Ranking of Kings
Prince Bojji came from giant parents, yet he is tiny; he's also deaf, and so is incapable of comprehensible speech. He's nevertheless the designated heir to the throne, but when his father King Bosse dies, his stepmother, Queen Hiling (his father's second wife) urges that her biological son Prince Daida be given the crown. Bojji, assisted by his first real friend, a Shadow Clan member named Kage, goes on a quest to become stronger.
I was a little reluctant to tackle this one. For one thing, it sounded like a juvenile-oriented fairytale. The character art depicted in the Crunchyroll episode list didn't help: there was a character with a ridiculously wide mouth (King Desha of the Underworld, as it turned out), and a couple of others had absurdly pointy noses (these turned out to be Queen Hiling and her son Prince Daida.) But, while the first episode or two looked stereotypical ("evil" queen/stepmother denying the show's diminutive deaf prince rightful throne, etc.), it shortly became evident that yes, this IS a fairytale- but a complex, and sometimes brutal, one; while the "evil" characters turned out to either have very good reasons for their actions, or had been driven to evil by a tragic past.
An early example of the latter is Kage, a member of the "Shadow Clan" who becomes Bojji's most loyal friend. Kage is basically a two-dimensional, bilobate black blob (with one large eye in each lobe), and a crescent-shaped appendage that may be its mouth. Kage's people were coerced in the past into being assassins, but it seems assassination is currently out of style, and now Kage's people are being cruelly murdered by the humans. Barely escaping death, Kage got by as a thief (having little other choice), until the meeting with Bojji changes everything- for somehow, Kage CAN understand Bojji.
I DID say it was brutal, didn't I? Fact is, so were many of the fairytales and fantasy stories we grew up with, at least in their written forms. We're so used to the sanitized adaptations of Disney et. al. that we may forget that there was plenty of gruesome violence in children's stories. (Example: consider the Tin Woodman's story of how he BECAME the Tin Woodman in Baum's original Oz novel. Now imagine that animated.) There's plenty of dismemberment, and skewering, in Ranking of Kings- as well as a notably low blow delivered by the aforementioned King Desha- though not that much death among the principal characters. (There's a reason for that, but I won't spoil.) So this show, despite its fairytale trappings (and character art) might not be considered suitable for small children to watch- though there's an even better reason: things get very involved here.
In fact, there are some plot threads that are only completely tied up if this is watched in conjunction with the OVA companion series, The Treasure Chest of Courage, where we'll find background (and side stories) for much of what's in the main storyline. (For example, the OVA series clears up a number of points about the genesis of a certain Letter of Recommendation.) King Desha and his two brothers have a tragic storyline of their own, a thread that sometimes weaves itself into Bojji's story. (One of Desha's brothers, named Despa, becomes a mentor to Bojji, and is a pretty decent guy- for someone who's completely avaricious, AND a bit vain. As for Desha's OTHER brother... well, THERE lies much current sadness.)
One major issue the show has is it's just TOO forgiving. I'm perfectly OK with cutting Kage some slack, since what Kage did was out of necessity. Daida was also troublesome, but he's kind of a victim himself; after all, he's not the first fairytale character to be given bad advice by a Magic Mirror. But there's one character who was a key player in this whole mess, who's also given a Mulligan; and THAT might have been a bit TOO much forgiveness. (Characters in other shows who did a tenth as much evil are usually consigned to death by their writers.) I will give you one hint, though: the malefactor is NOT Bojji's "evil" stepmother Queen Hiling; in fact, SHE will surprise you. I guarantee it.
I've already mentioned the OVA series, The Treasure Chest of Courage. There have been some complaints that it really isn't a Second Season, since it just fills in holes in the main storyline. Personally, I found it a wonderful contribution to understanding what was on everyone's mind in their interactions with our hero Bojji. You certainly don't get these character nuances in most fairytales. And maybe there IS a hint of Things To Come in the final OVA.
Oh, and as for the actual Ranking of Kings, it's apparently done by a committee (isn't everything?), but the rewards of being Number One seemed so dubious to me that I wondered why that position's so coveted.
Except for an embarrassing sop to sentimentality in extending mercy to someone who I just didn't think deserved it (you have to be AWFULLY indulgent to forgive THAT one), I found this to be a surprisingly engaging story with characters with actual psychological complexity- even though that complexity sometimes drives them to take questionable actions that they often come to regret. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Rightstuf rates the Blu-Ray 14+. It's obviously for the violence I've noted in the Review.
Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll video stream
Review Status: Full (33/33)
Ranking of Kings © 2022 Aniplex, Kadokawa, Wit Studio, Ranking of Kings Animation Film Partners.
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