When all is said and done this battle with the State if Wei has lasted most of the season – something in the neighborhood of 23 episodes. It’s been one of the better battle arcs (notwithstanding the bad CGI, which has subsided somewhat towards the end of the war just as it did in the first season) in recent anime history. The story of war has been told beautifully, both on the personal and epic scale. It’s been an amazing ride, but I think most of us were ready to reconnect with the people and places we haven’t seen for months.
It’s worth remembering that in the larger scale of things, this is but a preliminary skirmish – Wei was really only supposed to be a small fry to be gobbled up before Qin went after the bigger fish, but the presence of Lian Po certainly changed all that. That serves as a reminder of just how epic a story Kingdom (currently on Volume 32 and counting) is telling – just how much of that ever makes it to anime remains to be seen. This is one of those anime that exists to promote the source material more than to sell discs, so it’s very hard to predict whether future seasons might be a possibility.
For now, we can look forward to a six-episode epilogue to cap this season – time enough, hopefully, to seriously re-integrate the likes of Zheng and Lu Buwei (given) and Diao (who knows?) into the story. Next week’s episode is “The Arrival of the Strategist” – that could certainly refer to Li Mu, who proved himself fallible by miscalculating the results of the Qin-Wei struggle. But it could also be Diao herself, I suppose, though whether she could really be called a full-fledged strategist this early in the story is an uncertain matter.
For now, we have the end of the war – which, on the whole, went more or less as I expected. Certainly the “negotiations” were unorthodox – basically it amounted to Lian Po dictating the terms of his surrender as if he were the victor, as a “take it or leave it” proposition. And I think here we see that it’s lucky that Meng Ao doesn’t have more of an ego than he does, because if he had he might not have accepted – and in the long haul, I think it’s better than he did. Make no mistake, Lian Po demanded a lot – effectively, to allow the remains of the Army of Wei to retreat unscathed, and thus live to fight another day. I’ll give Lian Po credit where it’s due here, because I underestimated him – he did the right thing by his adopted country and surrendered and swallowed his pride rather than see Wei’s entire army destroyed.
I still say the Whiter Elder was in the right, though, because Lian Po did have leverage. Even if he couldn’t win the war, he could have taken a good chunk of Meng Ao’s army with him when he went down. He still had two of his Four Heavenly Kings and most of his massive central army, even if they’d lost their leader. There was some resistance from his own men – even Jie Zifang – until Bi finally showed up (he had to sooner or later to justify his appearance a few weeks ago) and the handwriting became clear to see on the wall. Lian Po even admitted that Meng Ao had beaten him, though the fight in the old bastard wouldn’t allow him to act defeated. This was surely a moment of pure vindication for Meng Ao, the culmination of 40 years of planning – even if it required the unplanned and renegade heroics of two teenagers to make it happen.
The conversation between Lian Po and Xin is another one of those moments that would never happen in the real world, but a dramatic necessity that can’t possibly be begrudged to Kingdom here. As the last of the great generation, Lian Po had to pass the torch to Xin. And make no mistake, he did – while declaring he’d never stop fighting until the day he died (and I believe him). Lian Po acknowledged Xin’s potential for greatness, a lesson on what’s required to reach his level (“That’s a lot!”) and even offered him the secret to surpassing the nine great generals in the history books (though we already knew it, of course). Xin’s first reward was Lun Hu’s sword – the ultimate token of respect by Lian Po – and he’ll surely receive another from Zheng, who was ebullient at the news that Xin had slain the great Lun Hu. But there’s still Huan Ji, himself grinning at the prospect of reward, who stands to be a major obstacle in Xin’s climb to the top. They may both be on the same team, but I would never call Huan Ji anyone’s ally.
And then there’s Qian Lei, who finally sees this as the moment where her departure can no longer be delayed. I don’t suppose we’re likely to see her again this season, but she does get a memorable sendoff. After attempting to sneak away in the night when Xin recuperates from his wounds, she falls into the pit trap he’d had laid for her and is forced to say goodbye for real. It’s not surprising to see Xin’s men remain so loyal to her (though now feeling less guilty about finding “him” so cute) given that Qian Lei has proved herself on the battlefield so many times over. Her role in this season may be over, but her role in Kingdom is surely far from it – at Xin’s side both on the battlefield and, perhaps off it.