First things first – the animation was definitely better this time. It’s still not going to win any awards and there’s still too much CGI where CGI shouldn’t go – but better. Perhaps the crush of CGI in the premiere was a concession to producing a double-episode, I don’t know, but considerable fewer of the small-scale scenes were done via CG. If things stay at this level I’ll certainly be able to tolerate it. The character designs are kind of odd, too, but they’re sort of growing on me. If nothing else, the look of Kingdom is distinctive.
Of primary importance is that the story continues to be an interesting one, with great potential for future development. The scenario at the end of last week’s episodes was pretty much as I suspected – Hyou was brought to the capital specifically due to his resemblance to the King, Shin Ei – the boy Shin found in the shack. When Hyou’s killer arrives at the village hot on his heels, this rather puts Shin on the horns of a dilemma – as he blames both the King and the Assassin for his friend’s death. So he naturally declares that he’ll kill both of them – depriving himself of the opportunity for a free pass out of town for killing the King. The assassin is formidable and twice Shin’s size, but in the end no match for Shin’s grief-driven Bro power. His decision about what to do with Shin-Ei is forced upon him when an army loyal to Shin-Ei’s venal younger brother shows up, massacring villagers left and right, but the child in the bird suit shows up too, and it’s Kugimiya Rie – and she promises to show the boys a secret way out of town.
The plot here is fairly intricate, with a lot of politics based loosely on real-life events in Warring States China – the birth of the Kingdom of Qin is a pretty important event in world history. But the emotions are straightforward, even simplistic – reflecting the personality of the lead, I suppose. Shin rages and wails with grief and furiously throws himself at this enemies, and generally doesn’t express any feeling halfway. Interestingly he doesn’t kill though, not yet – it’s Shin Ei who does that to the assassin when Shin hesitates – and the interesting part will be to see if Shin develops the same feelings of brotherhood for the boy king that he did for Hyou. After all, as he says, “slaves don’t care who the King is” – but then, Hyou clearly came to believe in Shin Ei, and wanted Shin to do so too after his death. It’s classic formula – huge events played out as a backdrop for the small human dramas at the center of the story. If it’s well-constructed it can be very effective dramatically, and something we haven’t seen much of in anime in recent seasons.