Balsa is a spearwielder, who hires herself out as a bodyguard. When she is travelling through a neighbouring country to get her spear fixed, she witnesses a royal ox-cart overturning on a bridge and the second prince falling into the river! She doesn't think twice and jumps after him to save him -- but she also sees a mysterious force-field around the prince...
That evening, she is accosted by two palace guards, and through them she meets the mother of the prince. It turns out that this was one in a series of attempts at the life of prince Chagum, designed to look like an accident. The prince is possessed by an evil spirit -- a spirit that brings droughts, of the same sort that the founding father of the imperial dynasty slayed to preserve the water needed for the rice paddies! But as a mother, the queen does not want to see her son killed, for whatever reason, and so she entrusts him to Balsa. Balsa agrees -- because of her, seven people lost their lives, and she atones for this by saving the lives of others. Chagum will be her seventh and final charge.
And so Balsa's flight begins, chased by the 'hunters' of the emperor. Balsa is a competent warrior, but because she refuses to use lethal attacks (repenting by killing people doesn't really work, now does it?) she is less effective. Luckily, she can count on the support of a few people, like a medicine man/shaman (who is in love with Balsa), his old hag of a mentor, and a pair of city-kids who earn their living by running errands.
Through cunning and with their help, Balsa manages to evade her pursuers and manages to let them think she and Chagum have perished when their horse falls down a slope during a chase. She secures housing in a watermill in a small village, not too far from the capital city, and tries to keep her head low.
During that time, several things happen. One is that Chagum, who is a smart kid, gets to know how the common people live, and how to behave himself in the 'real world'. He has a well-developed sense of justice, and manages to defend the honor of his people -- even though everyone thinks he is just a poor orphan. Through several episodes, we see Chagum grow from a pampered child into a willfull young man.
The other is that his teacher, a seer, is given access to the 'ancient records', where the true version of the founding history is recorded. He deciphers the texts, and finds out that the spirit that has laid an egg in the prince is actually a spirit that brings water! (Which is something that the shamen already know, but their knowledge has been lost ever since the empire pressed their people to the fringes of the empire...) Every so many years, the water-bringing spirit dies, but not before he lays a few eggs into the souls of people. This egg must hatch for the rain to return -- and the signs for the drought are the signs of the coming death of the spirit.
The teacher tries to organise support for the prince, but that doesn't work out too well -- until it is almost too late.
Another thing is that Balsa's past catches up with her, in the form of a bountyhunter who once tried to kill one of her charges, or in the form of a wrestler of another country. While Balsa wants to lay low, she is sometimes forced to use her skills to defend herself or Chagum, which increases their chance of exposure...
One of the things that is also quite interesting, is that there are actually two worlds -- one is the physical world of the humans and the beasts, the other is the world of the spirits. The two are linked, and with the right incantations or drugs, one can cross over from one world to the next. And of course, this becomes hugely important when the egg that Chagum carries is about to hatch!
The series is 26 episodes, and there is simply no down-time. Every episode advances the story, gives some background information or shows a certain aspect of a character. Let me stress this again: there are no filler episodes, there are no episodes that don't show anything important to the story. None of the episodes could have been cut without diminishing the series. That is a tremendous achievement.
Visually, the series is stunning. The character designs are very detailed, the backgrounds are lush, and the digital effects blend very nicely into the cell animation.
The music is very good as well, and the voice acting is very good -- only Chagum sometimes sounds a bit stilted, like a child reading his lines.
- A credible world that I wish I could get to see more of;
- Superb, epic story-telling;
- A good mix of action and 'slow' stories;
- Technically almost perfect.
- Too short! I want a sequel!
This is a must-see, no other way about it. I'll give it a 9.5.