Ranking of Kings: Season 1 Review

The following is a spoiler-free review of Ranking of Kings Season 1, which is now available to stream on Funimation and Crunchyroll.

Ranking of Kings is a classic fairy tale in the making. This anime is about not judging a book by its cover, but using its own medium to lure audiences in with the false promise of a cute Ghibli-style family story. But what it reveals instead is a dark fantasy story with as much Game of Thrones political intrigue and plot twists, game-changing action animation, and some of the best characterization the medium has seen in years.

The show is set in a magical world where the king of each nation is subject to ranking based on a series of criteria; where gods exist, magic is real and certain animals can speak; where demons make deals with mortals; where there is a whole clan of shadow people. This is the world where we meet Bojji, a little prince born deaf and tiny despite being the son of real and literal giants.

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A pun on a Japanese slang word for friendless, Bojji is often ridiculed for not being able to wear his father’s crown when he grows up. Still, Bojji dreams of becoming the number one king and meets every day with a cheerful disposition and a smile for everyone. When one day he meets a survivor of the wiped out Shadow Clan named Kage, the pair realize they can understand each other and together embark on an adventure to help Bojji reclaim his kingdom from the machinations of an entity trapped in a magic. . mirror.

Yes, this is the kind of story you’d find in a children’s picture book; after all, the first episode is titled “The Prince’s New Clothes.” The visual aesthetic is reminiscent of early Nippon Animation (where Ghibli co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata got their start) and shows like 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother or Heidi, Girl of the Alps, with simplistic, round and friendly character designs. , soft colors and painted backgrounds. Even the soundtrack, by artist Mayuko, has a sense of innocence and childlike wonder that recalls master Joe Hisaishi’s work for Ghibli.

That is until you get to the end of the first episode, where Daida, Bojji’s younger but physically strong and self-centered brother (it fits that Daida shares a voice actor with attack on titan‘s Eren Yeager in Japanese) decides to train with Bojji. Here, Ranking of Kings sheds its book cover animation guise and reveals that it hid some of the most kinetic and electrifying action anime seen in years. Giving us Levi and Mikasa’s best fight scenes in the early seasons of Attack on Titan, Arifumi Imai delivers the kind of swashbuckling sword fights that even Hollywood hasn’t been able to replicate in decades.

Later, Shōta Goshozono gives us what could very well be a masterclass in animation directing and visual storytelling. Episode 21 redefines what a fight scene can look like and what animation can do (what cinema can do) with dramatic wide shots, wide angles, 3D designs and expert use of blocking all coming together to give us an unprecedented fight scene with a detailed sense of scale (more on that in this excellent thread).

Beneath the cute looks and incredible action, King Ranking also has a pretty dark and emotional story.

In fact, Studio WIT proves once again that leaving Attack on Titan was the best thing the studio could have done. After all, they’ve done nothing but hits since then, and Ranking Kings is arguably their best work since Eren Yeager first took over the world in 2013.

Beneath the cute looks and awesome action, Ranking of Kings also has a pretty dark and emotional story that turns pretty scary at times. Characters die horrific and bloody deaths, betrayals hit you harder and with more emotional weight than a Game of Thrones plot twist, and there are images that can haunt your dreams, like drinking the blood of a bird that drank the corpse. granita of your father. The darkness hits so hard because of the character work, which the show excels at.

Every character we meet seems two-dimensional at first, a fairy tale-worthy archetype told to children to teach them very simple concepts and lessons, but they quickly reveal themselves to be full-fledged, emotionally complex characters. No character is what they seem at first glance, and Ranking of Kings manages to break age-old fantasy and fairytale tropes left and right, giving us noble knights with less-than-noble intentions and evil stepmothers who happen to be the most gentle and caring. . souls in the world.

Then there’s Bojji, a character who exemplifies the “he protects” meme and seems practically designed to be lovable and helpless, but whose powerful smile that can melt any metal hides a lifetime of pain and sadness. Bojji is kind without being infantilized, fragile without being weak. He is the definition of “best guy,” and his disability is not treated as a narrative device that Bojji intends to cure, but simply as a part of him that forces him to use other strengths to overcome his obstacles. This is a deeply empathetic show, and nowhere is that more evident than in the way Ranking of Kings places such importance on portraying Bojji’s disability carefully (the Tokyo Federation of the Deaf oversaw the sign language depicted in the show). ).

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As a fantasy world, Ranking of Kings manages to be huge and vivid while only explaining the bare minimum of how things work. I like Mad Max: Fury Road, is able to tell you everything you need to know about the world through images, often introducing strange and seemingly random characters or settings that nonetheless serve to paint a picture of how things work or the kind of people that would exist. here like crazy. king who lives alone in the forest and prays to a mysterious creature from the sky that eats the souls of dead animals and then regurgitates new ones to repopulate the forest. Even the power level is different from any other anime. There’s no chakra or nen system here, but even with no set rules, you still get an idea of ​​how powers play out.

Sadly, the second half of the season suffers from some pacing issues, with the finale skipping a few points too quickly to reach some undeserved redemption for a truly despicable character who never got a proper resolution. Then there’s a sort of flashback out of the blue to the main antagonist’s backstory that’s so uncharacteristic compared to the rest of the show that it prevents it from achieving masterpiece status. The flashback portrays an entire country as two-dimensional villains who betray, even though the show refuses to paint anything in black and white. To make matters worse, the episode used background art that resembles that of Japan. very real history of imperialism and colonization in Korea. It’s an unfortunate allegory with some potentially despicable implications. The fact that, for better or worse, the show never returns to this allegory makes for a very sour note in an ice cream sundae of pure joy.

Ranking of Kings is a triumph of animation.

Still, with a unique visual style, complex and memorable characters, and some of the best action animation in years, Ranking of Kings is a story that will be told for years, even decades to come. Long live Bojji.