Review "Ranking of Kings" Ep4
Domas, you absolute son of a bitch!
Sorry, I had to get that out of my system before we dive into another jam-packed episode of Ranking of Kings. A commenter pointed out that the anime is moving at a breakneck pace, covering a ton of ground in each episode's 25-minute runtime. While I thought the last three episodes managed to keep their unrelenting pace going while still maintaining cohesion, this episode did suffer a bit due to a lack of breathing room.
We have Bojji embarking on his quest to see Hiling's parents with his sword instructor Domas and the knight Hokuro in tow. Back at the kingdom, the official ranker for the Ranking of Kings comes into Bosse's kingdom to evaluate Daida while the Magic Mirror continues its nefarious influence on the young king. We also get another reference to a well-known legend, the story of Pandora's Box. There are a lot of moving parts, but I keep coming back to one thought: "Domas, you absolute son of a bitch!"
It was obvious from episode one that Domas inhabits a complicated spot in this story. His relationship with Bojji is a source of emotional conflict for him. A practitioner of Bosse's own strength-focused fighting style, he was tasked by the king to teach Bojji, who we know is physically incapable of mastering it. Bojji does his best day in and day out and Domas seems to be endeared to the prince due to the strength of his heart, even if he believes his efforts are futile. Like Hiling, Domas learns sign language and there's a very touching moment when he speaks to Bojji for the first time.
I think it's at least implied that, despite all of Domas' warmth and love for Bojji, a part of him was disappointed that he couldn't see his student flourish like he wanted, which would explain the sheer exhilaration he felt when he got to spar with Daida and why, when Bojji saw how pleased Domas became, he was motivated to step in and prove himself. To understand the events that transpire in this episode, I think it's important to see that Domas both personally cares for Bojji and pities him. This, I think, is slightly different than Hiling's feelings, which are maternalistic and coddling based on her perception of disabilities. Both are a detriment to Bojji, but it's the pity that proves almost fatal.
Domas has been tasked by Daida to assassinate Bojji because the Magic Mirror convinced the younger brother that it's necessary to prevent a potential coup. Also, while Daida is a little shit, I want to put the emphasis on little. He is a child and easily manipulated about what is necessary to be a good king. It seems like, perhaps because his father never considered him as the future heir, he has not received any kind of counseling via advisors or the like on what exactly constitutes a "good king." Then again, we don't really know how he came into possession of the mirror either; perhaps he was told that it would serve as decent counsel. Regardless, Domas is a man of tradition, one who believes following orders from a kid who has been king for 10 minutes is the correct and just thing to do. Likely believing he is doing "what's best" for Bojji, he pushes him into a giant, flaming hole in the earth that is known as the Gateway to Hell.
I'm extremely comfortable stating that Bojji is certainly not actually dead, but I couldn't even hazard a guess about how he's going to get out of this one. Instead of postulating on that, I do want to point out a few strange moments that took place during Bojji's excursion.
First – and again this ties back to the pacing of this episode – Bojji, Domas, and Hokura cover a lot of ground. Through the journey, it's evident that Bojji has been sequestered from a lot, to the point that I question what level of education he's received. He wanders into at least two nearly deadly situations by virtue of not minding his surroundings and lacking some common sense. The first is when he falls into a pit trap laid by an unnamed king who seems like a not subtle reference to the The Green Man. Because the series seems like it needs to have at least one WTF moment each episode, Bojji's encounter with this forest man is very weird. He gets a crash course in the necessity of death for one's own survival and performs a ritualistic dance to show respect for a boar he and the king will eat. Also there's like, a spiritual cloud being that absorbs animal spirits and then just spits out fresh animals into the woods. But Nature is a being of both cycles and chaos, and not long after, the forest man ponders aloud whether he will kill Bojji. Having learned his lesson about honoring the dead, Bojji GTFO of there.
There are two other one-off moments that may connect to later narrative points (if you trust the writing), but otherwise seem extraneous. Bojji falls asleep in a village after staying up all night due to excitement. It appears he's the victim of a pickpocket until they leave behind the town and he finds his bag, with all its contents, further down the road. My first thought is that it was a case of a thief stealing it, finding nothing of value (although I thought he had a bit of gold on him?), and abandoning it. But if that's the case, what's the purpose behind having the event occur at all? The second one is when they are attacked at camp: Domas initially attributes the attack to bandits, but when he's alone, he calls out to Bevin, since he believes they're his shuriken. Now, the last time we saw Bevin, he was deeply wounded and his body was swallowed into the earth (Domas doesn't know this), possibly by a giant snake. Given that Domas was planning to kill Bojji the moment he left the kingdom, I don't know why he wouldn't just let Bevin (or whomever) finish him off and claim it was a horrible accident.
Also, why would Bevin be trying to kill Bojji at this particular time? When he confronted Apeas last episode, the order to kill Bojji hadn't occurred yet. Also if the snake is involved in Bevin's possible resurrection, I don't know that it would be on board with Bevin's supposed new goal to poison Bojji. There's even some speculation that Bevin never intended to actually kill Apeas, so his motivations and allegiance are very suspect. He always seemed like the better-suited trainer for Bojji, in my eyes.
The last point I want to discuss is Daida's dream. In it, he first sees his mother only for the Magic Mirror to appear. His mother tells him not to open an ornate box while the Mirror insists he must in order to become king. Just like in the original Greek myth, Daida releases "curses" into the world (in this case, an impenetrable darkness) and finds himself alone. Also like the original story, "Hope" is left inside and it takes the form of Bojji. In Daida's dream, it is Bojji's relentless fortitude that represents "hope." For one who never gives up, hope is always in their heart. The dream's narrator (who I believe may also be the mirror?) states that it is this fortitude that prevents calamity and will even save Daida.
Daida's reaction to this upon awakening is still to "open the box," that being his father's tomb where the Mirror has stated Bosse's strength lies. Daida is presented with a dream where his brother, the one he has just ordered to be murdered, is shown to be his own saving grace and an example of virtue. His reaction is that he must obtain more power for himself so that he doesn't need Bojji. He wanted to do it by his own merits but was put into place by the ranker when he was confronted with his own physical weakness.
Speaking of the ranker and his funny mask, we also get just a smidgen of information about this whole competition when he encounters Apeas (possibly in another town? I thought Apeas left town when Daida became king, but maybe he just left the castle proper and moved into the town?) Apparently the winner gets to choose a treasure from a vast vault, but every winner always chooses the same treasure and then disappears...or goes insane.