AKA: Juuni Kokki
If you enjoy fantasy anime, or just fantasy in general, then The Twelve Kingdoms is for you. It's a true gem that should be given a chance by anyone that enjoys an involving plot, well-developed characters, and great animation.
Yoko Nakajima is a high-school student who constantly seeks to be praised by others. As a result, she is unhappy and feels like she doesn’t belong. Then, a mysterious man with long golden hair appears at her school and swears his allegiance to her, promising to never desert her throne. He then takes her and two fellow classmates to another world, where Yoko discovers that she is the queen of one of the world’s 12 kingdoms.
The series explores the backstories of other characters in later episodes, which allows for some of the best character development I’ve ever seen (anime or otherwise). You really understand the characters’ motives and how they think. Yoko is especially well-developed; at the beginning of the series, I really disliked her, but by the end of the show she became my favorite character. It's a delight to watch her grow stronger as both a person and a queen.
The plot of this series is, as mentioned earlier, very involving. The alternate world in which most of this anime is set is extremely detailed. It has its own rules, systems and terms for just about everything; you’ll have to learn the meanings of repeated words like Shoku, Kaikyaku, and Shitsudou. This gives the world of The Twelve Kingdoms a more realistic feel than most fantasy worlds in anime.
The animation and artwork is superb. The costume designs are absolutely gorgeous, and each character looks unique. The backgrounds are sharp and loaded with beautiful details. Some small bits here-and-there look awkward (such as a charging army in one of the later episodes), but overall, the animation is of high quality and pleasing to the eye.
Everything about The Twelve Kingdoms is wonderful: the story, plot development, characters, music, and animation. The only downside is that the ending isn't very conclusive. The novels from which this series is based on didn't contain enough material to keep the anime going, so instead of stuffing the anime with pointless filler episodes, production halted at episode 45. Still, The Twelve Kingdoms is an excellent series that is unlikely to disappoint. I highly recommend it.