Nabari: The Complete Series
by Amber Burnham
Now available on DVD from FUNimation Entertainment
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Nabari ( Nabari No Ou—Ruler of the Underworld) is an experience that should be had by everyone. The story plays out in ways that are unexpected and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. The animation is beautiful, with distinct character designs and movements. The arch of the characters is written in such a way that they pull at your emotions in pleasantly unexpected ways.
As a modern day ninja story, Nabari has many elements that are common and expected, but this is not to say it is boring or takes away from the story. One example of a common theme is the “outside world” being kept separate from nabari (underworld). Most people who are a part of the nabari world have day jobs and many of the ‘villiages’ have covers such as a temp business or private school. Although the element of keeping the secret underworld separate from the ‘outside world’ is a common theme, being essential to the story, it is not done in a way that feels common. Although we see the characters in the outside world, most of the story focuses on their lives in the underworld and thus we see them mostly inside nabari. Small conflicts with the outside world may arise from time to time but for the most part it doesn’t play a big role in the storyline. This means that we are not constantly bombarded with the need to make all the events more complicated than they already are.
As a character story, Nabari is fantastic. At the beginning of the story, we seem to know who we are supposed to root for. The good and bad guys are clearly defined. But then the lines begin to blur. The characters are written as they would be in real life; real people with multiple sides. The characters fall somewhere on the line of good and bad, many of them being neither one nor the other specifically—although there are some who are closer to pure good or bad, which is needed in order for contrast. This means by the middle of the series you find that the people who were set up as the ‘bad guys’ are not that bad and the ‘good guys’ are not always good. They become people you can relate to, and thus you become conflicted as to who you want to see come out on top in the end. This aspect of the anime pulls you in emotionally. You become invested in the story through the evolution of the characters. It is the best aspect of the anime.
Being a ninja story, there are plenty of fight scenes in Nabari. One of the greatest aspects of the fights is the way in which the characters are animated. The characters are mostly designed as tall, skinny characters with long limbs. Because of these long limbs, the characters are able to move in interesting ways during the fights. The movement of the characters during the fights is an art in itself. Becoming absorbed in the fight is not hard, you not only care about the characters but the animation is interesting and beautiful. Whilst the fights are drawn in similar ways, the individual characters still have their own ways of moving through them. Thus, adding another layer to the animation. The mute button could be on during a fight and it would still be visually captivating enough that you would become enthralled without knowing the reason for the fight.
It should be said that the entire anime is not fighting. There are wonderful scenes of character development, intrigue, comedy, and drama. Nabari has a little of everything, put together beautifully so that you do not feel that anything is being forced.
Nabari: The Complete Series is available through FUNimation’s S.A.V.E. (Super Amazing Value Edition) line, thus making it a cheap way to add this great anime to your collection. The DVD comes with a reversible cover art which allows you to choose how it is displayed on your shelf. The set also has episode commentaries and textless songs along with the twenty-six episodes of the series.
Amber Burnham has a BA in Early Childhood Education from Kendall College. She is also a regular panelist on Kichicast, the all-girl, Chicago-based podcast devoted to anime, manga, and Japanese culture. You can listen to Kichicast at kichigi.com.
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