(Great, highly recommended for all audiences)
What an enjoyable series this was. It was actually kind of weird and confusing at first, but once you really get into it and all the intracacies of the 12 Kingdoms are explained, it really shines as one of the most involving and well-thought-out anime I've seen in a long time.
The main story arc involves a normal Japanese girl named Yoko who is "spirited away" to another world (along with a couple of her friends) where she is meant to ascend to the thrown of one of its 12 kingdoms. The group eventually gets seperated, and Yoko tries to navigate her way through the world in order to find out just what the heck is going on. Meanwhile the man who brought her to this world, Kaki, is himself trying to find Yoko so she can take her rightful place as queen.
Sounds straitforward enough, right? Well, maybe it is, but I defy anyone to jump into the middle of this series and make sense of anything that anyone is talking about. I say this because the world that the story takes place in has its own set of rules, including a whole dictionary's worth of vocabulary. Make no mistake, this is a series where you have to listen to what's being said and mentally reference back to concepts you've learned previously. Thankfully, from time-to-time, the show makes sure to give you a summary of the concepts that you should know up to that point. Don't let this scare you away though. All of the rules are meant to keep the world in balance. Even the world itself is designed in an unnaturally symentrical design. And this struggle for balance is part of what drives the story and makes it so enjoyable to watch.
The other thing that makes the story great is seeing the characters gradually develop and change due to their experiences. Yoko changes drastically from the weak-minded, easily-influenced girl she is at the beginnig into a strong, compationate, independent-minded ruler. Other characters in the story develop along similiar lines as well. And the change isn't sudden or unnatural either. It's gradual over time as they make mistakes and learn from them that they start to change their attitudes and personalites. It's that tendency for the characters to change -- I think -- that really pulls you into the story.
So this is probably one of my favorite series of all time. In fact, the only issue I really have with it is that there isn't more. The main arc involving Yoko is resolved, but there it seems like there is more that can be told (one of the minor story arcs isn't even resolved at all. :( ). I know that the show is based on a series of novels, so hopefully those books will get translated and brought state-side eventually.
All in all, this was a great series and I had really had fun watching it. I would highly recommend it for otaku and non-otaku alike.