As befitting the historical epic that it is, the scope and scale of Kingdom just keep getting more and more impressive. It’s a cutting reminder of just what a loss it is to anime that these sorts of series are hardly ever made anymore – though in truth, there was never a time when they were what you’d call common.
The man we were briefly introduced to last week, the Zhao defector Lian Po (Kusumi Naoki), emerges as one of the key players in this season. He’s a classic “God of War” type who feels more allegiance to the game than to any nation, and waxes nostalgic for the departed six great generals of Qin and the joy fighting them brought him. Lian Po’s reasons for defecting to Wei are quite reasonable – the new King, Diaoxiang, is a moron with a personal vendetta against him, which causes him to strip Lian of his title (about three years ago in the series timeline). Lian defeats an army of 50,000 Zhao with his 8,000 man force of loyalists and takes his services to Wei along with his cadre of top officers – including Lun Hu (a very chirpy Takahiro Sakurai).
This is crucial, of course, because the Qin army is currently having its Wei with its third castle, the officers more concerned with who gets the glory than with the enemy itself. It’s a bit of a free-for-all by now, with the Feixin force using Wang Ben’s siege tower with impunity and, as expected, thriving in the increasingly ragged battle environment. This episode displays Xin and his hodgepdge of a unit in all their glory – undisciplined, raw and inexperienced, and savage in battle. There’s a great moment where Xin tries to co-opt Wang Ben’s idea and lower himself via rope in front of the castle gate, only to discover that he’s in the wrong place – and then to fall about thirty yards to the ground after the rope burns the hands of the soldier lowering him. As the others gather at the parapet, aghast, Qian Lei merely shakes her head and mutters a “Baka!” to herself.
There’s one more new face introduced this week – Guo Bei, the thousand-man General who rides to the rescue after Xin’s pratfall. And it turns out he’s from the same background as Xin – a former servant now finding himself among the military elites. He says he’s looking out for Xin, he’s smart, courageous and principled – the very definition of a heroic officer and someone you’d definitely love to have as an ally. It was as he was shown after leaving Xin, riding to the war council, that I sensed what was about to happen – and sure enough he was cut down by Lun Hu, sent ahead by Lian Po with his 300-man unit to claim as many important enemy heads as he can. It’s a nasty piece of development – and a stern reminder of just how dangerous and smart this new opponent is. It was a shocking moment, but it does present a practical consideration – it would seem that there’s now a place for a new 1000-man General, and three young commanders who would very much like to fill it.
Mushibugyou – 23
Things are falling into place more or less as expected, but given that Mushibugyou is nothing if not shounen to the core, that’s not a surprise. All of our cast have had their individual battles, and now the stage is cleared for the final act.
That means several acts playing out at once, in point of fact. It means Mugai – who’s been more scarce than an air conditioner in Antarctica lately – gets his expected showdown with Saizou as Princess Naa finally reaches the well. Turns out he knew all along who Saizou was, not too surprisingly, and was waiting for the leader of the Insect Braves to show his hand. We also get a little glimpse of Mugai’s past – and I do mean little – where his reasons for turning against the Insect Hunters in favor of Kuroageha are revealed (I suspect that was a lot more fleshed out in the manga). We also have the three secondary players – Hibachi, Tenma and Koikawa – dealing with the last of the back-benchers, Juuzou and Kamanosuke.
That leaves the two main venues, which are soon reduced to one. It’s Oooka who takes upon himself the role of facing Sanada to buy time – which he knows will be a suicide run – because he also knows it’s Jinbei that Kuroageaha wants to be with in the end. As shounen deaths go, Oooka gets a pretty good one – full-on selfless in a hopeless cause, with a smile on his face. It’s easy to accept Oooka’s testimony that he was powerfully moved by the change in the Insect Magistrate, because that side of the series has been portrayed so beautifully – it really has been amazing to see the change in her after her meeting with Jinbei.
Mushibugyou has been an excellent shounen on many fronts, but the interaction between Princess Naa and Jinbei has been the series at its best for me. Kenn and Han Megumi are spot-on in their performances, and there’s so much that’s authentic in their relationship. The fundamental dilemma, in theory, is that it’s only because she’s lost her powers that Kuroageha can be with him, and in regaining them she also condemns herself to the life of loneliness and isolation she had before. But there’s the matter of Jinbei’s strange transformation on Hachijo Island, which was caused by touching her in her true form – we’ll see what the implications are of that – and in any event she’d clearly make the sacrifice anyway, given her personality. It seems likely that she’s going to enter the well – perhaps with Jinbei in tow – and that Mugai and the others will finish off their opponents and that taking on Sanada Yukimura will be a challenge shared by all four of them.