Welcome to post three, where we talk about the 2021 anime series, Ranking of Kings. Minor spoilers ahead.
Ranking of Kings is an anime based on a manga of the same name by Sosuke Toka. It follows the story of young, deaf, weak, and mute Prince Boiji, a boy who has spent his whole life being ridiculed and dreaming of becoming the king. When the death of his father begins a complicated road to succession and turmoil, Boiji and his new best friend Kage (a member of the infamous shadow clan) go on a journey for Boiji to grow in strength and rescue his kingdom. For the sake of this post, I will be focusing solely on the anime, as I haven’t read the manga. My apologies if anything I discuss was handled differently/better in the manga. If so, let me know in the comments.
The show was produced by Aniplex and Wit Studio. According to IMBD, the series was nominated for five awards, including Best Boy (which it won), Anime of the Year, Best Protagonist, Best Character Design, and Best Fantasy. Also, its first opening theme song, “BOY” by King Gnu, is an adorable little banger. Brace yourselves.
This series has a lot going for it. The first and most obvious thing is, of course, Boiji. It’s not easy to win best boy of all the best boys, and Boiji does it with ease and style. He’s adorable, he’s got a big heart, and his “superpowers” as one might consider them (read: dodging like crazy and his unique offensive style), do a great job of turning his weaknesses into strengths. It’s also nice to see a deaf and mute character take center stage in a way that feels so natural and well handled.
Next up, we have the animation style (oh, and if you think I’m forgetting Kage as the obvious second choice, I’m not. More on him later). I’ll admit, at first, this was almost a wah-wah for me, not because it’s in any way bad, but because it’s just a little disorienting at first. With a variety of character styles in play (compare Desha and Despa to Domas, for example), it feels kind of like it falls somewhere between Over the Garden Wall, The Secret of Kells, and some form of American 80s-90s animation style. As I mentioned, it’s a little disorienting at first. But as things get rolling, it really starts to add to the overall whimsy of the show. I don’t know if this is true at all, or what might have influenced Toka’s art style, but for me, it kind of felt like watching someone successfully merging bits and pieces from all of their favorite influences at once, like a child having Mr. Potato Head, G.I. Joe, and Barbie all playing in the same world (and I mean that in the best, most whimsical way I can). The character designs also do a great job of telling you about the character (Hilling and Daida both have pointy noses and sharp personalities, for example), which is something I always appreciate.
These are just two of the major wins for this show, alongside a great world, stupendous side characters (more on these two later), and a fun story. However, to keep this blog post manageable, I’m going to break off here and come back for a special two-for-one sale on secret sauce later.
So, for the first half of the season, I had very few complaints about this series. Rare exceptions were the slight adjustment curve to get used to the animation style, the complete creep-fest that is the demon, and a few one-off scenes that while fun, didn’t really seem to add a lot to the story for me (I’m looking at you, weird nature dude in the woods).
That being said, the show has a lot of plot threads, and by the end of the first season, it did feel like a few of those got away from them. The problem with having arcs for so many characters is, inevitably, that you have to resolve them, the sum result of which in this case was that the final climax and resolution felt 2-3 episodes too long. There was also a weird romance that felt a little odd and forced to me and a few areas where the animation quality seemed to slip just a little. Oh well.
The secret sauce
Like I said above, this show has a lot going for it, but if you’re looking for what really makes it stand out, I think there are two things at play.
First, the world and story are just so pleasant. Boiji, despite having been made fun of and bullied his entire life, is kind and merciful, and by the end of the story, he is rewarded for his efforts by becoming the strong and good man he’s always wanted to be. Kage, who lost his home and was likewise mistreated, finds a friend. In fact, nearly everybody in this story is rewarded for good behavior or redeemed from bad. It’s a world where–in contrast to the often unjust world we live in now–good always seems to win. In addition, because of its bright colors and beautiful landscape, it’s just a pretty world. It’s visually intriguing and you want to live there.
The second aspect, related closely to the first one, is the secondary cast, particularly for me: Domas, Daida, and Hilling (in the above video, blue-shirted guy, short blond kid with the crown, and blond crowned lady in the red dress, respectively). In each case, you start off thinking that these (and several others) are jerks. They’re mean or disloyal to Boiji, don’t believe in him, and are generally pursuing their own ends at whatever costs. Not a promising start. However, throughout the show, each of them, and indeed almost every character manages to grow and change in some way. And while all of their plots of course revolve around Boiji and the kingdom’s fate in some way, the lessons they learn about their respective roles within that landscape are all different. Domas, for example, learns lessons about loyalty and strength. Daida learns about what it means to be a true king. Hilling struggles with favoritism amidst siblings and how to be a good mom. Each of these stories is compelling in its own right, and because they all weave so seamlessly into the main plot (at least until the tail end, where the sheer number of resolutions they have to do is a little overwhelming), none of them feels out of place, unearned, or unrelated to the main story. As this is ultimately a story about a kingdom, this sort of plot-thread teamwork seems particularly fitting.
I’m reminded of a lesson I learned when reading The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass, wherein he describes how readers like to spend time in worlds that are pleasant. The two contradicting examples he uses (I think) are the Shire and PanAm. Hunger Games is a great series. Really. But if I have to choose between living in one of the Districts vs. going for a drink at the local inn with Samwise, Merry, and Pippin, I’m going to choose the Shire every time. And I know that might sound a little escapist of me–a position I am growing increasingly lenient of in some cases–but the fact is, people like being in story worlds and places that are nice. Sure, they might enjoy the grit of a dystopian YA or getting their pants scared off by a good horror novel, but nobody wants to sleep in the creepy axe-murderer’s barn when they close the book and turn off the lights.
For me, both of these are story techniques I think about often as I consider my own writing, not because I want to create unrealistic fiction that points to some sugar-coated world, but because I love the idea of hope, promise, and opportunity. More importantly, I believe that if we surround ourselves with stories that tell us the world can get better and that we can grow and learn to be good, then maybe, just maybe, we will. Stories have immense power, so whenever I see stories that point to goodness and light, I’m excited to share them.
Ranking of Kings is one of them. I recommend you check it out.
So, have you seen Ranking of Kings or any of the other shows I mentioned above? Did you like them? If so, why? Let me know in the comments below (make sure to exit mobile-only mode on your phone if you can’t see them) and make sure to sign up for my newsletter to be informed of any new posts!