Kingdom 2 – 39 (End) and Series Review

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Well, I was right – ending here seriously sucks.

If you (like me) were hoping for an announcement at the end of this episode of Kingdom, then you were just as disappointed that all we got was “END”.  Of course hoping isn’t the same as expecting, and it figured to be kind of a long shot that we’d get such an announcement.  That doesn’t by any means exclude the possibility that we will get a third season, but there’s at least as good a chance that we won’t, and that would be a real shame.  This season was the better of the two, and the first one ended up being pretty darn good.  They just don’t write anime in this style anymore.

Despite the fact that it pretty much left every possible thread untied, this episode did end up being a bit more like a finale than the last few have suggested it might.  This was the scene-setting, “go read the manga” type of ending, but it did feel like an ending.  What it did admirably well, I think, was paint a very clear picture of where things stand on both the personal and global level.  What it didn’t do so well was provide any sort of closure to, well… anything.  But given the circumstances, there was really no way it could have.

In Xiangyang, it is indeed a matter of “choose your poison”, the metaphor Lu Buwei chooses to illustrate the standoff between himself and the young king.  Lu has chosen the poison of the harem (and Zheng’s mother) and Zheng has chosen that of his traitorous half-brother.  For now, Chengjiao’s help manages to force a split in the chancellor’s roles – with Chanpingjun as the Right Chancellor, and Changwenjun as the Left.  The King and the Prime Minister, each with a chancellor in their pocket – at court, at least, things seem more or less a standoff.

What makes this all the more fascinating is the tangle of personal ties involved.  Lu Buewi may be (and probably is) Zheng’s father.  Chanpingjun is Diao’s master at strategy school, and a formidable figure in his own right.  And adding fuel to the fire is the news that Xiang is pregnant with the King’s child (I suspected those bedroom scenes kept going after the cameras were turned off), which certainly complicates matters.  This will be the illegitimate child of a king who’s himself an illegitimate child – though in the manner of the time and place, he’s making no secret of it.  Xiang is happy, of course, but the poor girl has no idea of the nest of vipers she’s now irretrievably mixed up with.

We get a brief check-in with Qian Lei, who’s reportedly headed for Zhao.  Along the way she conveniently runs into a baka bozu named Xin roughhousing with his friends and thinks of her comrades, but clearly she’s not going to be coming back until she clears her personal slate.  Back with the Feixin force, we rejoin them as they arrive at Donjin, with no immediate mention of the encounter with Li Mu.  Xin gives a speech that’s still more evidence he’s growing into his role as a great general, and the men reminisce about those that have been lost, and the reality that more will inevitably join them.

It’s with the arrival of Meng Tian (he’s actually been watching for a while) that things get really interesting.  After a bit of left-handed praise, he brings Xin up to speed on events (pre-pregnancy) in the Capital, then brings him up the wall where Wang Ben is waiting and prods him for information about the meeting with Li Mu.  Clearly, Li Mu is the man to watch in this story, the real enemy – all the more interesting because he’s quite a reasonable man (he pointedly tells Xin and Diao they “don’t understand the horrors of war”) who only wants the same thing Zheng does, just with a different country in charge.  He’s incredibly smart, he’s  patient, he sees both the forest and the trees – in short, he’s a menace.

After Xin and Diao are captured (unsurprisingly) while spying in Li Mu’s camp, Li tries to bait Xin a little.  As always there’s a plan here – neither one of them can touch the other because of the alliance and both know it, but each wants to take the measure of the opponent.  The difference is that Li Mu is genuinely surprised to see that Xin has grown so much (in every way) since their last encounter, while Xin was clearly unsurprised when Li Mu reveals himself to be a fearsome swordsman and not just a strategist.  So what’s Li Mu up to in those woods, at the confluence of four kingdoms’ borders?  No matter his teasing he’s not telling, but both Diao and later Wang Ben theorize that he’s secretly meeting with the Prime Minister of Chu to set up another alliance. Xin, however, recognizes someone who thinks big when he sees them – and his instincts tell him Li Mu has something bigger planned even than that worrisome scenario.  Xin may not be book smart, but he’s ahead of the strategists on this one.

So there you have it – certainly a splendid setup for a third series if we ever get one, but a damn fine (if somewhat agonizing) commercial for the manga if not.  I’m going to miss Kingdom, because it scratched an itch no other anime of recent vintage is even trying to scratch.  I love big, ambitious stories, historical epics not least – and this one is beautifully written.  It’s a glorious celebration of war that doesn’t gloss over the horrors of it, and does a splendid job balancing the personal, political and military stories it’s simultaneously telling (as indeed almost all great anime epics have done).

I use the word “great”, but a jaundiced eye must be applied to that here.  I can’t call Kingdom a great series because no series that has an important element as weak as the animation is here can truly be a great series.  It gets better over the course of the two seasons – the first cour of the first is the absolutely Marianas Trench of brutal CGI, sadly for the show’s potential viewership – but the problem never totally goes away.  Nearly every major battle sequence is shot mostly in poorly rendered CG, a real shame for a military epic.  But it was when the CG crept into the non-action scenes that things got really grisly, and thankfully that happened much more rarely after the initial burst.  There were off-model moments and a drop in background detail from time to time, but the art and conventional animation were generally acceptable and the former occasionally quite good.

If Kingdom had been produced by Production I.G. or BONES with top-notch production values, I’m fully convinced it would be remembered with the greats in epic anime – the Twelve Kingdoms of the world.  As is, I still get shocked reactions when I tell people how much I came to love it, and that’s the biggest shame of all.  If you got past the heinous visuals at the start – and you have a taste for this sort of story – you were treated to something pretty special.  But I can’t blame those that didn’t, and I even stopped blogging it for a while myself in the first season.  That was a mistake, I freely admit – especially given that I dropped it just when it was really getting juicy – and despite the fact that it’s not the easiest show to blog, it was also a mistake to cover it in digest form for as long as I did.

So how does the second season stack up to the first?  Well, that juicy part I referred to was the emergence of Wang Qi as a central character.  Wang Qi (and seiyuu Koyama Rikiya) have never been matched for pure impact and entertainment value in either season.  But given how worried I was about how Kingdom would cope in their absence, I’m pleased to say even without Wang Qi this season was clearly better.  The visuals were better, the pacing was better, the quality more consistent.  The first season didn’t quite make my 2013 Top 20 list but if it’d been eligible this one certainly would have.  This is a damn fine show – beautifully written, rousing, funny, and respectful enough of the history it takes liberties with to be fascinating for those who love that history.  If you dropped this show mainly because of the animation I strongly urge you to give it another chance, because they just don’t make anime like this anymore.  It’s a great story with great characters, and that, not the others stuff, is what I’ll take away from it.  And as takeaways go, that’s a damn good one.

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ED Sequence:

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  1. e

    ' I love big, ambitious stories, historical epics not least ' I must ask you: have you read Basara? There are some OVAs for it but they only cover the beginning of the stroy if I recall correctly. TL;DR: we survived Kingdom's animation. No art style is an obstacle anymore :p (and it does become more solid after a few volumes) . If you are looking for both small scale and big scope and epic this definitely fits the bill. A few great characters of both sexes too.

    Now back to Kingdom: it this is a commercial for the manga and we get no more animated goodness then eff me. Kingdom manga here I come I MUST know how things go on from here :,D.
    On the episode itself: it did touch base with all the main players – the still living ones were either shown or at least mentioned (Lian Po) save maybe for Meng Yi and the wild Deva Pang Nuang . I expect the guy to still pop up in the story in the manga at least for Xin's duelling pleasure… – .

    You might be giving Xiang too little credits here Enzo. Her maidenly blushing didn't really alter regardless of the degree of intimacy between her and Zheng and she got both a confidential crash courses in family WTF and a very tangible evidence of court dangers – nothing like a blade in the gut and related brush with death as trigger for survival wising up I think :p – . Giving how she's not braindead there's potential for one formidable lady in the making there if the mangaka is up to the challenge.
    And really I'd love to have some female figure with agency who's not an unpalatable power-crazy nut or a warrior/strategist in drags – as much as I'm entertained by the former and have a history of rooting for the latter – in this fictional universe :,D.

    This was a good episode (<—- understatement of the week). And we were bestowed some CG today too, just to be consistent ;p .
    And Lei is travelling to Zhao of all places in big o' China. Ohoh promising 8D.
    Noooooo it can't be ending nooooooo. Aaaaaah.

    Thank you very much for blogging both series Enzo :,).

  2. Z

    After enduring all the Berserk: Golden Age Arc battle sequences – no never again.

  3. S

    I’m currently watching The Twelve Kingdoms and Game of Thrones, two shows in the epic fantasy genre which I both like for the multilayered storylines, complex world-building, very human characters and the thin line between good and evil. Would you say Kingdom is as good or even better than these shows?
    I’m just wondering if I should spend time on this very long series.

  4. IMHO, as good as TTK in everything but visuals, and not quite in GoT's class in terms of story and character.

  5. t

    great review. I think you summed up everything for me.
    it was a pleasure reading your reviews for kingdom S2. I had a great time watching, reading, commenting. it's a bit sad that it's over now…
    I don't think we will have S3 this quickly. I am sure we will have it. with an ending like that, there will be S3. the question is when. because for this year the studio is already kinda busy. but I expect(more like..I hope) an announcement till the end of this year.
    the following arc is much much better and very long (about 90-100 chapters if I am not mistaken).


  6. I've seen that "with this ending a S3 is a given" comment a few times, and I have to ask – are you folks watching the same medium I am? I can't even begin to count the series that ended with agonozing cliffhangers or non-resolutions, never to be heard from again. I wish I could share your optimism – I have hope, but it sure doesn't feel like a sure thing to me.

  7. J

    I'm extremely glad I found this site. I thought I was the "only" person out there who was HOOKED on this anime series (CGI be damed when u have characters like Wang Qi, Li Mu & the maturing Xin & Zheng). I couldn't understand why it was blatantly missing from some of my favorite anime sites. Now I know even though I think many viewers are missing out big time. I went back to to the first series and checked out Enzo's reviews & many of the comments and found that I would have been agreeing with most of the points, praises & critiques that you guys

    After watching the 1st 2 & hopefully not the only 2 seasons of Kingdom here's my list of top 10 strongest warriors during the storyline:

    10. Jie Zifang
    09. Qian Lei
    08. Mountain King
    07. Lun Hu
    06. Meng Wu
    05. Xin
    04. General Teng
    03. Lin Pau
    02. Pang Nuan
    01. Wang Qi

    If we get more eps I would be surprised to see Li Mu, Wang Jian & maybe Wang Ben or Lianne break into my list.

  8. Glad to have you here, James. As for me, Li Mu would already be on this list – and pretty high up, too. He might be the most dangerous person in the cast.

  9. R

    He absolutely is. To me, Wang Qi is still my number one, but ever since he's gone, Li Mu has taken his place. There's so much that we don't know about him, and if the mangaka sticks to history, Li Mu can be a character who has the brain, the physical strength, and the heart. He's the hidden gem of the story and definitely the most dangerous.

  10. J

    Enzo pulled a word switch on me lol. I listed the strongest warriors. So far we haven't gotten to see much of Li Mu's fighting prowess. Remember how Xin had to test him just to get a peak at his fighting skills. I only know this story through this anime not the manga or the actual history so no spoilers please…

    If I were putting a most dangerous person list together Li Mu would already be at the head along w/Lü Buwei, Chengjiao, Queen Dowager, Huan Ji & possibly Li Si.

    Anyway this is the first week in months where I haven't been looking forward to a new ep of Kingdom. This sux! I need Shingeki no kyojin to get back going.

  11. I think it's really a question of how you define the term "warrior". As a guy who first-hand directs armies in battle, I see Li Mu as a warrior. I think what you're describing are the strongest fighters.

  12. J

    Fair enough…I was trying to keep in the spirit of Kingdom were there seems to be to major sub-groups of combatants- Strategist & Fighters. What's cool about this cast so far is that there are a many characters who have demonstrated high levels of both skills like Lin Pau or even Qian Lei, but also well respected specialist like Meng Wu & Xuan Feng.

  13. A

    I will really miss Kingdom. It was truly a great series. I actually liked it even more that The Twelve Kingdoms, even considering de CGI… probably (loved both though, that's for sure).

    There isn't much I can critizice in this anime (again, besides those horrible CGI), but as James above said… CGI be danmed.

    It would have probably been even better, but while at the beginning it did bother a bit (it was also worse, as you said), by half of the first season, I don't think I really cared. I just didn't care that much about the battle scenes and that stuff, I was more hooked with the larger scale thing, not the Xin vs X guy battle, but how was the battle going, what strategy would be implemented and how would that battle affect the war.

    I cared about those diagrams showing the units movement in the battlefield and stuff like that. Watching Li Mu outsmart Wang Qi was what got me interested, it was definitely not the Wang Qi battle against Hou Ken (the overpowered Zhao Great General)… Yes, the battle would've been better with good CGI, but even with that, the real interesting part is the strategy and tactic behind everything.

    Also, I think is nice knowing, that on its own way, this series is actually tellling how China was unified under the Qin Dynasty.

    It's a shame a lot of people back off just because of the animation… really a waste.

    Thanks for blogging the series, I didn't write before, but I had a good time reading your thoughts about every episode. Let's hope we do get a third season.

  14. R

    I definitely will miss Kingdom immensely — Kingdom is rare beast and a fine anime.

    I honestly don't care about the CGI at all because Kingdom is a well-written show with such a rich story. I think overall I like S2 better, but I prefer the ending of S1. I love how the story was wrapped up in S1 by having Wang Qi passing the torch to the next generation — that speech of Wang Qi was very emotional, and Riki-san did a more than perfect job delivering it. It totally pushed the end of season one to a pinnacle. The start of S2 was brilliant — notably, the exchange between Li Mu and Lu Buwei was no less intense than any fights on the battlefield. The Lian Po arc felt long at times, but it's packed with many and different tactics and leadership styles that we don't see in most anime these days.

    I personally learnt about the Chinese history in that era — our father told us many times — so I was thrilled about this show. In my view, I think the mangaka and the anime staff have done a wonderful job adapting this epic and rich history of China and blending the right amount of fiction to create this fine story. I think Pierrot Studio and Shueisha should explore selling both the anime and manga to China and S.E. Asia — if they are not already so. I'm sure that they will gather a lot of engaged kids and adults from the areas. I'm not a manga reader, so I don't know where the story is at, but if ever there will be a S3, I really would love to see more of Li Mu, Zheng, and Meng Tian. Li Mu is another intriguing character in both history and the story — his sad end could be another heart-wrenching moment of the show, rivalling the passing away of Wang Qi. This show has undermined Zheng a lot in my view. It gave him a nice gaiden to paint who Zheng is in the story — not necessarily in history — but I'm dying to see how he takes down Lu Buwei — this is another epic, colourful, and bloody story without using swords. Zheng can easily be the best strategist himself and has an ambition that is bigger than anyone in the cast. Meng Tian is the most known of the Meng's in history, and his contributions to the Qin Kingdom, the Qin Empire, and, most importantly, the future generations were widespread in history books — the official and unofficial. In fact, I actually wish to that Kingdom could be a long-running show, but this thought is even more far-fetched than wishing for a S3 to come, I guess.

    Anyway, thanks Enzo for blogging the show since S1. Having followed your first post on the show till now, I guess I can say that you're the one-of-a-kind blogger not giving up on a one-of-a-kind show when most in the blogosphere did :-).

  15. Thanks, I'm only sorry I dropped it for as long as I did. Good to have you back commenting, BTW!

  16. R

    Thanks, Enzo. I've always loved it here that I can speak freely, but I feel quite ashamed that I can't do much like I used to recently — I do feel proud that I became an active commenter from a reader. Balancing studies and work is no easy task, but that's not a valid reason when everyone can be as busy, if not busier.

    Don't blame yourself for taking a pause on the show for a little while. I remember that it was when you relocated yourself, and you got to do what you got to do when you made such a change in your life :-).

  17. m

    the story's great and i love it. i am on episode 12. but i really wondered since from episode one, why aren't the characters drawn prettier like a typical anime. even 12 kingdoms had better looking characters.

  18. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

  19. e

    @ m0m0: as silver lining I'd say you're past the worst already :D. The rest of the season is either the same or better visuals-wise. By the end it much improved actually and there are some great moments and characters ahead content-wise. Enjoy your watch!

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