Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll be diving back into Ranking of Kings, where Bojji most recently made his first real friend. Our first two episodes have offered a rough journey for both Bojji and Kage, as each of them have found themselves despised for their inherent natures. In the world of Ranking of Kings, it seems clear that maintaining appearances is crucial for success, or even just survival.
In Bojji’s case, he is reviled for failing to embody the virtues expected of a would-be king. Rather than evoking strength and confidence, he is a figure of frailty and sensitivity, with his deafness frequently leading people to believe he is simple-minded as well as physically weak. Even when he expresses excellence through his nimble swordsmanship, he is doing it “the wrong way,” and must be punished for his transgression. Bojji has plentiful gifts, but none of them align with his expected role as a king in waiting.
On Kage’s side, the base nature of his species has made him a figure of hatred and derision. The Kage we knew as a child was loving and trusting, but a world that despised him has battered him into the shape he was always expected to fill. Only now, with the considerate Bojji at his side, is Kage able to once again embrace his underlying compassionate nature. The distance between our true selves and the masks we must present to the world is already causing significant turmoil for our leads, and we’ve only just gotten started. Let’s return to the Ranking of Kings!
We open on a lovely painted background, panning across Bojji’s room as he sleeps. A character’s bedroom can tell us a great deal about their life, and here, the disconnect between Bojji’s actual and assumed nature comes through clearly. The entire room is too tall for him, there are almost no personal items present, and the one clear ornament is a set of wall-mounted armor that’s clearly too big for him. This whole composition emphasizes Bojji’s inability to fill the shoes that have been laid out for him
A figure in a nightgown sneaks in, and heals Bojji with some sort of magic. I love how messy and individualized the forms of magic are in this world; rather than the mechanical systems often favored by light novels, Ranking of Kings embraces the whimsical fantasy of fairy tales, where magic is as distinct and impossible to pin down as the people who use it. Here, it feels like a playful inversion of magic’s usual fantastical embellishment that this person has to grunt and strain while they cast a spell, evoking no sense of dignity or grace whatsoever
That itself fits into Ranking of Kings’ commentary on appearances: what you look like is far less meaningful than what you do
Near the gates, Kage is cornered by Bebin
And then, without any leadup, the king is dead. The show actually makes this transition intentionally abrupt, by cutting directly from the OP to his face. As a result, it feels as sudden for us as it does for the cast
His will decrees that Bojji will become the new king. Daida is not pleased
A demonic creature emerges from the king’s mouth and points at Bojji, before suddenly disappearing. I appreciate the subtle detail of Dorshe instantly flinging his arm in front of the queen when this creature appears, never forgetting his duty as the queen’s shield
Daida returns to his room to complain to his magic mirror
At the announcement ceremony, it is Daida who is announced as king, and we learn the queen actually vetoed Bojji’s ascension. Looking back on these episodes from a point of having watched through the first season, you can appreciate all the more how skillfully the narrative misdirects us regarding various characters’ true natures. It is easy to interpret this at face value, and assume the queen is just making a power play, but it’s also easy to see this as the queen protecting Bojji, and using the presumption of her own ambition to keep him from the dangers of the crown. Every character in this show uses masks in a variety of ways, frequently to conceal their most compassionate and vulnerable instincts
And beyond that, she makes some great points – given the king contained some demon creature of some kind, should we really be following his orders?
Even Domas votes for Daida
Down in the dungeons, Kage escapes, but is immediately caught again by Bebin. Another instance where our limited perspective is exploited to create a misleading impression of a character – we see Bebin as an antagonistic force because we’ve come to care about Kage, but from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know Kage, “a member of the assassin clan is sneaking around the palace” is obviously a threat that requires immediate resolution. The show is thus able to play up Bebin as an “antagonist” purely due to him lacking information he has no reason to possess (which, in turn, plays right back into Ranking of Kings’ generally emphasis on the danger of hastily judging people). If Bebin is guilty of anything, it is the same thing we are guilty of in seeing him as a foe
Bebin then visits Bojji, telling him that Kage has gone on a journey, and will never see him again. The words seem ominous and callous, but Bebin accompanies them with careful sign language, reflecting a clear respect for the prince
Daida calls for Bebin, and asks him to take care of the dissenters Apeas and Sandeo. Bebin instantly suspects this to be the advice of the magic mirror
Bojji rushes off to visit a massive two-headed snake, with a third missing head, named “Mitsumata” (essentially “three times over” or something similar). Ranking of Kings frequently favors highly literal character names, a tactic which enhances the sense that this is an iconic, larger-than-life story: this isn’t “a” shadow, this is the shadow Kage. Similarly so for “Bosse” and “Bojji” (essentially “boy”)
We learn that Bebin is Mitsumata’s master, and that Bebin truly has sent Kage off on a crucial mission
“There are many who cherish you. Please do not forget that.” Another key Ranking of Kings theme: take heart, for none of us can know all the ways we are loved
Absolutely fantastic use of camera movement as Bebin charges Apeas. I love how the camera gains speed along with his movement, but then when he feints and dives backwards, it struggles to catch up with him. As a result, his sense of agility is emphasized even more, since even the camera can’t follow him. The pan also creates a strong sense of danger, as with the camera held over Apeas’ shoulder, it essentially feels like Bebin is stalking the audience
Intensely exaggerated use of foreshortening makes the spear separating them feel like a battlefield unto itself, clearly illustrating the fundamental physical conflict here: Bebin must get inside Apeas’ guard, while Apeas must hold him at a distance
And Apeas wins
Love the slowed, deliberate pacing of the following cult, as Bebin sags to the ground while Apeas collects his bag. After the frantic drama of the fight, this feels like an intentionally anticlimactic conclusion – there is nothing glorious about a man’s death
Hiling is genuinely shocked as Daida raises the question of “what to do” with Bojji
Meanwhile, Bojji has already decided it’s time to set out on a journey. As Hiling attempts to dissuade him, the contrast between her fluid sign language and inept phrasing reveal a great deal: she seems genuinely concerned, but also incapable of not putting her foot in her mouth
Blocked at the door, he attempts to escape out the window, and ends up falling out of the tower. Hiling’s reactions are a treasure trove of adorable panic; it’s hard not to have already fallen in love with her
And at last, the truth is revealed: it was Hiling who was healing Bojji, and Hiling who has always been trying to protect him. We all say some uncharitable things at times, but Hiling is so much more than Daida’s loyal mother
As we fade into Hiling’s early memories of Bojji, the overall show aesthetic softens, with pastel colors and blue or borderless outlines evoking the sense of a fond memory
Hiling introduces herself, and Bojji runs away. A maid explains that he hasn’t “opened his heart to anyone” since the last queen died
The way these images fade to white at the edge further enhances the feeling that we’re reading through a beloved picture book
She learns the prince’s true nature in a scene that doubles as Mitsumata’s origin story: Bojji came across the snake while he was heavily injured, and though he bit Bojji in fear, Bojji still insisted on the queen healing him. Bojji is here exemplifying one of Ranking of Kings’ highest values, the importance of looking beyond surface appearances, and forgiving people for the friction that their own circumstances can bring into our lives
In spite of this, the flashback does not let her off the hook for her unkind behavior – instead, it contextualizes it, revealing how her initial love for Bojji turned into frustration as she cared for Daida. No person is all good or all bad; Hiling cares deeply for Bojji, but she has also been thoughtlessly unkind to him. That, to me, feels far more true to human nature than “all of my allegedly cruel actions actually had a noble purpose.” Even good people can be cruel!
Hiling allows Bojji to take his journey, accompanied by Domas and the enthusiastic soldier Hokuro
An ill wind fills Hiling with the suspicion that she’ll never see Bojji again. Another quality that elevates this manga’s story over most anime adaptations is its certainty of structure – it’s not trying to spin its wheels in order to release more volumes, it has a specific story it wants to tell, and will follow that story to the end. That certainty carries through into a confidence of execution in moments like this, as well as a general promise to the audience that the things happening are resulting in meaningful shifts to the larger world, and won’t just be reset or replaced by new variables once the volume ends
Gosh, that episode sure gave me a lot to talk about, huh? Well, when a show is executing this exceptionally on both its aesthetic and narrative fronts, there’s basically no end of things for me to discuss. That’s the beauty of great art – you can never truly unpack all of its richness, and there will always be something new to discover on a repeated visit. As for this visit, it seems clear on a second pass that this is the moment where Ranking of Kings reveals its most fundamental narrative trick, as all of our early assumptions regarding Queen Hiling are dashed by the complexity of her true nature. The insufficiency of first impressions, and irreducible complexity of any human being, will be themes that the show continues to explore from a wide variety of directions. With Bojji finally on his way, I’m looking forward to see this story’s humanist philosophy applied to the wider world!
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