These reviews are to examine the feminist-friendly elements of each series as well as the problematic elements.
In other words,this is simply meant to be a guide to recommend anime feminists like me might enjoy and also give warning of any elements that might disturb or affect someone. I am also aware I am limited by my white, Western feminist context in these reviews and thus, can’t really give anything other than the perspective of a Western feminist fan on various themes. I can only say what these series mean to me and what I take away from them as an outsider who is not the primary audience. If I get something wrong or if you are aware something has an entirely different connotation in Japanese culture that I am not privy to, I would love to hear about it so please feel free to tell me about it.
The Twelve Kingdoms (also called Jūni Kokuki, “Record of 12 Countries” or “Juuni Kokki”) is a story by Fuyumi Ono that is both a series of novels and an anime. It’s one of the most well constructed and positive fantasy stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
The most prominent narrative centers around Yoko Nakajima, a submissive sixteen year old girl who lives to please those around her, reared by her controlling father to believe a very narrow idea of what girls should be. Everything changed for Yoko when a strange man approached her at school and informed her she was being hunted by demons. The man bowed to her and offered her his protection and allegiance. Yoko was panicked into accepting his offer, and given a sword to fight demons with. She was chased by the demons into the fantastical world of the twelve kingdoms, separated from her mysterious protector and stranded. The world of the Twelve Kingdoms is filled with strange customs and dangerous creatures, and in some places the outsiders that blow in from Japan and China aren’t welcomed due to the calamity caused by the storms that blow them in. This meek schoolgirl who built her life around serving others now has only herself to count on, and she is going to have to find out who she is and what she’s really made of if she wants to survive.
If you’re looking for a story that has a) has ridiculously complex and thorough world building that delves into every facet of the mythology, geography, population and governance of a high-fantasy alternate word and b) massive character development, intense psychological examination and characters having to examine the effects of abuse of power and oppression and facing sticky moral conflicts with no easy answers and oh did we mention that these complex and conflicted characters are mostly excellent ladies….well, this is the right story, my friend.