The Ranking of Kings has a very western fairy tale picture book aesthetic, but is in reality a very detailed deconstruction of that particular form of storytelling. But let’s start at the beginning.
Bojji is a young, innocent and naïve looking child. He is also a prince of his kingdom. In the world that he inhabits, strength is an enormous asset. Every king is ranked on multiple attributes, strength being one of them. His father, King Bosse is seen as the strongest king, but due to some other issues, is ranked only as the seventh king in the rankings. Bojji was to become king and inherit his father’s throne. But he is looking half the age really is, and is also def.
But non the less, he is really outgoing and likes to spend time exploring his father’s kingdom. One day as he explores, he finds a living small shadow named Kage. Bojji thinks he is befriending Kage by giving him clothes and other valuable things. Every day, Bojji would walk to a specific place and bring as much clothes and valuables to Kage, who would store them within himself. And every day the prince Bojji would walk back home almost naked, to the shouts, laughter and teases of the townsfolk and their children. He can’t hear them, so they think its ok to make fun of him. And he seems oblivious to it all, happily walking back home, seemingly not noticing what they say or do as he is walking back in his underwear.
That is not the case. Kage decides to follow him back home one day. He notices all the things people say or do behind his back. And finally, when he is hiding in Bojji’s room he sees the little boy crying his eyes out. Bojji is aware of everything, because he can read lips. Kage realizes that Bojji, even if he is a prince that lives in a large castle, surrounded with servants and riches, is an outsider like him. But who is Kage exactly? In a flashback we are witnesses to a tragic childhood of young Kage. He belongs to a courtly clan of assassins. The whole clan was whipped out. His mother managed to save him, giving her life for him. One of the biggest traumas of his life was seeing his mother’s body outstretched in front of a castle. Following that, still a small baby he tries to survive. Dying of hunger, he becomes so desperate that he trades his favorite toy, the last remembrance he has on his late mother for an apple. Later on, he is used by a drunk thief who feeds him table scraps and trash. But Kage is so traumatized he sees him as a new parent. The man finally sells him out. From then on, Kage is trying to survive by stealing and selling those items. Bojji and Kage start up an unlikely but absolutely adorable friendship.
Bojji’s rival for the throne is his half brother Daida. After Bojji’s mother died, his father took a second wife. And I know what you think, step-mom in a fairy tale, has to be evil right? But she aint’. She does want to make Daida the king tho. But that is more out of the realization of how the world works. Daida is a lot like his father, exceptionally strong, talented with the sword and hard to argue with. Bojji and Daida spar. In another wonderful surprise, Bojji is revealed as very athletic. While he lacks power, he is super agile. Daida keeps swinging and missing, while Bojji keeps landing hit and hit. It is only after their tutor Domas intervenes that Daida gains the upper hand and brutally beats up his older brother.
The queen uses his healing powers on him. The king dies as a giant red demon appears above him, and while its in his will that Bojji takes up the throne after him, the Queen and the four generals decide to give the throne to Daida, going along with the will of Daida’s sentient mirror Miranjo.
This is where things get interesting. Bojji leaves on a journey, by his own will. On the journey one of his retainers pushes him into a volcano, by the instruction of the Queen, who is herself a pawn in Miranjo’s game. But with the help of Kage he survives. They team up to find the king of the Underworld Desha. Kage things Desha can help Bojji get stronger, and once Bojji is stronger he can achieve his ambition and become king again.
Back in the kingdom, the mirror asks Daida if he wants his father’s strength? Daida is enthusiastic, but it is all a trick! She makes a potion which will make him as strong as his father. Daida rejects it, but his retainers make him drink it. But it’s not a power up potion, but a resurrection spell. From that moment on, the king Bosse is resurrected, and inhabits Daida’s body, locking up Daida in a far corner of his mind. As he is awake, the king Bosse exclaims : “I have sacrificed another son.”
On the other side of the world, Kage and Bojji are rejected by Desha, the second strongest king. But, taking pity on them, urges them to seek out his brother Despa who might be able to help them. Bojji and Kage work around the house, and eventually Despa figures out a way how to make Bojji almost invincible.
Bosse in Daida’s body is reminiscing about his past. He sold his soul to the red demon. The strength Bosse needed to become the strongest person in the world he stole from his baby boy, Bojji. That is why Bojji isn’t a giant like his parents and has zero strength, it all went to his father so he could fulfill his life long ambition. The demon was a childhood friend of Miranjo’s and she masterminded the whole thing. But Bosse felt hollow after he fulfilled his ambition. He got what he wished for, but the way he earned it didn’t sit right with him.
After that we get the final revelations, about the relationship between Bosse and Miranjo. Miranjo belonged to the Houma kingdom. They were a progressive kingdom, that used magic to help themselves and others. They also realized that the whole world was arranged by different Gods who thought of the whole rankings thing as a sort of way to keep themselves entertained. The Houma kingdom wanted to set the human race free, so they fought wars with the Gods. But due to some treachery but other kingdoms they lost. As a child of a fallen kingdom, Miranjo faced retribution. She was abused for days on end, butchering and disfiguring her. Bosse saved her. After seeing what they were doing to her, he went berserk and destroyed a whole kingdom, massacring everyone he could get his giant hands on. From then on, Bosse and Miranjo spent every day together. Bosse tried as much as he could to save her, to bring her back to life in a sense, stopping numerous suicides attempts even. Eventually she warmed up to him. She wanted to help him achieve his goal, as much as possible. This is where the demon comes in. The demon feeds on the souls of people. When Miranjo first met him, he was a cute little thing. Everyone was after him, trying to get their earthly wises turned to reality. Miranjo promised him that she would never use him. When she meets him years later, he is a big, burly, soul munching monstrosity. She offers her soul in exchange for the fulfillment of Bosses ambition.
Bojji steps up towards the end, fighting an immortal, his father in the shape of his brother and defeats him. They also manage to save Miranjo. You can’t really blame her for all that’s happened really. She, like a lot of others in the series, are a bunch of traumatized kids trying to find some sense of stability and normal in this cruel and violent world.
One thing this show does marvelously is showing just how brutal and traumatic war can be for children. Once we turn a group of people into the other, there is no telling what could be done to them potentially. Kage and his clan were loyal and useful, but one day they were hunted and executed, just because someone thought they couldn’t be trusted anymore. This led a sweet and gentle kid, to witness his own mother butchered and flayed. It turned him numb, only looking to survive. Bojji is similar. During a campaign, as his father and mother were attacked by monsters, Miranjo had her killed. The last moments Bojji had with his mother were of his hiding under her body, drenched in her blood (up to his knees) crying as she bled to death due to the giant arrows piercing her body over and over again. We also get images of a child of a green monster race, that was used as bate. The green child is tortured for days, just so the human army can provoke the other one into an all-out attack to annihilate them. And they did so, the only green soldier who survived, butchered as many humans as he could. Gigan, the member of the green monster race, was locked up and branded the title as one of the worst criminals ever. The man who ordered the capture and torture of that green child, and who at the end almost wiped out the entire green race, became the number 1 king. Miranjo, the big bad behind most of the show, or at least portrayed in that light for most of the show is no different from Kage, Bojji or the green child. The war and the worst in people have destroyed her sense of what’s right and wrong, what’s proper and what’s not. It is only after she met Bosse that she started to return to some semblance of normalcy. You can’t fight fire with fire, because you can’t rebuild thing out of pure ash.
In addition to that, it is a very sweet and optimistic show about the importance of having that one person, a friend in the case of the show, who truly and totally believes in you. While nobody else sees the potential that Bojji has, even kingly potential, Kage truly believes in him. It is only with his help and support that Bojji manages to fulfill his ambition towards the end. But the imposter syndrome won’t shake Kage and he leaves. Bojji can’t really feel happy as a king without his number one guy. So, what does Bojji do? Well, he just ups the ante and comes up with a new ambition. He wants to build his own kingdom, with her buddy Kage.
The show has great fight animation. Feels choreographed even. It hits its dynamic peak towards the end of the show, especially in the fight scenes between Bojji and his father. Props to the director for the use of angles and different animation techniques during those scenes.
While the show is mostly a deconstruction of fairy tales, it keeps one element of a fairy tale ending, a wedding.
I hope we get a season two. Bojji and Kage need to build that kingdom, we need to find out if Ouken can be cured. What is up with the Gods and their schemes? Will the treasure that turns every number 1 king into a lunatic also affect Desha? Need answers to those questions and many more. Pessimistic about the chances that we see the demon back in his child form. He is clearly an embodiment of human greed, and as we know, greed keeps growing.
The anime is based on the manga by Sosuke Toka.