• Titles: King Ranking, Ousama Ranking
  • Genre: Fantasy, action, drama, fairytale, adventure, awww
  • Episodes: 23
  • Studio: Wit Studio

Once upon a time there lived a great giant king who was admired by his people and unbeatable in battle. He build a mighty kingdom with his own strength and rose two great sons with two formidable queens. But the time comes for all, even great kings. And now the kingdom that King Boss built needs a new source of strength to guide it. Will the first son Bojji be up to the task? After all, he is deaf and cannot speak, he’s also physically frail and often derided. How can such a pathetic boy measure up in the ranking of kings? But the world is a big place and Bojji might find his strength yet. Or maybe, we just never really understood what power actually is.

I watched the last episode of Ranking of Kings a few days ago and I,m still singing that OP. Both openings for this show were absolutely great. I actually liked the EDs a lot too but the OPs are not to be missed. If nothing else, you should go look those up on YouTube. Wait, actually scratch that. Watch the whole show, it’s a really good show!

well, that sums it up…

Production

The first thing anyone will notice (or tell you) about Ranking of Kings, is the art style. It looks like a children’s picture book. An illustrated fairytale for kids just starting to learn how to read. And make no mistake, that is very much on purpose. The art style adds so much to the atmosphere and feel of Ranking of Kings that I can’t imagine it any other way. It might be an acquired taste for those who prefer their anime characters in the detailed bishie style but it adds so much character that I think most people would agree that it was a great choice. Not to mention that it really makes Ranking of Kings stand out.

But just because there is something childish in the designs and art, doesn’t mean it’s not good.

There’s a character named Kage in the series. He shares the lead with Bojji. Kage is a cursed human and his form is just a shadow. In practice that means he is a rough two circle completely black shape with a simple eye in each circle. He occasionally puts out a pincer-like arm. Ok, it’s ridiculous for me to try to describe it. Here’s Kage:

in all his glory!

As you can see, this is not a very detailed design. A child could probably draw it. He has no features to speak of other than his eyes and those are fairly crude as well. But the point I’m driving to is that Kage is one of the more expressive anime characters I have ever seen. With those simple shapes and minimal features, the animators over at Wit were able to create a full range of emotion that can be clearly seen on Kage’s face without the need of dialogue. I can’t even explain how they do it. Magic?

The simplicity of the designs and art style is sitting atop a very well crafted anime with a complex and skillful production.

However for me, that’s not the impressive part, believe it or not. The visuals are great but it’s the sounds that had me mesmerized. First of all the score is often great. I have several notes in my notebook that just have the word SCORE in all caps and underlined as during different parts of the season, I was taken by how wonderful the music was for the scene.

And then there’s Bojji. Bojji doesn’t exactly speak. He has been deaf his entire life so he has never learned how to communicate with words. But he isn’t mute, he can make sounds. However it’s those sort of formless grunts and yelps that are common in people who have never been able to hear. And he stays that way the entire show.

not that Bojji’s character design isn’t expressive…

The reason I said Kage is one of the more expressive anime characters, rather than most expressive, is because he simply doesn’t hold a candle to Bojji. Now Bojji is also more emotional to begin with so there is more expression to be had. Still, I spent the entire season just marvelling at how much I empathized or even related to Bojji. Even in scenes where he is alone and there is no actual dialogue, you can clearly understand Bojji.

I kept thinking how challenging this role must have been for the voice actor. It’s a pretty involved performance and Bojji has to carry a number of very different scenes more or less by himself. Not to mention hold his own as a character when surrounded by a very strong cast that have actual dialogue. Bojji is voiced by Minami Hinata, and you’re never going to believe this! Are you ready for it? It’s her first voice role! At least the first one listed on AniList. That is amazing! I don’t know if this lady captured lightning in a bottle or if she’s a genius. I’m going to have to watch out for her future roles to find out!

I know, right!?!

Story & Characters

I spent a lot of time on the production of Ranking of Kings. It really is rather unique. The thing is, the story is just as unique but much more complex. I admit, I’m a little intimidated by how to start a proper review.

I’m not going to go over the plot too much. Bojji wants to prove himself a worthy king so he goes on an adventure with his new friend Kage and meets a lot of eccentric (and dangerous) people along the way. At times, I saw traces of A Night on the Galactic Railway, at other times, I saw Game of Thrones. While Bojji is on his quest, the entire castle that he’s left behind, have their own problems to deal with.

Even though I talk of Bojji and Kage a lot, and they are the main characters, this isn’t a simple buddy adventure story. It’s a large cast epic with personal stories and histories continuously intertwining. Ranking of Kings has this gift for creating a very recognizable character archetype and then subverting it in a completely relatable way. No one in Ranking of Kings was what I expected them to be, except perhaps Bojji but I expected him to be great. However, when faced with their personal histories and motivations, everyone in Ranking of Kings made perfect sense. There wasn’t any contrived or forced subversions for the sake of it, this was simple a case of very developed and layered characters that are more than meets the eye.

One of the messages of the show is to not judge a book by it’s cover. And both the production and the character development enforce that message on a meta-level.

try to figure out who the bad guy is, bet you can’t!

If anything is going to rub people the wrong way, I figure it’s going to be the ending. I’m not going to spoil it, ok maybe I will a bit. Be warned I’m going to give a very general statement that’s still going to tell you a lot about the ending. So the ending was a bit odd and unexpected in a way. It’s also very happy and that’s surprising because Ranking of Kings can be very brutal at times.

I liked the ending for the most part. I certainly liked the happy part! And I understand the weird part.

One of the things about this show is that there is no real bad guy. Let me rephrase that, everyone is a bad guy at times. Every character has their own interest and occasionally those will clash with the interests of the characters you like best. Also everyone in this story is flawed, occasionally deeply so, and they will act in ways that are just terrible because of those flaws. But no one is evil per see. No one is simply selfish or power-hungry or greedy. They all have other things going on as well, and with the exception of a few minor characters, everyone ultimately has noble goals. Often, the antagonists in this story are what happens when a character has a whole lot of sympathy but very little empathy. And I think that’s fascinating as a character study. And Ranking of Kings is a story that truly loves its characters.

maybe that big monster has some things on his mind

I have avoided going into specifics because we would be here all day. I’m not kidding, I have something to say about everyone and every episode. And everyone got a backstory. That still amazes me. No character left behind!

I am going to make an exception for Hiling. Queen Hiling has one of my favourite characterizations in the show and just in general. Both her flaws and qualities shine very bright. However, at one point her son is in danger and the fury with which she responds was awe-inspiring. Hiling is a mother. She is also a whole lot of other things. Her character was never reduced to just one aspect and I appreciate that a lot. But the fact that she was also a ruler, a maiden trying to impress her new husband, a healer and occasionally a target, never took away from her being a mother either. And the way that motherhood is illustrated through her character is wonderful. I occasionally see these great mothers in anime and I’m always thrilled. Too often they get ignored or killed for some personal tragedy in the lead character’s backstory. It’s not easy being a mom in anime. So when one gets a chance at the spot light and is balanced so well, I have to call it out. (Erased also has a great mom character).

but she also never becomes completely kind and soft, she’s a clumsy girl and stays clumsy

Let me say right now, this post has not captured Ranking of Kings. It really is a show you have to experience for yourself. And because it is so unusual in many ways, I figure it won’t be for everyone. But you’ll see quickly enough for yourself, so you should just try a few episodes. And go watch those OPs!

You might like this anime if:

You like adult fairytales that seem like they are for kids at first glance.

casual hello everybody

My favourite character:

Bojji. The show has a very good cast and a lot of them would have been my favourite in a different series but Bojji has this destructive charisma that destroys everyone in it’s wake. In the most adorable way.

Suggested drink:

A Beloved

  • Every time Kage blushes  – awwwwww
  • Every time we see snakes – take a sip
  • Every time Bojji cries – there there
  • Every time anyone speaks in sign language – take a sip and try to understand
  • Every time someone falls for Bojji’s charm – take a sip
    • every time you fall for Bojji’s charm – I get it!
  • Every time anyone surprises you – get used to it
  • Every time Bojji dodges – take notice
  • Every time we see Bojji’s birth mom – raise your glass
  • Every time you get scared it might become a horror anime – take a sip

I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.

6 thoughts

  1. I really loved the show. Sometime during the second, cour, though, I experienced diminishing returns, so Vanitas won out in the end. But for quite some time I liked this better than Vanitas. This is how much I liked the show.

    The character designs are great; they’re evoking typical types, but they’re pushed over regular people, and are adaptable enogh. A lot felt like riff off classical Disney to me, not a rip-off; a riff. And I think the characters really are the greatest strength of the show.

    This is the sort of show, where instead of a sequel, I’d probably want side-stories: stuff already covered but in more detail. Or stuff hinted at, but never really developed (who’s the girl and retainer who protected Kage early on, for example?). This is such a rich story.

    1. I think based just on my personal enjoyment, Vanitas also closely wins out. Especially as I think it got better in the second cour. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you which I think is the better anime.

      In any case, I think you mentioned Ranking of Kings to me to begin with and I loved it. I recommend it to a real lfe friend as well, and she loved it too. So we all have you to thank!

      YAY!

        1. I think you didn’t care for this one much. That’s too bad. Out of curiosity, what was it that made you drop it?

          1. I dropped it towards the very end, I think you won’t be surprised to hear why. Found the first half impressive, honestly, for some of the reasons you outline. I loved the character misdirections, what a fun way to play with audience expectations. At the same time, you also build layered characters & send a broader message. Amazing. The Hilling thing genuinely took me by surprise, it just blew my mind. As for Domas, even though I’d seen it coming, part of me couldn’t believe they really had the balls to take the jump. Mad lads. The show actually went to some dark places, in a way that tempered its fundamental optimism without cheapening it. Somehow they found a balance that worked well, for me.

            Unfortunately, the second cour slowly sapped my enthusiasm for the story. I found the final fights interminable, Miranjo’s motivations mystifying & Bosse’s enabling behavior bewildering. That was still okay. However, I couldn’t forgive the ridiculous attempt to redeem Miranjo. I’d seen it before in say Naruto, where misguided maniacs are forgiven for mass murder through the power of sad pasts & kind hearts. It gets me groaning sometimes, but I make my peace with it and move on. Kids’ cartoon, teaching them empathy is important, etc. I just expected different from Ousama Ranking. It’s a kind show, but not a naive show. I get the point, I very much disliked how it was made.

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