No other anime I’ve seen has even come close to mastering the idea of character presence as Kingdom has. The best comparison point I can think of off-hand is Rider from Fate Zero – but even he pales in comparison to the top tier characters of Kingdom. I don’t expect most people to care, most people haven’t even heard of Kingdom while Fate Zero is widely known and held in high regard, and for good reason. But if on the off chance you’re a total weirdo like me and have a deep fascination with the idea and portrayal of a living legend, Kingdom is best there is. Period.
Jumping back a little for the sake of context, Kingdom is a historical shounen (though some sites call it a seinen and there arguments for why it should be) battle series set in the Chinese Warring States Period in the 300s BC (not to be confused with the Japanese period of the same name in the 1500s AD). It follows Xin, who in typical shounen fashion wants to be the best there ever was – in this case the greatest general in history – and Yin Zheng the young king of Qin, the westernmost and second most powerful of the seven kingdoms in China, who wishes to conquer all of China. As the minor battles in this show contain hundreds of fighters (at minimum) and the important wars involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting over several days important people have to be able to wipe the floor with tons of random soldiers before dueling other people of the same power level. Kingdom’s way of handling the obvious break from realism is to uphold the idea that the weight of one’s command – among important characters – is a source of strength which enables them to run roughshod over weaker foes. Kingdom takes this very literally as the weight of one’s command directly affects the power of one’s blows and how strong a blow they can receive without issues.
This of course is not the only source of strength or skill, experience, size, muscle build, etc. all play a role and the weight is often an elusive thing to gauge as people with significantly smaller commands can fight on equal footing with those of greater commands. Also this whole weight is power thing doesn’t apply to strategists whatsoever. Nonetheless the idea is integral to Kingdom and it does a fucking fantastic job on delivering on one of the shows overall greatest strengths, dramatic payoffs.
Kingdom does a phenomenal job of building tension and then bringing a satisfying payoff. If I had to sum the show up in one word it would be big. Big armies, big characters, big talk, big music, big impact. It’s hard not to get swept up in the hype when you’re watching characters you like charge headlong into a giant army with his trusted soldiers at his back with big booming oriental orchestral swells thundering in the background – seriously Kingdom’s music is fucking awesome and it would totally overwhelm scenes of suitably less gigantic action.
Of course the scenario above will fall apart at the first hurdle if you don’t like the characters, so naturally Kingdom takes a lot steps to ensure that you do. Everyone of note has highly distinct designs, there are dozens of specialized armor variants for noteworthy armies and special armor for important generals. In a similar vein all the characters have different hairstyles and facial features, weapons, banners and so forth to make them all stand out. Where the weight and presence bit comes into its own is for the older generals. In comparison to Xin most of the major enemies or important, older allied characters are significantly physically larger, and thus can pack a lot more punch to their attacks.
Another major factor to consider is the mental side of the equation. In typical shounen fashion Xin is kind of a dumbass, though I would contend he is somewhat smarter than he appears and his stupidity has a clear source, he grew up as slave with no education. There is however a lot of tactical play going on and the top tier characters are capable of stunning feats of strategy – no joke some of this shit is Death Note-style complex planning – which spice up the more basic, if no less satisfying frontal assaults of more brutal and martial generals. Moving away from a character’s intellect however the mental effects of certain strategies and actions play a large role as well. Bloodlust/killing intent and morale have significant effects on a character’s ability to perform in battle, so how certain characters go about inspiring morale plays a large role in their tactics and actions.
What this is all building up to is the logical endpoint, the generals who are big, skilled, have tons of experience, and who are famous for their exploits, the kind of people Xin wants to be. The two giants among men who appear in the anime are Wang Qi and Lian Po, two legendary generals who were among the biggest names in all of China during their golden age several decades ago. They are both masterfully done characters with highly distinct designs, excellent voicework, unrivaled power, top tier tacticians and more weight and presence than anyone else in anime. It’s hard to say exactly what grants them this quality, what allows them to so perfectly encapsulate, to me obviously, the idea of a living legend. It could be the things described above, it could be their glorious careers from years past and how the rest of world still treats their names with awe. It might be how, on occasion they speak of their older days and how impressive they make that era seem. The most obvious answer is that it’s all these things – and that would explain why this ability to capture the feel of living legend is exclusive to Kingdom, as their backstories are bound to Kingdom.
But at the same time I feel like it has to be more than that. I think I could make similar arguments about some of the characters in Arslan Senki but they’ve never captured the same appeal, certainly not to the degree Kingdom has. All I can say for sure is that when one of the generals loses and is forced to surrender, has a less successful man from his era tell him to retire, and his response is “Don’t be stupid. I’m on active duty til I die!” while he charges down a small mountain and one of this big orchestral swells plays in the background I watched the scene over and over like 40 times because it was just that special, it had that much impact.
The point of a lot of shounen characters, especially major enemies like Madara or old badasses like Netero, is to be these larger than life entities which draw you the viewer into a clash of epic proportions. It’s what makes battle’s whose scale would be derided in mainstream TV not only possible but fucking glorious to watch. And Kingdom, for all it’s faults has mastered the art of making larger than life characters to a degree which surpasses all of the competition. I picked up Kingdom after the second season finished airing and I’ve yet to see anything, newer or older, which gets close to capturing that larger than life, living legend feel like Kingdom did. And it is my sincere belief that this ability to portray such gigantic characters the way Kingdom does, is why both seasons are rated upwards of 8 on sites like MAL, where the second season of Kingdom currently sits at #88.
Personally I would count Kingdom among my top five shows with ease, possibly in the top three, and by extension highly recommend it to anyone who sounds even vaguely interested. I’ve also written about the show before here, in case you wanted more of an overview. This is all despite the fact season 1 is burdened with a lot of low tier-CG and physics can often be very loosely applied in combat. It doesn’t matter, because Kingdom moves past all of it’s issues and the weight and presence of it’s best characters is one of the main reasons. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.