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Nabari No Ou ('Ruler of Nabari') takes place in a modern setting and is about Miharu Rokujou, an apathetic 14-year-old middle school student, who lives a fairly normal live in a small town. Out of nowhere he is attacked by a group of ninjas and protected by his classmate Kouichi and his teacher Thobari Kumohira, who always pestered him about joining their Nindo club. Miharu then learns of the hidden ninja world Nabari that exists beyond the actual world and of the secret art 'Shinra Banshou' within him. There are different ninja clans, some wanting to assist and protect Miharu, who as the owner of 'Shinra Banshou' is destined to become the leader of the Nabari world, while other factions want to use Miharu for their own personal gain or even plan to find a way to strip him of that power to get it for themselves. Now Miharu must learn about the secret world of Nabari and might even have to learn the secret art of 'Shinra Banshou'.
Sounds interesting? Yes, it is. It's based on a light novel series and as such is rich in story. While J.C.Staff is usually a capable studio the anime itself fails to live up to its own expectations.
The first 6 to 10 episodes move quite fast and there never is a dull moment. Apart from the protagonist, the main characters are well made and interesting to watch. The problem with Miharu is that because he is so apathetic he is hard to care for. However what is really annoying is that a) he looks like a girl, b) often acts like one (to confuse enemies or trick his friends, he acts like a delicate flower - which he essentially is - blushes with teary eyes and makes them feel guilty) and c) is also voiced by a woman. While a) is not that uncommon, b) funny at first quickly becomes annoying and together with c) it's just hard to really connect with such a strange character, who is supposed to be the protagonist. Also while the series moves fast in the beginning and you get all pumped up for what is sure to come, the truth is you then realize that the last - what seemed to be a minor - introduced arc is all there is going to be until the final climax.
Nabari No Ou is full of interesting and likable characters (apart from the protagonist, who is just weird and hard to follow) in a unique - though in the beginning confusing - world. While it doesn't exactly breathe fresh air into the whole 'ninja genre' it still is enjoyable. All the ingredients for a great anime are there, however already in the beginning you feel like something is missing that connects everything. As a supporting character Miharu would work just fine, but as the protagonist - the future leader of the Nabari world - he just doesn't cut it and isn't strong enough to be at the center of everything. That being said, after the first entertaining episodes the anime overall is a let down when it comes to the introduction of the main storyline, which at first doesn't seem more like an interesting sub-plot. The climax, while well done again is over way too quickly.
The animation is overall OK, but not what I expected from such a big studio. Fitting with the rather serious tone and also sometimes violent nature of the anime, no bright colors are used and everything (especially the backgrounds) look like they were colored with crayons. You can clearly see the limited budget especially when it comes to the
as I have mentioned before - often 'sketchy' backgrounds. Overall the
fight scenes are well done, but again more money means more movement, more action and ultimately more suspense. Still the director manages to make the most of it and usually succeeds.
Nabari No Ou definitely knows how to build up, whether we talk about the universe it's set in, the story lines, character development and everything else. However it never really 'clicks' and ultimately fails to deliver anything above ordinary. But because of the great ingredients you feel somewhat cheated which makes the viewing experience even worse, because it could have been so much more. The weak protagonist and what turns out to be the main story-arc, followed by a rather sappy ending are the final nail in the coffin and Nabari No Ou becomes one big letdown. What a shame really.
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