Pete rags a bit on 12 Kingdoms (not entirely undeservedly). He notes that the system of rule (divine powers enforcing a strict and literal connection to the rulers of each kingdom) is a giant straight-jacket, but that’s entirely the point and in fact the only logical outcome of taking the Chinese theology literally. When you blur the lines between heaven and earth, then heaven’s decrees become part of daily life – and by their very nature, divine will means law. None of that pussyfooting around with interpretations, ijtihad, or whatnot.
In a nutshell, 12 Kingdoms is an attempt to create a “perfect” system of governance, wherein the rulers of a kingdom are held directly accountable not to the masses, but to the higher powers from which they derive their authority. He that giveth also taketh away.
As far as being too-epic-y, I think that 12 Kingdoms is less guilty of trying too hard than Escaflowne (which after my initial disenchantment with, I am now 3 discs in and thoroughly enjoying). The epic layers of 12K get added slowly, as Youko’s horizons slowly expand with her travels. In Escaflowne, Hitomi is dropped right into the thick of things and the first disc is like a firehose of information about Gaea. Hitomi hooks up with the movers and shakers of the new world right away and is at the literal center of action, whereas Youko ascends gradually, from pawn to player. In a lot of ways I am more free to enjoy Escaflowne because having seen the atrocious movie, I know much of the backstory already, and so am not floundering trying to get my bearings (a problem that never went away with Serial Experiments Lain. Now there’s a series that might benefit from a movie treatment…).
I will admit that I couldn’t resist the idea of Isaac Newton as bad guy. Not that I am supposed to know that yet, on disc 1, but in another sense it is liberating to have seen the Escaflowne movie first because a lot of useless tension is now gone, such as the Mole Man’s intentions, or keeping track of who the all the mysterious bad guys are. I especially like knowing who Folken is, because if I didn’t I would be wasting time trying to understand his role, time better spent on appreciating the story.
And to be honest, this is surprisingly good, as far as the first disc goes, with a hook that’s almost as effective as Twelve Kingdoms. In fact I much prefer Hitomi to Youko now, since this Hitomi isn’t some wierd angsty kook but someone with honest emotion and charmingly formal sensibilities. Hitomi’s proposal to Ayamo was cute and awkward in all the right ways. The transfer to Gaia also was a lot simpler in execution, especially since Van is far more sympathetic as an impulsive and inexperienced youth rather than some wierdly inhuman fighting machine. Merle is the same.
The mechs are also much more likable in the series than the film, with far fewer wierd biomechanical parts and more of a satisfying blend of steampunk and battlemech styles. The mecha seem almost like characters in their own right, treated as such by their samurai – particularly Allen’s Scheherezade. I am reminded of Robotech in that Rick’s and Max’s mechs also were as distinctive and recognizable.
My only beef so far is the weird noses. It’s way worse than in the film. Is Garry Trudeau one of the lead animators or something? And I just don’t understand the hairshine thing either. I was, however, pleased to see Hitomi sporting two antennae.
In a nutshell, mystical world existing in parallel to our own, schoolgirl recruited from ordinary life in which she doesn’t fit in, to play a role in prophecy therein. Schoolgirl learns something about herself and changes her attitude. World is saved by love.
Oh and let’s also mention that arrival into new world occurs via immersion in mystical water and then breaking out of a giant cocoon. And girl gets wings.
There is the super badass armor that drinks blood, the ultimate fighter badass who is really a dethroned king, and the bad guy who seeks total annihilation for no good reason.
Throw in some utterly pointless magical ability and some big flying dirgible warships, and a catgirl.
A waste of time all around. Thanks, Netflix Recommendation Engine!