izilen: Paz, from GC (Revolutionary Teen Girl Squad)
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This post was part of 10 Reasons to Read The Twelve Kingdoms but it outgrew it and became something of a primer plus a review, I suppose. Expect TOO MUCH BABBLING, general incoherence and ALL THE LINKS.

So tell me more about this The Twelve Kingdoms thing?
The Twelve Kingdoms is a series of fantasy novels by Fuyumi Ono, and its anime adaptation. It’s a collection of tales centred around characters who inhabit a distinctly Chinese-inspired world in which there are twelve individual kingdoms. Rulers are appointed according to divine will, their importance to their real so crucial that if they rule badly or are absent, the kingdom is attacked by monstrous beasts and beset by natural disasters, in addition to being poorly administered. That's why it's so important for Keiki (the magical divine being in charge of choosing the king) to find the destined ruler of Kei. She so happens to be Yōko Nakajima, Ordinary Japanese High School Student, the protagonist of the first* book in the series!

About the books:

Shadow of the Moon, a Sea of Shadows
This first book tells the story of Yōko and her coming to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. She finds herself in a strange land with a sea unlike any that she had ever seen before, and is forced to come to terms with the reality of her new situation. Yōko's story is in many ways deconstructive of many fantasy tropes. She may be the destined Queen of Kei, but in no way is she ready to assume the role. It sounds a lot like many other stories of its genre, but it's special in how very grounded it is, and how it doesn't shy away from showing how hard the journey is for her. She lacks confidence and inner strength, she has difficulties relating to people, and much to her disenchantment, she has been living an empty life, focused on never doing anything which might displease others. In the word of the Twelve Kingdoms, where intense prejudice exists against those who, like her, have been swept in from Japan on the wake of a storm, she is at a distinct disadvantage and must face some serious character growth. WHICH SHE DOES.
Sea of Shadows is primarily about Yōko. Yōko finding her place in this world, Yōko gaining self confidence and standing up for herself and what she believes in, and yes, eventually becoming the queen of Kei.  It's no secret to anybody that YŌKO IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE CHARACTERS EVER, and I think she's amazing, and liked her even when she was passive and frightened and didn't know what to do. I like her even more now as the confident, wise, kind and competent ruler that she is.

There is also some really nice world building and some glimpses at the wonderful thought Ono puts to her world, which become far more obvious in subsequent books. This is a fantasy book with bureaucracy, and annoying laws, and a school system and procedures and passports and all manner of things which make it seem quite real, even in the face of the very ubiquitous, highly important mythology in which gods exist, having an appreciable effect on daily life, and the way the world is constructed!

For a better review just go read Becca's.
*The 'first' book part is debatable. The books are not published in any kind of internal chronological order, and it's not really desirable to attempt to read them in that order. If read by publication date, you'd need to start with The Demon Child which is not even really set in the Twelve Kingdoms at all, so one adopts a different reading order! The book order here is my highly biased and possibly misguided recommendation, which you should take with a grain of salt and consider in the light of the notes below.

A Thousand Leagues of Wind, the Sky at Dawn
This is the next of the Yōko novels, dealing with her continuing character development and how she adapts to being the queen of Kei. It is so good. Unlike Sea of Shadows, the focus is not entirely on her. She is co-protagonist with Shoukei and Suzu, another two girls her own age who each get their own amazing storylines.

Shoukei is the daughter of the recently-decapitated king of Hou, who was so strict and law-abiding that he passed laws to enact cruel punishments for even the pettiest of crimes. He was overthrown, his wife and kirin killed, and Shoukei herself expelled from the palace and made to live as an ordinary orphan girl, in the destitute conditions most of the population has to endure. Used to the luxury of the palace, which she enjoyed for 30 years in the unchanging form of a charming and beautiful 13-year-old, she is not equipped to deal with hardship. Moreover, she thinks she's been done an injustice. It's not her fault that her father went astray, is it? She didn't know what was going on, how can she blamed? Her father was only trying to do the best he could, it's the people's fault if they committed any crimes! She lives on, miserable and bitter, and when she hears that the new king of Kei is a girl her own age, she feels as if Yōko had taken effortlessly everything that was rightfully hers, and sets out to meet her and murder her and even take over Kei. Eventually, through a lot of life experience and self examination and thinking about her privilege and her duty (amazing) she grows up and overcomes her negativity.

The second girl, Suzu, was once a young Japanese girl of the Meiji era. She is swept away to the Twelve Kingdoms, where she finds herself lost, not speaking the language and not knowing what to do. The next few years are very hard for her, and when she sees the smallest chance to get out of her horrible situation, she takes it. She agrees to be a servant to one of a special caste of people who are registered as Immortals and have the ability to understand any language, that way, she will too be in that registered and she’ll finally understand what people say and her miserable life will be so much better. Unfortunately for her, it only gets worse! Her mistress is strict and cruel and seems to take it all out against her. She insults her, overworks her and demeans her, and though some of the other servants appear to pity her, nobody speaks out against her mistreatment. Suzu, believing that if she disobeys Riyou, her mistress, she will be expelled from the registry of immortals, doesn’t dare say a thing. She spends the next hundred years consumed in her self-pity. When she hears that the new queen of Kei is a girl her own age, also come from Japan, she believes that Yōko will be her salvation, and all her problems will go away, so he sets out to Kei to meet Yōko!
Yōko herself is not untroubled. She has successfully retaken her kingdom and she’s making some progress, but she’s belittled and mistrusted by her ministers, and she’s clueless of what needs to be done. She comes from a vastly different world, and when asked, she can’t say whether food or shelter are most important for her citizens to get through the winter. Again she finds herself yielding to everyone around her, insecure of what to do, so she decides to get out of the palace and experience ordinary life in the Kei countryside.

THEY ALL MEET UP, and get involved in a REVOLUTION, and it is awesome. That is all I am saying, since I’ve spoiled you all plenty enough. Political intrigue! Character growth! Exploration of themes of responsibility and governance! GIRLS BEING FRIENDS. I could go on forever. 
It was my original plan to write something up for all of the books, but a) this is getting absurdly long and b) if you’re not interested now you’re not likely to be! So here comes a very short account of what the other books are about:

The Demon Child and Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Labyrinth are about Taiki, the adorable tiny Kirin of Tai, another Kingdom which has recently been going from bad to worse, through a series of unfortunate circumstances. In The Shore in Twilight, the Sky at Daybreak, Taiki’s storyline and Yōko’s converge, in a delightful story where Yōko says “fuck that” to the prevailing attitude of letting Tai be miserable and doing nothing, and heads a multi-kingdom project to help them. Sea God in the East, Vast Sea in the West focuses on the King of En and his Kirin, Enki, who were a great help to Yōko in Sea of Shadows, long before they became the extremely successful 500-year-old ruling team they are at present. The Wings of Dreams is the tale of how Shushō, an imperious and determined 12-year-old came to be the ruler of Kyou (I posted about it on Tumblr here). Finally, Dreaming of Paradise is a collection of short stories featuring many of the characters from the other novels, plus some others (a must read, since it is DELIGHTFUL and what fanfic dreams are made of).
Enough, enough, tell me where I can read/watch this thing.
You might be asking yourself: So should I read these books or should I watch the anime? If the question is which is better, then your answer is the books, definitely. If, however, you want to thread the path of maximum enjoyment, I suggest watching the anime first and then putting all its deplorable choices behind and moving on to the books. Don’t take me wrong, I would not recommend a terrible thing; the anime does some pretty good things. In my opinion, it does a good job of integrating the En and Tai stories into the Yoko stories, and it’s always wonderful to enjoy a story with gorgeous visuals and a great musical score, but it also made some terrible choices, like the inclusion of two characters who have absolutely no business being there, and only a small flimsy made up place in the narrative. So I say, TRY OUT THE ANIME, and if that for any reason annoys you, abandon ship and take up the books. If you like it regardless (as I did), enjoy, and then be reassured that you have MORE THINGS in the form of the wonderful books.

I  suggest starting with the first of the Yōko books (Sea of Shadows), and then depending on how much you care about her story, either read the Taiki books or the rest of her storyline (that is the other upside to watching the anime. You can get all the basics of the Tai and En stories and go for the books for MORE YOKO, but you shouldn’t listen to me because I’m BIASED).

Tokyopop had licensed The Twelve Kingdoms, and was in the process of translating the novels. Four are officially translated so far, but seeing as Tokypop is closing and the rights went back to the original publisher, it is unlikely that any further translations will be published in the near future! (If you read French, though, Éditions Milan has published the whole thing) You can find some very good fan translations by Eugene Woodbury here. These and others are compiled a fantastically useful post here, which also gives helpful summaries and provides a handy list. As for the anime, the usual methods of torrents and megaupload should do, but if you’re lazy and want links, ask me and I could give you those too.

I have read and/or watched the Twelve Kingdoms, and I wonder where on earth the fannish works are.
I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL. For your convenience and because many times I’ve wished that someone would give me ALL THE RELEVANT LINKS for a small fandom (curated) I’m going to do just that.
General Interest:

Eugene Woodbury’s fan translations
Shanshinboku, a site with tons of links
[livejournal.com profile] juuni_kokki , the LJ comm
Ranka, a fansite with an encyclopedia
Official French site for the anime
Éditions Milan’s French Translations

Fanart:

On DA: Youko and/or Rakushun: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10] (mostly and)

Taiki & Co.: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6] Taiki, Risai or Gyousou, or any combination thereof

En: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6] Shoryou and/or Enki
[livejournal.com profile] rosemusek's adorable sketches.
[livejournal.com profile] jqueenofthecute's lovely sketches.

After the sea
, a gorgeous sketch blog.

Pixiv Tag
(full of wonderfulness)


Japanese Fanart Sites:
(which make Izzy desperately wish she knew Japanese)

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16]
When in doubt, find 十二国記 (Twelve Kingdoms) and navigate accordingly. Otherwise clicking around on the sidebar usually works!

A gallery of storyboards and sketches from the anime.


Fuck Yeah Juuni Kokki
@Tumblr

Fanfiction:

Sadly this is a remarkably small fandom and most of the fic there is can be found on FF.net. A lot of it isn’t very good, and there’s even more with pairings I find utterly inexplicable and the like, so here you go, the couple of stories I did find to my liking:

Discussion with Tea
. Yōko/Rakushun. K.
The Red Sun, The Ease of Conversation. Yōko/Rakushun. K+

a couple more from AO3:
Thinking of Taiki. Taiki & Gyousō. Gen.
A Star at Dawn. Shoukei, Suzu and Yōko. Gen.

Finally, some shameless self promotion: I’ve drawn this little Yōko sketch, and in the near future I’ll be posting some ridiculous self-indulgent Yōko/Rakushun fanart, so look out for that!

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