Kingdom – 38 (Season Finale)

Kingdom - 38 - 07 Kingdom - 38 - 16 Kingdom - 38 - 31

There’s something to be said for finishing a season with your best material ever.

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.

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  1. R

    Thank you Enzo for the wrap-up. Like you said, it's sad that the animation was so not up to par that turned some viewers away from Kingdom that actually came with a very good and epic story…and some very nice characters. Perhaps I personally like the stories based on history, but I very much enjoyed all the military strategies told — they were pretty engaging and thought-provoking.

    There are many things that I like about the finale…or this last arc. I like what Wang Qi said in this episode — the advice that he gave to Xin and Zheng, the comment on the next generations, and the last thought of his life — all adding up to why I love Wang Qi so much, and I really adored the brilliant work of Riki-san that brought the character to life…it's exactly like what Enzo said earlier that Riki-san is having fun himself with Wang Qi.

    Another thing that I like was the introduction of Li Mu. I am intrigued by him even though he didn't appear a lot — he will be one of the reasons that I am booked for season 2 in June.

    All in all, I definitely would recommend Kingdom to anyone who enjoys a good story. It's really good — way better than many shows this season — to the point that the bad animation becomes trivial to the overall enjoyment of the show. Also, thanks Enzo for this post — I know how busy you are, so please don't blame yourself for stopping to blog it. Your last post with the one-word review was so cute and good enough already for letting us have a place to talk about this show.

  2. M

    Kingdom really is the most epic anime ever. It’s just a shame the animation was just… Well to put it charitably the animation was f*cking ugly and while it did get better (That or I just stopped caring) there’s no doubting what could have been.

    Which brings me to another point I guess. Why do some studios try to make anime that are heavy and most entirely rely on the CG? It’s hasn’t worked before and it most likely never will. I don’t see what the appeal (besides a small budget) of trying to use it is if its going to turn out poorly.

    Not to mention there is no point of having a small budget if it won’t make the necessary money anyway. That and I’m kinda shocked that Kingdom for all its hype (Heck, every mangaka with two cents to his name illustarted the characters for the accomplishment of Kingdom getting an anime) gets this treatment. It just boggles the mind.

  3. G

    I love this series. I was never really bothered by the animation quality as I watvhed it for the rich characters and story. I'm hoping that when the series returns there is some sort of a time warp and Xin is a few years older. It stretches belief a bit that a small kid could lead a large group of adult men. Right now he is too small to wear his armor and use his weapon. Can't wait for June.

    Here is hoping the anime makers have learned some lessons and will have a more uniformly polished 2nd season (they must have been dogged big time for the animation quality in 1st third of the series and learned a lesson),

  4. G

    I'm sure I said this before, I'm one of those who was too put off by the animation style to go beyond the first couple of episodes. But I'll consider giving it a try when I have less on my plate, which doesn't happen too often these days, so perhaps in the summer. Also, I've seen a live action version (really…long drama) of the Romance of Three Kingdoms, which takes place a few centuries after the warring-states, and loved it for almost all the reasons you mentioned in your post, especially the part about military strategies. Thanks Enzo, for being spoiler-free!

  5. J

    I'm curious: what did everyone think of the first episodes (around ep3), besides the animation? Weren't they too shounen-like? Does it take a drastic change from that, later on?

  6. I'm not sure I follow "too shounen-like". Kingdom has many shounen elements, so it shouldn't be too surprising. It definitely does get better, especially with the arrival of Wang-Qi – but I thought the early episodes were very solid from a story standpoint. If you didn't care for them and the animation wasn't to blame, Kingdom just might not be your cup of tea.

  7. M

    I started watching this series because of Rikiya-san and his character, and I have not been disappointed in the least! The animation of the early episodes did not bother me, because I am willing to overlook some oddities in art or animation if the story is good. The story pulled me in, and the character of Wang-Qi kept me riveted. Hopefully Season Two will offer more of the same — but I'm glad to have a few months before it begins, so I can recover from the awesomeness of the most recent episode! 😉

  8. A

    Marathoned this during the past few days and I'm honestly taken aback by how fantastic it ended up being. This is an epic war story that I haven't seen the likes of in anime since LoGH, and it's a real, real shame that so few people have watched it- I ignored it myself for months because of the CG too, but what a mistake that was. I appreciate the post, Enzo, because this along with a few other sections of the internet talking about just how good the show is convinced me to watch it, and I'm extremely glad I did.

  9. That's good to hear. I worry about S2 without you-know-who, though…

  10. n

    The animation should be improved and as per story-telling goes, need to be as informative as the manga itself. the story itself is very much interesting and Kingdom is one of the few manga that could make your eyes shed tears lol

    I know for a fact that the reason the anime was absolutely not the same as the manga in terms of "damage" is due to its violence & gore but i sincerely believe that revealing it to some extent in anime as close as manga does would be a major boost in views. Just like the blood in Ninja Scroll or Hellsing and many others.

    For new viewers & readers, it is the story and the journey that captured me to this series and of course the history itself. Although modern times are different, looking back in time to see our history is part of a learning process to become a better man to the future!

  11. e

    I have to thank you once again for reviewing this anime hence making me aware of its existence.
    The last arc was especially spectacular and also moving thanks the the character and performance of you-know-who. Could we say it soared like a majestic bird of prey ;D.
    Among the final episodes there's still one scene that stands out to me visually – and it doesn't even feature a certain charismatic character – : episode #32, the youngest of the two village brothers and Xin resting and talking in the wood clearing at night surrounded by fireflies. It did work for me not only per se and as a link with the two village girls praying for their loved ones, but also on meta levels, from a few childhood memories of mine – there used to be a time and place in my motherland like that – to another poignant anime scene, near the end of Rose of Versailles.
    In spite of the CG sneakily and stubbornly popping out among perfectly fine scenes ( CG facial rendering seemed to both improve and become much less frequent as the series went by but waving capes floating hair and horses' tails were not as lucky. I could still spot the 'intruders' even in the last episode. Sometimes I wish my eye wasn't as trained :,) ) direction, dialogue, story and a few bgm tracks mad for some great watching. Last but not least there are plenty of characters and they're put to good use, that's not a small achievement. And even some romance – battle couples ftw :p – .

    P.S.: episode #38 credits had me smiling. Bi is quite the artist – and crushing on Duang He – . And Diao/Ten is going at her strategist career quite seriously with her new friend and the Pillar teacher it seems.
    Season #2 here I come!

    P.P.S.: Wang Qi. Rabu. Even if you're a cradlerobber :,).

  12. R

    @elianthos80: Happy to hear that you have finished season 1 and that you like it. I like stories based on history, but the way that Kingdom — while using history as a backdrop — meticulously weaves that many characters and events — fictional or not — together to tell its story puts me in awe. It's epic and moving at the same time. I am really thankful to Enzo for blogging the show, and I am happy that you enjoyed it. See you in the season 2 episodic posts :).

    @Enzo: Sorry for robbing your Summer 2013 Preview post to talk about Kingdom…I got overly excited.

  13. e

    @Ronbb: oh Summer Preview fellow hijacker ;D. Hey at least we are under the right post here.
    You know what? That's basically how I like my historical works too, balancing intimate stories and big picture. *psssst, watch Rose of Versailles psssst. It can be soap-y in the first half – and lotsa sparkles – and you might have to get used to the old school chara des (same folks working on the Saint Seiya anime chara… and the ispiration for the recent Casshern Sins anime design ) but everything starting from episode #19 is great. And moving and epic and manly tears fuel. Plus a character and a certain romance that carries a certain Tanda–>Balsa Taichi–>Chihaya flavour. And a kickass female protagonist. And perhaps the seminal 'you're the light, I'm the shadow' friends&lovers anime relationship. Ai no hikari to kageeeee… Character development gaore! And watercoluor and pastels freeze frames! Expressionist use of colour! Colour filters! *

    Back to Kingdom… aye, moving it was. I hope I'll be able to comment the new episodes in semi-timely fashion , unfortunately I'll have no stable internet access this summer coupled with limited bandwidth :,).

  14. I've said it before – it's a shame this show didn't get a proper treatment from someone like BONES or I.G., because with top-shelf animation it could have been regarded as a classic by a lot of people.

  15. R

    I agree, Enzo — it's almost unfair to an awesome show like Kingdom, but I am very happy to see that the animation has improved a lot in season 2.

    @elianthos80: I heard a lot of good comments on The Rose of Versailles. I have a list of old series that I wanted to watch this summer, and The Rose of Versailles will be one of them.

  16. M

    I loved this anime . story line was amazing and strategies of wars were amazing too . Unfortunately stopped in middle
    If any one Know such epic anime like Kingdom i appreciate that let me know about that

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