Ranking of Kings is one of the best anime of 2022, and in all of fantasy

The young prince’s self-assurance deserts him as his stepmother looms over him, looking down her nose at him and literally upstaging him in a scene tinged with ominous red, arched eyebrows, and a posture poised to match the sharpness of her eyes. warnings. he. We recognize the characteristics of this type of character; We have seen this story before. Just not quite. This is the first time we see Queen Hiling, a character who, throughout Ranking of Kings, becomes one of the most selfless characters in the series, driven by love for her two sons. Many of Wit Studio’s anime characters start out with a similar disparity. Their visual designs and the obfuscated intent behind their actions create a completely different picture than what we learn from them later on.

Adapted by directors Yōsuke Hatta and Makoto Fuchigami and writer Taku Kishimoto from Sōsuke Tōka’s manga, Ranking of Kings follows that of Prince Bojji, a young heir to the throne considered incapable of ruling due to his deafness and lack of physical prowess. There’s a lot to love about the show: the most immediate is the use of sign language, the colorful graphic art direction, and the frequently goofy elasticity of its characters. But his continual flipping of almost every first impression of his characters is just as amazing.

With Hiling as the main example, Ranking of Kings handles many other reversals by drawing on a story of stock characters from classic fairy tales, who will be familiar to most through cultural osmosis. In her first appearance, she might seem like the classic Brothers Grimm evil stepmother, seemingly vengeful and disdainful of her stepson Bojji, while her other son Daida easily wins her favor. But, as we learn about many of the characters in the series, seeing Hiling this way is based on a superficial impression, her sternness coming from a place of love and concern. The show continually changes each figure and slowly digs out her true nature in a kind of dramatic mirror of how Bojji is perceived and underestimated for no reason other than his lack of physical strength. Ranking of Kings fuels similar superficial attitudes by engaging with character archetypes that harken back to folktales.

Queen Hiling and Bojji in a still from Ranking of Kings

Image: Wit Studio

Although, as in the original stories, there is not a completely unified version of each of these types, Ranking of Kings take advantage of general impressions and associations with comparable figures. Bojji himself, paradoxically, might fit the “youngest son” archetype, where the physically weakest of a group of siblings succeeds on a heroic quest where his seemingly more capable siblings fail, perhaps as in Grimm. The story of the young man who sets out to learn what fear is or the fool of the world and the flying boat (Bojji certainly “never hurt anyone in his life”), but especially esben and the witch.

The trope requires a lack of physical prowess in most cases, where out of several sons, one is shown to be helpless or useless in his chosen profession (here that profession is, uh, King, but still). But Bojji reveals a hidden strength that exists due to his perceived weakness. The show begins by asking us to judge through observation rather than nostalgic memory, perhaps in combination with how Bojji’s power comes from close observation of people and places. His best friend Kage (literally “shadow”), a former thief born into a bloodline of assassins, becomes his faithful companion. At the same time, his brother, the seemingly arrogant and vengeful Daida, takes on the most antagonistic role older brothers would play in such stories; him mercilessly beating Bojji in a sparring match, mocking his unsuitability for the throne and undermining him in front of would-be retainers. But similarly he reveals new layers to himself, becoming more in tune with his older brother’s disinterest in him than anticipated.

By simply aligning certain characters with Daida, the kindness and honor of various characters are called into question. The snake handler Bebin, the dodgy connotations of his pet of choice dating back to the founding of the Abrahamic religion, turns out to be more benevolent and empathetic than such mythology would suggest (plus attempted murder and his constant lurking in dark corners). ). Again, appearance does not belie personality, as further demonstrated by Ward, the giant and kind-hearted three-headed snake Mitsumata (which is vaguely more in line with the folkloric theme of the snake as a gift giver as in the tale of fairies). the enchanted clock and others of its kind). As a result of this, an early fight between Bebin and fellow knight Apeas looks completely different from the end of the show. Though the show establishes competition and divided loyalties between the two heirs, the line between the two factions blurs and is eventually redrawn as surprising truths emerge about their lineage and capabilities.

Bojji flanked by friends in a still from Ranking of Kings

Image: Wit Studio

A two headed snake in a cave with Bojji looking at him

Image: Wit Studio

The father and the king play similar roles in fairy tales, and in Ranking of Kings the consequences derived from that paternal role are intertwined. The aptly named king of kings, King Bosse, father of Bojji and Daida, at first seems absent like many fairy tale fathers before him. But he turns out to be actively terrible instead of the usual villainous mother figure. In fact, for a time, Bosse joins the ranking of the worst anime dads of all time, having participated in a Faustian series or maybe Rumpelstiltskin-bargain style for power. (That exchange of children’s lives for power is also not unlike Osamu Tezuka’s.) Dororo neither, as my esteemed colleague Juan Barquin points out.)

It’s far from the first anime to play around with these characters in this way; For starters, anyone looking for a similar visual and/or narrative experience need only turn to Sunao Katabuchi’s charming and overlooked feature film. princess crestmaybe by Isao Takahata The Tale of Princess Kaguyaor Akira Toriyama’s corny mix of folklore and antics Dragon Ball. The confidence and classic flavor with which Ranking of Kings playing around with these tropes is familiar, yes, but that’s part of its warmth, and even part of its deceptively complex presentation of where a character’s destiny lies.

Ranking of Kings he is interested in unraveling the psychology of these characters in a way that fairy tales don’t usually do. As the late Phillip Pullman noted in an article for The Guardian: “There is no psychology in a fairy tale. The characters have little inner life; his motives are clear and obvious. If people are good, they are good, and if they are bad, they are bad. […] None of that is hidden. But time and again the anime opts for concealment and inwardness, a choice that immediately changes the fate of these archetypes, which often serve simply as representations of a concept, to catalyze a change in the hero. It’s as simple as this: Outside of your gorgeous presentation, Ranking of Kings it’s exciting because it turns these familiar archetypal characters into people, with all the complexity that that entails.

Even the show’s entire aesthetic acts as part of its complication of various first impressions, as its lovable storybook art style is smuggled into some complex political intrigue (and later, double-crosses and bloodshed). The consistency of his medieval fantasy landscapes and the beauty of the pastoral countryside means that his metaphysical moments have much more impact: he literally looks into the character as Daida is caught up in what might be called himself, his image of himself distorted into One of the scenes from the show. wackier sequences. But it’s all still expressed in that old school look. The cheerful and lively animation features slightly idyllic backgrounds and soft silhouettes of the characters, suggesting a much softer and more peaceful world than the one we have. Beneath each realm lie some deep and ancient wounds, some still open with the tragic figure of Ouken (a former prince) entering the scene. So of course Bojji’s heroic journey goes against that. As with other shōnen, he chooses forgiveness and mutual understanding, even when it’s the hardest choice, in the face of a surprisingly dark story of death, lost love, and various other tragedies.

King Bosse standing and looking while a man looks at him

Image: Wit Studio

The way the show gradually reveals new layers to each of these characters and their perceived types of actions is also the way they fill in the details of the world around them. The story of Ranking of Kings it is gradually revealed with each new episode from a new perspective, one that gradually illuminates the true nature of the narrator and the events that informed his perspective. Hiling’s introduction into Bojji’s life as his new mother is something she fought long and hard for rather than simply a political circumstance. Miranjo is not simply an evil witch, and we discover this in the same way that we discover the conflict that characterized the transfer of power between the Gods (!) and the current kings. Her Bojji’s father’s appearance, lineage, and actions match. The way the kingdom’s past intertwines and links each character is often unexpected and exciting.

His many elaborations on this story and the continual upending of our expectations around the characters work their way into the show’s main idea, spoken aloud by Bojji’s late mother: “I hate the sin, but not the sinner.” The mistakes of Daida, Miranjo, Apeas and even Bosse are not forgivable; They’re not evil just because, so they make for more exciting antagonists. Using others without regard for his past sets Miranjo down a lonely and bloody path. He respects the humanization of all his characters; tragic circumstances pathologically lead even the most wicked. With time and understanding of his past, some things can be fixed and lessons can be learned. It’s also part of why the show’s relationship with death is the way it is: the characters aren’t just symbols or necessary sacrifices for Bojji’s personal growth, but people with dreams and ambitions of their own, also worth following. No one is killed simply to make a point.

That general consideration makes the most extravagant moments of Ranking of Kings — his metaphysical journeys, manifestation of his glorious final combat as David and Goliath scenario — based as much on the sentiment as on the mechanics of a fable. The traditional stories and their motifs unfold, but with more emotional complications behind them than myopic simplicity. It’s not perfect (their concluding romance is weird to say the least) but those things are forgivable. It is a fable after all.

It’s funny that one of the sweetest and often heartwarming shows of the year stands out for its playful deception. Although Bojji is so adorable that everyone who looks at him (in and out of the narrative) swears they’ll take a bullet for him, Ranking of Kings spends much of its season tricking us into believing that we can also assess the rest of the cast at a glance. And, time and time again, he delights in proving us wrong.