Episodes 20-21 – Ranking of Kings

This is probably one of the most intimidating reviews I’ve ever had to write. Yesterday’s episode of Ranking of Kings was exemplary on an emotional, narrative, and technical level in a way we simply do not see in television anime. The industry rarely allows space for theatrical showings in weekly animated series where studios barely have room to breathe in their schedules. Hell, the spring season has over 45 new shows set to premiere. I open with this information in hopes of highlighting exactly how rare this episode was and we’ll be lucky if we get to see something this astonishing again under the same circumstances. I certainly can’t recall a worthy comparison in recent memory.

This was the moment we’ve all been waiting for as the bell tolls for Bosse and Miranjo. The magic user was confronted by both her own mother and Shiina in the afterlife, possibly the final piece in her confronting her selfish actions. Miranjo’s confidence in her own mechanizations have weakened over several weeks as she empathized with Apeas, Kage, and even Bojji to confront the incision of her actions. We learn that Shiina’s death was mostly done on her own while Bosse was away from the kingdom and she realizes that the man she loves never really wanted to be resurrected; he was just too committed to atoning for what he feels is his responsibility for her suffering to openly voice it.

It makes sense in a way. Bosse has seemed exhausted through most of his story post-resurrection but never raised a hand to stop Miranjo directly. He’d use others to divert her plans in small ways but he goes into this episode ready for defeat. Well, sort of. I’ve made no attempt to hide how much I dislike Bosse and this week’s episode does little change that. I pity him because in the course of this whole coup he’s been little more than a stooge with a big stick and nothing relieves the suffering he’s perpetuated on his sons. He lacks any sort of empathy outside of his singular focus on Miranjo. We can see that in his treatment of Ouken, a man that is completely broken and devoid of humanity. Desha and Despa are holding in deep pain for what their brother has become and while he might as well be carnage incarnate, the narrative did an excellent job of getting the audience to want some kind of ending for Ouken whether it be putting him out of his misery or healing him.

So Bosse puts his crushed body in a giant boulder, carefully placing pebbles on top of the hole to muffle the twisted man’s screaming. He doesn’t even flinch. I think this moment may have convinced Bojji what type of person his father truly is and we see the young boy take on a huge burden in this episode as he seeks to defeat his father and release Miranjo in order for Daida to regain control of his body . He succeeds, but by god the entire episode’s technical artist is insane from Bojji’s metaphoric fight with his giant father to the sheer horror of Miranjo’s descent into Hell. Let’s talk about why This episode succeeds, or more accurately, who helped usher in one of the best moments in animated television.

This episode was directed and primarily storyboarded by Shōta Goshozono (there’s a great thread here that’s worth reading if you’re not well-versed in sakuga). He previously helmed the dramatic episode 7 that featured Bosse retaking the throne after possessing Daida. Here we can see him firing on all cylinders as this climatic episode reaches new heights of dynamisms. 3D layouts are utilized to give scenes creating a sense of scale and depth. The cinematic qualities, like imitating a fisheye lens or placing the point of view in truly imaginative places all feed into the episode’s intensity. There are shots where it looks like the camera is placed under a chair, like we might be Kage hiding under the furniture as the danger grows. I’m trying to write coherently here but it’s honestly insane in the best way imaginable.

The demon’s appearance here is also terrifying as we see he spends his days gnashing the souls of the damned only to regurgitate them so they can come back together for another go. It’s a somewhat inspired take on the fates of Cassius and Brutus in Dante’s Inferno but also hearkens back to Ouken as well. The thread I linked to above has a great montage of the episode’s highlights (which is the whole damn episode).

I think it’s important to point out that this episode isn’t just amazing on a visual level. There are plenty of shows that make for great spectacle but are little else. Episode 21 marries amazing animation with narrative beats that ensure what you’re seeing also has emotional impact. Bojji besting his father, a giant of massive strength and held by his subjects as the pinnacle of strength speaking volumes. The boy who was told that his way of navigating the world wasn’t worthy of the title of king deftly defeating the man whose ‘strength’ has served to cause untold suffering. Bojji has always been worthy since the first time we met him but it’s oh so satisfying to see it culminate in a spectacular way. I can’t help but get a little emotional about it.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this series, and this episode in particular, will serve as inspiration for years to come.

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Ranking of Kings is currently streaming on Funimation and Crunchyroll.

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