharu would literally be able to change the world if he could use it, but he can’t — and he doesn’t want to. He just wants to be rid of it, because the Shinrabansho has made him the focus of a war in the Nabari, the ninja world. (The name translates literally as “World of Concealment,” a sobriquet that is more than a little germane: there are constant references to keeping the “front world” unaware of the clans’ activities, and against drawing people from that world into the Nabari.) On one side are the Iga clan and their shock troops, the Kairoshu (“Gray Wolves”), whose leader, Hattori Tojuro, is determined to take the Shinrabansho for himself and “fix” the world. (Given his methods, we are entitled to doubt how positive those changes are going to be.) Ranged against him are the Fuma, a clan headed by the ninja’s ninja, Fuma Kotaro, the Togakushi, and the Banten, Miharu’s home village and clan.

In broad outline, it’s a coming of age story, built on the same metaphor that others have used, particularly in the area of fantasy: Miharu must learn to control the power he holds or be destroyed by it. The Shinrabansho itself he sees as a “fairy” that lives inside him — or maybe not exactly inside, since there is some ambiguity there — and sometimes speaks to him, always tempting him to seize the power and use it.

There are complications to this basic outline. Miharu remembers nothing of his childhood and, having lost his parents when very young, now lives with his grandmother and helps out in her restaurant. Unknown to Miharu, he is being protected by his teacher, Kumohara Tobari, and a classmate, Aizawa Koichi, later joined by Shimizu Raimei, a samurai, “visiting from Tokyo.” Both Kumohara and Aizawa are ninja themselves. Kumohara was a close friend of Miharu’s family and actually rescued him during the attack in which his parents were killed. Aizawa has a rather more complicated history that gradually unfolds through the story, as does Raimei’s.

The most important character, however, other than Miharu, is Yoite, a sixteen-year-old ninja, one of the Gray Wolves, who uses the forbidden technique of kira — he uses his own ki, his life force, as a weapon. The downside is that the ki cannot be replenished: his technique is going to kill him.

I was struck, on first viewing this series, by the resemblance between Miharu and Aoyagi Ritsuka from Loveless: both are about twelve years old, neither remembers his childhood, both have destinies that they are only beginning to realize exist, and both are the object of attention by outside forces that are not necessarily well-intentioned. And both are closed off from the world, from friendships, from people. They even resemble each other physically — small, skinny, with almost identical haircuts. Yoite is the teenage version: he is remote, uninflected, and wants nothing more than never to have existed. His great sorrow is that he hasn’t forgotten his childhood, which was grim, to say the least. His life since being taken in by Hattori, the leader of the Gray Wolves, hasn’t been much better: he’s a weapon, that’s all.

The relationship between Miharu and Yoite provides the real meat of the story. Miharu says to Yoite at one point “You’re another me,” while at the same time each is the chink in the other’s armor. It’s a relationship that goes well beyond friendship, not romantic in any sense, but the boys share a deep need for something that is reflected in their need for each other.

In a way, that relationship sets the measure for the development of the whole series. Histories come out in hints and implications before they are ever revealed, connections are made subtly, and identities are revealed in sometimes surprising circumstances. (Watch for the connection between Aizawa and the cat.)

Thinking on it, the graphic style reminds me of Loveless as well — the same watercolor backgrounds, the same abstract action scenes, the same general feel to the design. Visually, it’s more than ordinarily appealing.

It’s certainly a DVD that can be watched more than once. There is a lot of substance to this one, as well as a lot of action and really cool ninja stuff. The DVD set includes textless songs, trailers for other Funimation releases, and commentaries on various epsiodes by the English-language voice actors.

(Funimation, 2009)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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