Review "Ranking of Kings" Ep 1-2
Ranking of Kings immediately appealed to me on technical and emotional levels unlike anything else airing this season. I may be enjoying the banter and beauty of takt. op Destiny or the goofy antics of The Vampire Dies in No Time, but Ranking of Kings is a little more personal. I internally debated whether it would be divulging too much personal information to explain why this particular series resonates with me, and while I don't intend to spend a considerable amount of time each week relating this show to my personal experiences, I do think it's beneficial to discuss why I found its premise particularly touching.
If you've listened to ANNCast, the ANN After Show, or follow me on Twitter, you probably know I'm a parent of two boys, ages 12 and five. My youngest, Felix, has a communication disorder. He isn't Deaf, like Bojji, and I wouldn't attempt to equate or claim to understand the experiences of a Deaf person with what I know as far as raising Felix. I'm still an outsider in that regard, and Felix himself is verbal, albeit he has a speech delay and has weekly therapy to assist him. Suffice to say, my immediate endearment to Bojji is due to how I see reflections of my own son in his character; Felix is a child with a naturally sunny disposition who has a smile and greeting for everyone, including strangers. He's very empathetic and becomes concerned when his peers are hurt or upset.
I'd also be lying if I didn't admit that as his mother, I worry about him being able to properly communicate if he was being bullied or teased. Would he be able to tell me or would he hide it behind that smile he always wears? Do people make assumptions about his capabilities because his speech isn't as sophisticated as his peers? Is he being pigeonholed? Of course, I'm talking about a kindergartener, not a child like Bojji who has the weight of a country resting on his shoulders, but Bojji's story elucidates these personal feelings as I watch him struggle to establish himself as a competent heir.
The opening pair of episodes focus on the young prince and Kage, the last surviving member of an assassin clan that was all but wiped out by a horse-faced noble. Kage initially mistakes Bojji as simple but comes to learn that his ability to infer what Bojji is saying (and Bojji in turn can read lips) is so valuable to the young prince that he's willing to make a fool of himself in order to maintain a relationship with Kage. In a way, it appears that Bojji has accepted that people believe he's stupid, puts on a brave face, and does what he wants. Despite the adversity from nearly every human around him, Bojji wants to believe in himself and make his father proud, but he's facing a world with customs that are not designed for him.
This becomes most apparent in the battle between himself and his younger half-brother Daida. Split between both episodes, the sparring match serves as a central conflict that establishes Bojji, Daida, and the swordmaster Domas. The sequence is animated better than it has any right to be (like the rest of this show) and quickly establishes Daida as an adversary that runs entirely on physical prowess – something highly valued in the hierarchy. Domas is supposed to be Bojji's trainer, but he lights up when he gets to fight Daida, who certainly outmatches his older brother in sheer physical power. Bojji can see his trainer's preference and steps in to prove himself.
The result was so difficult to watch, I almost needed to take a walk. It's frustrating to see everyone else viewing the match be so absolutely single-minded in their dedication to ignorance. To the viewer, Bojji's skills are notable for their finesse. He does not have the physical capabilities to match his brother 1:1 in a battle of power, but he can outmaneuver him and deal expertly considered blows to outdo him – that is, until Domas declares such actions not "king-like" and Bojji is forced to play by Daida's rules and gets the snot beaten out of him. As viewers, we're supposed to feel angry on Bojji's behalf. Anyone who has seen their way around a martial arts film knows that Bojji's way of fighting is not only legitimate, it's intelligent. He can conserve his limited energy by sidestepping that of his foes and using it against them. It's like, what, the basics of judo?
I have mixed feelings about Domas. He appears to be the only character who bothered to learn to sign in order to communicate with Bojji and the discussion amongst the other high-ranking adults seems to suggest that he didn't order Bojji to stop his method of fighting to simply teach him a lesson. Domas seems to be aware of how Bojji's fighting style is perceived and that if he did beat Daida, it may permanently harm his reputation within the court. However, it also maintains the status quo. In short, Domas' actions may have been what he thought was in the best interest of Bojji in the long run, but it also appears that Domas does favor Daida as an example of aggression, ego, and determination. You know, kingly qualities.
Bojji's nimbleness isn't lost on Kage though, who was raised in a clan where those particular skills are their bread and butter. The pair's burgeoning relationship, especially if Kage is able to pass down some of what he learned (limited as it may be) before the death of his clan, could be the confidence that Bojji needs to accept that his way is different but just as valuable to a monarch. He has much to overcome; public opinion, physical limitations (it appears that he may stay small in stature), and his own perception of himself. There's a lot of world still out there in Ranking of Kings, but I'll be rooting for Bojji and Kage the whole way.