Anyone who’s stuck with Kingdom from the beginning had to be a bit unnerved by some of the battle sequences this week. They were, in a word, fugly – a clear reminder of some of the shockingly bad CGI that was the scourge of the first half of the first season. If this were another show it might not be such a concern, but this is like seeing someone you love who’s been in rehab have a couple of beers – for most people it wouldn’t be a big deal, but… Let’s just say I’m a bit worried, what with so much of the season still to come and the really big set pieces yet to be animated.
Let’s set that aside, pretend we never saw it and focus on the content instead. And as usual, Kingdom continues to deliver on that score. After much buildup we’ve finally arrived at the moment of truth – Wei’s forces under Lian Po (technically not, but practically so) finally meet Meng Ao’s Qin army on the battlefield. There’s one twist tossed in at the last minute – the Supreme Commander of Wei’s army is actually not Lian Po but Bai Guixi, a Wei native best known for fleeing “at one glance” from Wang Qi. His four aces are horrified, but it says something for Lian Po that he’s not so proud as to let this bother him – he knows he doesn’t yet have the full trust of the King, and that the Wei soldiers’ morale will be better if they think they’re fighting for one of their own. Lian Po even includes Bai Guixi in his odd “hug yourself into battle rage” ritual with his top generals – even managing to hug some GAR into Bai in the process. Kingdom is like the Oofuri of military epics (stay with me here) in that it manages to make most of the opponents as interesting as the heroes, and sometimes even more so.
There’s another tangible benefit to Lian Po’s arrangement, and it’s one that his opponents are immediately aware of – not being tied down to headquarters makes Lian Po that much more dangerous. He can now go wherever he’s needed, and it’s much tougher to hit a moving target. While we haven’t seen all of his inner circle in action, it’s hard to believe any of them could be stronger than Lun Hu, who’s pretty much a one-man wrecking squad. The true nature of his assassination mission becomes clear now, as he leads the Wei vanguard into battle. He specifically targets the units that have weak leadership – namely the ones created as a result of his killing spree that left so many thousand-man generals dead.
Meanwhile, we finally meet the notorious Vice-Generals that are the real strength of Meng Ao’s army. I was half-right about their identity – one is indeed the legendary Wang Jian (though I suspect he may in fact be the Dread Pirate Roberts), Wang Ben’s father and one of the most famous generals of the Warring States period. The other is Huan Ji (sometimes written as Huan Xi) who’s someone I don’t know as much about – he was important in several battles (especially with Li Mu and Zhao) but as far as I know isn’t considered one of the uppermost level of the era’s military leaders. Each, as Meng Tian explains to Xin, has a “reason” for why they haven’t advanced further. For Huan Ji it’s the fact that he’s a former thief with a legendary cruel streak (once having beheaded an entire defeated castle). For Wang Jian it’s simply that he’s “the most dangerous man in Qin” – apparently because he has designs on the throne for himself. Well – who doesn’t around here?
The focus for now is on Wang Ben, who’s been included in the Qin vanguard. Xin is jealous but the savvier Meng Tian recongnizes that this is probably not something Wang Ben would have chosen – the vanguard is a horrible place to be in any battle, especially when 70% of your fighting force are strangers to the other 30% (and their commander). Indeed, despite Wang Ben’s skill and savvy his unit does prove weak, and thus becomes a target for Lun Hu, leading to a one-on-one faceoff on the battlefield. It seems too early in the story for Wang Ben to die, but it’s just as difficult to see him besting Lun Hu as he is right now.