Kingdom 2 – 04

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There was one major character element missing from Kingdom, and it looks as if it’s arrived.

The scope of Kingdom continues to widen, and with it the already bewilderingly large cast (which is like two casts, given that everyone has two different readings of their name).  Zheng’s challenge seems to have set the series on the course it’s destined to follow for a long time – the ticking clock is now the prime mover of the plot, and with it Xin has five years to make himself the full general Zheng needs to be his standard-bearer on the battlefield when the shit with Lu Buwei really hits the fan.

This being Warring-States China, that means making a name for yourself on the battlefield.  It also means there are ample – if finite – opportunities to do so, and a large number of climbers looking to do the same thing.  That in turn means the enemy might not always be the opposing army.  The stage is the looming war with the smaller state of Wei – the war that Li Mu’s truce made it possible for Qin to pursue in peace, so to speak.  Knowing the urgency of Xin’s quest, “My Man” Bi makes his first appearance of the season – coming to the front lines to give Xin a heads-up that war with Wei is coming, and he needs to position himself to take advantage.  Bi sees Xin as a younger brother, and that pretty well sums up their relationship – he’s had Xin’s back more times than I can count already, and Zheng wouldn’t have reclaimed his momentarily worthless throne without Bi’s assistance.

As large as the cast is, what Kingdom hasn’t had up to now is a true rival for Xin.  We’ve had friends, potential love interests, enemies and antagonists, and mentors galore – but not another young warrior with talent and ambition trying to occupy the same space as Xin.  Enter Wang Ben (Hosoya Yoshimasa), leader of the Yufeng Unit.  He seems to fit the bill in every way – he’s talented, well-positioned, fiercely ambitious and if all that weren’t enough, a relative of Wang Qi.  Frankly, if anything I think Wang Ben is a little over the top – he’s unbelievably arrogant and aristocratic, dismissive not just of peasant soldiers like the Feixin Force (whom he derides as ants) but also Wang Qi himself, who seems to be from a less prestigious branch of the family.  It’t a bit too easy to hate him – he’s a straw man more than a real character at this point.

That said, his first confrontation with Xin on the battlefield was a real humdinger, and it definitely had my blood boiling almost as much as Xin’s.  During one of the early pre-battles with Wei they both have the same idea – sneak behind enemy lines and take the enemy General’s head.  But Wang Ben’s elite mounted unit gets there first, and all Xin’s boys see when they arrive is a ruined camp full of dead Wei soldiers.  Every move Wang Ben makes seems calculated to piss Xin off as much as possible and put him in his place (as he sees it).  And there’s no doubt that a nobleman like Wang would be inclined to be condescending and dismissive towards a ragged bunch of farm boys like the Feixin.  Wang seems not to be a paper tiger – there’s some bite there along with the growl, and he’s not going to be pushed aside easily.

It’s impressive the way Kingdom is taking great pains to show the myriad aspects of life in a state of perpetual warfare.  The horror of combat itself, the intensely competitive nature of the military, the political struggles in the back rooms and palaces, the strategists – all are part of a larger fabric of a society that’s dependent on conflict.  We’ve barely scratched the surface historically – the biggest enemies haven’t even been introduced yet, and the series is doing a good job of showing just how monumental the challenge facing Zheng is.  It’s also doing a much better job with the animation this season, happily – the show looks an order of magnitude better than it did for most of the first. Kingdom was always a series that had an enormous amount of potential based on the quality of the writing and cast, and we’re really starting to see it realized now.

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  1. e

    Boy wasn't I pissed along with Xin this episode. On the positive side Wang Ben has been bothered by Xin's existence for a while, he flat out tells Xin and the audience so after hitting him. That is, Xin is a bothersome enough existence and obstacle for him. He's acting all demeanin and mining the Feixin guys' confidence but he does consider them a treat.
    Oh yes, Xin has a rival now. But the way I see it Xin is a true rival in Ben's eyes already. The lord doth protest too much. That's gonna get interesting 8D.
    And Bi Bro has never looked better. Indeed, improved hand animation and some chosen stills are just so easy on the eyes compared to what we experienced before.

  2. R

    Maybe he's jealous that Wang Qi made Xin his disciple and not him. Who knows.

  3. e

    @Riliane: jealous of a lowly 'ant' and employing a oh-so-special spear technique on him after saving his subordinate's ass during their first meeting already?
    If we go by your suggestion those grapes must be hella sour mmmhmmmh. Jealousy is not a luxury he can afford so smoothly as he'd like to show, blue blood or not *grins*, he'll needs some feeling upgrade and lotsa more hard work if he wishes for his ambition and his worldview – among the mains is a pretty similar position to Zheng's younger brother last season – to hold. Again, it'll be interesting too see. It's the kind of challenge with some great chara development potential for both parties involved.

  4. G

    One thing these first four episodes have said to me is that this series (and us) are in for the long haul. They are setting threads in place that won't be addressed for a long time (even more so then Bleach or Naruto). This series has plans to run for multiple seasons (DVD sales matter of course). As long as it stays a quality show I'm fine with that.

  5. R

    Hey Enzo, this is another insightful review of yours. Indeed, Kingdom is a well-written show, and it shows in not only its dialogue and the military strategies, but also how well it fabricates the world that the characters are in, weaving the many fractions into its plot. Your review made me think… In a world where hierarchy rules, it's really when chaos and wars come till ordinary people — like Xin — have the opportunities to rise and stretch one's potentials. I can't help but feel fortunate that I was born in a peaceful time, and equal opportunity exists.

    Anyway, back to this episode… It's good plot-wise that it shifted the spotlight back to Xin — after being sidelined for a while — and introduced a new character, or a new obstacle. To be honest, the side characters are more attracting to me, but I like how the story progressed in this episode from last (unlike certain show…*ahem* SnK *ahem*). Also, yes — love the bringing-back of Bi. I had been thinking when he would show up again.

    p.s. I have to echo a comment in your first post of season 2 — the sub version of this episode that I watched used the Japanese readings of the characters' names… Man, this is painful — it's absolutely testing how good my brain can function…lol. Actually, I prefer the Chinese readings, but I guess I can learn some Japanese pronunciations at the same time…lol.

  6. k

    Aah, 2nd season does not dissapoint, btw Mirai Nikki Redial is already out,hope you'll check it out soon Enzo!

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