Once again Kingdom delivers up a big, sprawling episode that serves notice that this series is telling the story with the widest scope of any anime on the air. There are times when I’m concerned it might be too big – especially the cast – and cause the show to lost a bit of its focus and narrative momentum. So far though that certainly hasn’t been the case, and like the series itself, increasingly, this ep was split right down the middle between the two battlefields currently in focus – the military and the political.
The first half picks up right where the last left off, with Xin and his band of merry men (and one morose boy) still stewing in their own juices after their public pantsing by Wang Ben and the Yufeng Unit. This is an age-old conflict that dates back as far as civilization and armies, surely – the class struggle is possibly the most elemental there is for modern humanity. Given their considerable disadvantages against the Yufeng Unit, the odds seemed stacked against the Feixin Force (though if that’s the worst thing you have to worry about in a war, well – things could really be a lot worse).
Of course the truth – one the great Wang Qi (oh, the heart breaks at hearing that voice again) surely knew – is that a ragtag force on foot can do things and go places a loud and shiny mounted cavalry can’t. And so here ingenuity defeats might, as the force hides themselves among the scattered remains of the dead in order to sneak behind enemy lines. It’s not only a question of being an infantry unit – men like Wang Ben’s would be too proud to engage in such a tactic. There’s a spectacularly tense moment when Wei’s soldiers are stabbing at corpses to make sure there are no survivors, with Ang seemingly next – heroically, no one moves and gives away the unit even as this is happening – but this scam works like a charm, allowing the Feixin to get the enemy General’s head first.
There’s a wildcard entry in this young guns derby though, and that’s Meng Tian (Hirofumi Nojima). He’s the son of Meng Wu and the elder brother on Meng Yi, and he too is trying to make a name for himself with a 300-man force, the Yueha Unit. While I can’t shake the notion that it’s little Meng Yi that’s going to end up the most important in that family, the story is setting up for Meng Tian, Xin and Wang Ben to form the main trio of climbers trying to be the great General of their generation. We know Xin will ally with Zheng, of course, and Meng Tian’s father is one of Lu Buwei’s closest advisors. But what of Wang Ben?
That gives us the cue for a scene change, back to the royal palace where Zheng’s loyalists are stewing in juices of their own – frustrated and angry that Lu Buwei continues to outflank them at every turn. But the political war has a wildcard too, and it’s Shi Shi who brings it to the attention of the others – Zheng’s mother. She rules over a super-secretive palace of women, keeps her own copy of the royal seal (which seems as if it would be treason) and has reached out to Shi Shi – either to offer alliance or a threat, seemingly. Shi Shi makes it sound as if she’s a legit third power in the capital to rival Zheng or Lu Buwei, though as a woman she must operate more covertly by using her power to gain influence with one the others. While it might be tempting to assume her natural alliance is with her son, not knowing the details makes it impossible to say for sure – and given the nature of royal family relations in Warring States China (and beyond) it seems entirely possible that she could oppose him overtly or covertly.