The Twelve Kingdoms is a series of novels written by Fuyumi Ono and popularized by an anime series of 45 episodes produced in 2002.
Tokyopop is publishing the translated young adult novels and the first volume Sea of Shadow, scheduled for release in March 2007, is the subject of this review.
Sea of Shadow is a gritty epic tale focused around Yoko Nakajima, a typical Japanese high school student who always seeks to please those around her. Suddenly one day, Yoko's life is changed forever when a strange boy named Keiki visits her along with an assortment of strange animal characters.
Suddenly she is taken away to another world across the "Void Sea" where 12 magical kingdoms are located. The fairy lands seem modeled around Japanese legends of Nenokuni and Niraikanai in the distant sea. During storms known as shoko, voyages between the two worlds are possible with some important limitations. However, she finds herself alone in the new land seemingly deserted by Keiki.
In this new world, Yoko undergoes a transformation of self-discovery as she must fight to survive often left completely on her own.
Ono creates a vivid environment, where people read and write using Chinese characters, but look quite different from people in Japan. There are dreaded demons here to threaten the inhabitants. But Yoko soon finds that she has a completely unexpected meeting with destiny in this strange place.
Yoko must grow up quickly as she faces one obstacle after another before discovering the secret hinted to her at the beginning of the tale by the mysterious Keiki. In the end, she is forced to make a difficult decision in which she must weigh various options, all of which demand sacrifice on her part.
In the Twelve Kingdoms, Yoko protects herself with a magical sword and magical stone given to her by Keiki. She manages to wield the sword against demons and other treats through an imaginative device thought up by Ono.
The story is a well-written adventure dealing with unexpected turns of life that can thrust one into strange and trying circumstances that can challenge your belief in yourself. The tale also deals well with a person's learning to trust again after repeated betrayal.
Fuyumi Ono, a Buddhist Studies graduate turned mystery/horror writer, does a good job at exploring the pyschological trials of her young main character Yoko as she tries to find the reasons for her presence in the new world across the sea.
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow (Vol. 1) by Fuyumi Ono, 352 pages, available March 2005 published by Tokyopop.