I’m very much divided about Kingdom. On the one hand, I can’t help but think with regret about what might have been. If this series had been animated in grand style by Production I.G. or BONES, it might well be regarded as a true classic. In terms of writing this is a standout series – and to boot, it’s a grand, sweeping military epic. That’s a dying breed in anime to say the least. But of course, it wasn’t animated in grand style – in fact, it featured some of the most excruciatingly bad CGI in any major anime. And the fact that much of that was in the first arc of the series caused potential viewers to leave the series in droves, and I can’t honestly say that I blame them. That’s how bad it was.
We could focus on that for hours, debating why Pierrot (which is capable of very good-looking animation) chose that route. But let’s not – we’ll stipulate for the record that the animation in the first third of the series was especially awful. The fact is, though, that those of us who stuck around were amply rewarded with some of the best action anime in recent seasons. I regret that I ever stopped blogging it, because I did so just as the series was really amping up – and in fact I actually stopped watching for a while as the Fall season was really in high gear.
Most of all, what you missed if you gave up was one of the best characters of the year, and one of the best performances. General Wang Qi, as played by Koyama Rikiya, quite simply made Kingdom exceptional over the last third of the series. He effectively became the main character by sheer force of personality, and there’s nothing at all wrong with the nominal main character, Xin – he’s quite a good one, in fact. But Wang Qi was exceptional from the very beginning, when he made a striking entrance with his bizarre appearance and even more grandiose behavior. RIkiya-san is completely over the top with this performance, and it completely works – it’s a tour-de-force.
As I suspect a fair number of readers won’t have been regular viewers of the series, I won’t spoil the ending of the season the way I normally would in a season review – suffice to say I have reasons to worry about how the second season will fare, and regular viewers will know why (I advise new viewers to read the comments to this post with caution). Nevertheless Kingdom has earned quite a bit of faith from me with it”s sweep and vision, and its superb depiction of military strategy and the reality of war in a fantastical setting. Make no mistake, this is a series that glorifies war in a very old-fashioned and politically incorrect way – it revels in the glory of the battlefield and the heroism of men who kill for a living. But it doesn’t gloss over the ugliness and terror of war either. In the world of warring-states ancient China, it was effectively eat or be eaten, so it’s not as if most of those men (and boys) had any choice about a life of bloodshed. That there were heroes and compassionate figures among them is a central point of the series, I think.
The first season ended with an emotional crescendo that it’s quite frankly going to be difficult for the second to live up to. Nevertheless there are some very interesting plot elements in place, and the introduction of Li Mu adds a potentially fascinating twist on things – a strategist of the highest order and nominally the enemy, but not a man who revels in or even condones needless bloodshed and even says he “hates war”. I suspect his perspective will be similar to that of Zheng – to bring peace to China by subjugating the land through war. Meanwhile the focus of the story will surely be on Xin as he continues his quest to fulfill his childhood promise and become the greatest general in the land. I have no reason to suspect the second season – scheduled for June – will be any great shakes visually, but judging by the last several eps there’s a chance it could be decent – the finale had some really lovely art and even very good animation in spots. Irrespective of that I’ll be watching, as I’m pretty much sold on the story by now.