For a review of the full Legend of Basara series, please watch for a future entry. This is a single episode synopsis, and will contain spoilers.
The Legend of Basara anime began in 1998, coinciding with the conclusion of Yumi Tamura’s 27-volume epic Basara manga. At only thirteen episodes, the animation only scratches the surface of the story — and there’s no (legal) English-language version — but it’s quite faithful and worth watching to get a glimpse into what Basara has to offer.
It all begins with an onscreen definition of “Basara”, a word derived from “Vajra” — a noble being who defies authority and convention, living free by his or her own will. A brief history of Japan, a future Japan so ravaged by apocalyptic warfare that culture and history have begun anew, follows. The roiling ocean, the desert sun, a barren landscape, and an overlord’s throne room: this is a classic introduction to what often feels like a classic program. The colors are subdued and the animation lags far behind 1998 peers such as Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, but this adds to the sensation that I’m watching something from the ’80s golden age.
The camera then focuses on a small town, and we’re introduced to the infant “boy of destiny” named Tatara, who will lead the people to freedom in the face of tyranny and make the desert live again . . . and we are also introduced to Tatara’s twin sister, Sarasa.
With historical setup out of the way, we see twelve-year-old tomboy Sarasa and her buddy Makoto climbing over some nearby sand dunes. They’re stopped by the old man Kaku, who explains that villagers would worry if the children went missing. Sarasa snaps back that people only worry about her brother — no one ever worries about her. After all, she’s not the “boy of destiny”. She’s nothing.
“My brother is the boy of destiny . . . and I’m just the girl who happens to look like him.”
The village sage, the one who proclaimed Tatara to be the boy of destiny, walks by and consoles Sarasa. Nagi is the one who declared Tatara as a godsend and sparked Sarasa’s jealousy, yet she’s deeply fond of him nonetheless. A desire for acknowledgement, perhaps? Whatever the reason, the girl respects the blind sage and has learned many things from him: horseback riding, farming, reading the stars for directions, and even a bit of swordplay. I suspect that Nagi feels some measure of guilt for the burden his words placed on Sarasa’s heart, and so gives her the attention she craves.
Today is Tatara’s twelfth birthday — a day for great celebration. And, as casually noted, that also means it’s Sarasa’s birthday. Makoto runs to Sarasa, overjoyed that he gets to hold the sword at Tatara’s coming-of-age ceremony, innocently oblivious to the fact that girls aren’t allowed to participate. The women only get to watch. This does not sit well with Sarasa.
During the torch-lit evening, Tatara appears in Legend of Basara for the first time, bedecked in as regal attire as the poor village could afford. He is presented with the legendary sword Byakko — the white tiger blade — which is the village’s one true treasure. It is a blade that has been guarded by generations in anticipation of the one who would bring the wasteland back to life.
As the crowd oohs and ahhs, Sarasa’s mother leans over and wishes her “happy birthday”. Although Tatara may hold the public spotlight, his jealous sister is not unloved.
After the ceremony, as the villagers approach Tatara to congratulate him on his birthday, his sister tries to touch the Byakko blade, but is slapped aside by her father. The blade belongs to Tatara, and no female hand shall touch it. She runs away in tears, and Tatara is visibly concerned. As the subject of adoration, Tatara will never understand how his sister feels, but he cares for her as much as he can. Tatara has the heart of a leader and already demonstrates the dignity and resolve required of one who would rule others, but he is also a kind brother.
Sarasa runs into the cold desert night. As she dives into a self-pity party, she sees flames approaching the village — torches borne by horseback soldiers from the Red King’s army — with the youthful king himself at the front.
Old man Kaku again comes after Sarasa, and spots the soldiers. He tries to carry her off, but is stopped by one of the Red King’s generals, a bearded brute named Kazan. Kaku clutches Sarasa in his arms and protects her from the vile general’s blade, but is rewarded with a grievous gash for his heroism. The Red King, a child himself, glares down at the pair of villagers and utters a single word to his warriors:
A wandering traveler in blue robes casually walks up to the Red King and states that such a vile act would sully his name. The king chooses to spare Sarasa and Kaku, but takes the traveler’s eye in exchange. The Red King’s advisor explains that this traveler is a member of the blue clan, and that the king’s mercy may be his downfall. In response, the king tells his advisor to be quiet. The king may still be a child, but he is a child with purpose and with dignity. The traveler reveals his name to be Ageha (like the butterfly) and he stands beside Sarasa as the Red King’s entourage continues to the village.
Away from prying ears, Ageha turns toward Sarasa and asks a simple question.
“So, you are the child of destiny?”
Sarasa explains that her brother is the boy of destiny, and Ageha is surprised. His intuition is not often wrong. The man in blue then asks Sarasa to relay a message to her brother: he asks her to explain that there are many beyond the village who place their hopes upon the child of destiny. With those words, Ageha wanders back into the desert dunes without showing the slightest concern for his eye.
Kaku and Sarasa return to the village to discover a scene of tragedy. The Red King had come for Tatara — to slay the Boy of Destiny — and instead took the life of Sarasa’s friend Makoto, who pretended to be Tatara so that the true leader could survive. The Red King’s army has already left.
Three years pass. Tatara lives, Kaku recovers from his wounds, and Sarasa matures, shedding her tomboyish ways for the mannerisms of a peasant girl. Unfortunately, life is never easy. Having heard that the Boy of Destiny still lives, the Red King’s army returned. For the crime of deceit, the entire village is put to the torch.
Tatara is seized and beheaded in front of his family’s eyes.
As the village burns, Sarasa recalls a promise she made to her brother: a promise to protect the village when he’s gone. The intent was that Tatara would leave to recruit followers from neighboring lands while Sarasa watched over the town, but Sarasa gives the promise new meaning. She takes a dagger and cuts off her long braids. Clad in robes, she steps into the burning village disguised as her twin brother — with bold words, Sarasa convinces everyone that she is the real Tatara, and that his sister was the one who perished at the end of brutal General Kazan’s blade.
Sarasa, now posing as Tatara, declares to the surviving villagers that she will distract the departing Red King’s army so that all may escape to neighboring towns. Her first challenge is to tame her brother’s beloved horse Yato, a wild stallion that only obeyed Tatara himself.
As Sarasa races towards the Red King’s troops, the villagers remark that she smiled as she left the village. They’re stunned by the “boy” of destiny’s resolve. The only one who can see the grief inside her heart is the wise man Nagi, a man who is blind to sight but keen to the sixth sense.
Not bad for a first 25 minutes.