You probably saw my pictures from Jump Festa, where Kingdom had a large booth complete with cosplayers. This manga is a pretty big deal – it’s obvious that Shueisha cares about it at least somewhat, and it continues to be a strong seller. Yet the anime certainly seems to have one of the smallest budgets around, its magnificent story slightly (but perceptibly) undercut by the clumsy CGI in the battle scenes. It’s an interesting object lesson on then difference between the manga and anime business, which is probably greater now than it ever has been.
This was another Kingdom episode that speaks admirably for itself. This is one of the most gripping series of the year, pretty much bringing an A-game in every department except visuals. As was set up last week we have a two-pronged battle, with the old men fighting on the mountain and the young men fighting on the plain. And right now it would be pretty hard to say which one is more riveting.
Lian Po himself summed up his battle with Meng Ao best – “You may have spent 40 years thinking of this plan, but you’re still a hundred years too early to outsmart me.” Lian Po grudgingly admitted to being surprised that the White Elder could come up with something so clever, proving that Li Mu’s notion that Lian Po’s supremacy in his duels with Meng Ao was a vulnerability. But in the end, even taken off-guard, Lian Po was still better than Meng Ao by a step – the cream rose to the top. While Meng Ao sent all his troops to the trap spots hoping to finish Lian Po in one fell swoop, the Wei general split his troops and turned the tables, having anticipated that the maze might be movable.
This is a bad situation for Meng Ao now, to say the least. He’s calm as always on the exterior, but admits he’s been beaten strategically – all he can do is muster his men for a final defense of his headquarters and bolster morale by talking of a miraculous intervention by Huan Ji, because “that’s the Meng Ao Army fighting style”. Who knows where Huan Ji really is, but we know that Our Man Bi is out there close by – and no matter how brilliant Lian Po is, I don’t think even he could possibly suspect Bi’s presence.
Meanwhile, my view of the titanic main character battle hasn’t changed – I really don’t want Lun Hu to die. He’s just too damn awesome, and this series already killed off one magnificent bastard. After having wounded Xin in the leg Lun Hu has a huge advantage on horseback (Xin can no longer brace himself against the powerful sword attacks) so in a Gon-like triumph of instinct over experience, Xin improvises a take-down and gets both of them off their horses and onto the ground. Still a big edge to the guy with two legs, but less so than on horseback (though that’s a bit counter-intuitive). I love the callback to the endless sparring with Piao (who hasn’t had a mention in months) which Xin says has prepared him to fight on one good leg.
The dynamics here are fascinating – Chu Sui doesn’t’t want to interfere because he knows Xin would be humiliated, but the Wei second-in-command (who’s not one of Lun Hu’s own men, remember) does enter the fray. For him and all the men of Wei this is more than a grudge match, but a struggle to protect their homes – they “cannot lose”. The upshot of all this is that he draws Chu Sui into the battle, and Chu eventually attacks Lun Hu, who cuts him down – but in doing so, creates an opportunity for Xin to do the same to him.