Review "Ranking of Kings" Ep3
First, sorry for the delay on this. I took a much-needed extended weekend off and had to argue myself into not logging in to work just to gush about Ranking of Kings. Let's get right to it.
First, a commenter accurately pointed out that I didn't include much discussion about Bojji's shadowy compatriot, Kage. That's endemic to Ranking of Kings which, compared to a lot of anime in general, absolutely utilizes every minute of its runtime. Each episode is packed with information about the current affairs of the court and contextual details that inform why each of the characters acts a particular way. That doesn't mean Ranking of Kings is predictable, however: "The New King" subverts what we would normally take for granted as standard fairy tale tropes and establishes this as a series where we should expect the unexpected. It's also a show you cannot take at face value; its picture book aesthetic is not a good predictor for the levels of violence seen in this show.
This is especially true in Kage's backstory last week, where we watched a small shadow boy attempt to survive being orphaned after his clan is wiped out upon orders of the king. Now, I believe these orders were not by King Bosse, Bojji's dad, but a king residing over another kingdom. We see his mother brutally impaled and then watch as he desperately tries to bond with a drunkard that uses him for financial gain. It's heartwrenching and expertly displayed; not once so far has Ranking of Kings relied on exposition dumping. Information is relayed through visuals or natural sounding conversational dialogue. I wish more anime would take note of this; you can immerse your audience into a world entirely different than their own and animate emotionally poignant story beats without some convoluted infodump. By the end of episode two, we understand why Kage is drawn to Bojji and where his cynicism and survival skills originated.
Episode three shakes up the status quo again as we learn more about Queen Hiling, a woman I had entirely written off as an "evil stepmother" but turns out to be quite far from that characterization. It was easy to assume that she was following in the footsteps of many fairytale stepmothers before her and was seeking a way to put her younger son on the throne. However, as we come to understand it, Hiling is not motivated by malice. In fact, before she was ever pregnant, she actively pursued a parental relationship with Bojji. Her desire to make Daida king is based on her misguided attempt to protect Bojji both from potential ridicule and genuine attempts on his life. I had some suspicion that Hiling was not truly as dismissive as she initially appeared in the premiere; for one, she actually bothered to learn sign language. That's not a simple endeavor and if she saw such work as beneath her, she could have demanded an interpreter. She does still use one – perhaps her language skills aren't always nuanced enough, but I have a new respect for Queen Hiling even if her desire to coddle Bojji is still, in the end, disrespectful of his agency. But as we see when she relents at the end of this episode, she also cares for his happiness and that's ultimately why she allows him to leave on a quest (with two guardians in tow).
It's her son who she really needs to worry about. As it was briefly shown in episode two, we are now fully aware that Daida is in possession of a magic mirror. Its origins are unknown and it isn't clear if Hiling knows he possesses it, but a few members of the Four Heavenly Kings do seem to be aware of its existence and potential for maleficence. Daida officially obtains the throne after the WTF-inducing death of his father (more on that in a second) and a democratic vote led by his mother, and the first thing he sets out to do is have those who voted against him murdered and his own brother exiled. Hiling seems shocked by this. Even if her son is being influenced by an evil entity, she had to have some notion that he was an ego-tripping little shit. I don't know how old Daida is, but I have the impression that Bojji may be somewhere between the ages of 16-18 based on Hiling stating that he's "still a child, mentally" in this episode. It seems to suggest that, despite his small size, he may be considered an adult otherwise. Meanwhile, Daida isn't particularly tall yet so unless it is elaborated on, I'm putting him at roughly 13.
Daida has had Bebin, the shifty snake man, in his corner for the last three episodes. Bebin's peer, the polearm-wielding Apis, favors Bojji, coming to his aid during the sparring match in episode two and voting for him to ascend to the throne in episode three. Daida dismisses him upon obtaining his kingship and sends Bebin to kill him. Listen, I thought Bebin might have been smart enough to get out of this one because there was no way he stood a chance. This skirmish is animated spectacularly with a great sense of movement and choreography. Apis obtains the upper hand but it still might not be the last time we see Bebin.
Ranking of Kings utilizes magic in a very interesting way. Thus far, it seems rare for humans to wield magic. We haven't encountered any magic users that are throwing offensive spells all over the place. Queen Hiling can, as her name implies, heal but it is quite physically taxing for her. There's also the previously mentioned magic mirror. The Shadow Clan may be utilizing some kind of magic to maintain their appearance (or perhaps they're simply not human). Otherwise, the magical elements of the series seem focused on magic creatures. We learn about the existence of Mitsumata this week: a giant, cave-dwelling three-headed snake that works in service of Bebin for unknown reasons, but is also a friend to Bojji who urged Hiling to heal Mitsumata when he was but a small, injured, three-headed snek. It's Mitsumata who may have recovered Bebin's corpse in this episode (or maybe the ground just swallows the dead in this world) and sets the idea in Bojji's head to go on a quest to reunite with Kage (and see his step-grandparents).
My biggest remaining question is: What the hell is up with the literal goddamn demon that manifests from King Bosse's body?! That was some grade-A insanity and then all it does is chuckle to itself and point a gnarled finger at Bojji. Talk about ominous! We also get our first hint of the anime's namesake when Daida declares he's going to take "first" in the Ranking of Kings. Not sure what it is, but I hope Bojji participates, kicks his ass, and takes his rightful place on the throne. Fingers crossed.