The countdown to the end of Kingdom’s second season continues, and like so many I’ll be hoping for a continuation announcement at the end (or soon after). We may be 74 episodes in but this truly is an epic on the grand scale – historically and personally, the story has barely begun. The ability to tell tales on a global scale and stories of the people living them equally well is what sets the best historical epics apart, and in everything except production values this series is earning its place at the table with the best in anime.
Kingdom hasn’t found much time for comedy of late, but it still has a pretty deft touch when it chooses to be funny. Poor Xin – this is the second time he’s had a male friend pull a gender swap on him, and he’s been utterly clueless both times. I’ve defended Xin against the catcalls questioning his intelligence – I truly believe he’s ignorant rather than in any way dumb – but his denseness when it comes to this subject is pretty staggering. I found the reaction of the squad when Diao arrived (“Dude, that’s pretty much obviously a woman.”) to be especially amusing this time. I’ll give Diao credit for owning up when it became clear the jig was up (though it seems she did initially plan to at least try and keep the ruse going for a while) but even then, Xin refused to accept the obvious. Unfortunately for Diao, when he got the proof he needed it was with a full audience.
It was never going to be easy for Diao to win over the confidence of the Feixin Unit. New strategists face a legendarily hard time when joining a new unit anyway, and then there’s the fact that she’s a little girl. Diao is actually lucky that Qian Lei has trailblazed for her here, because at least these farm boys have a context for a female being smart and badass – but Qian Lei won their confidence with her fighting skills, something Diao hasn’t done – and that makes a huge difference. And then there’s also the fact that Lei is Lei, and Diao is, well – a little girl. With Kugimiya Rie’s voice.
In truth the winning of confidence probably happened unrealistically fast, but that’s an understandable dramatic license. Xin’s reaction itself seemed pretty believable to me – he didn’t simply turn the unit over to Diao (which would have lost him the respect of his men) because she was Diao, but he didn’t ridicule the idea because she was Diao either. Circumstances conspired to accelerate the process – namely the arrival of an elite 4000 man force for Wei with designs on exacting revenge against the Feixin Force for their successes in the great battle of Shingyang. In truth Diao arrived at the perfect time, giving her an instant opportunity to prove herself, and the chance to save the unit from what would almost certainly have been the final blow in stripping Xin from his new position.
Meng Yi makes it clear to his brother that Diao is the real thing – “the only one able to compete with her is me.” the boy says, and this boy would go on to be one of the greatest strategic minds in Chinese history. But the episode takes a very interesting look at the role of the strategist in this episode. As Meng Tian points out, it takes more than strategic sense to succeed – a strategist must also have “hostility”. Meng Yi explains it in terms of willingness to put the lives of men in your hands, to send them to kill and be killed – and in his case, he’s never stepped on a battlefield before, and cannot truly understand the emotions involved. Diao has, of course (the razor-sharp Meng Yi professes not to know this, but clearly suspects), though she finds the feeling to be quite different now that she’s stepped into her new position.
There was really never a question that Diao would be up to the challenge in the long run, though it’ll be interesting to see how she fares in the short. She’s successful in evading the trap the Wei general has set for the unit, and manages to move the headquarters and regroup the units scattered by his attack. This gets his attention, and he does exactly what a smart strategist would do – sets about launching an attack expressly designed to test just how good the Feixin’s new strategist (it’s now obvious that they have one) really is. With a force of only 1000 men and an elite army of 4000 on the attack, she’s going to have to be very damn good indeed.