We’re back in the fantasy world of Ranking of Kings, this time for ten side stories during the original narrative. It’s a fun way for the staff at Wit Studio to flesh out the setting and build on the main narrative while (hopefully) preparing for a full-scale second season in the future. Ranking of Kings was rich with interesting characters, and when the first season wrapped up, plenty of threads remained left for the staff to pull on. For example, we still need to discover the full story behind Miranjo and the Demon. Bosse has a whole travelogue worth of imperialism-fueled exploits yet to be accounted for. We know very little of Hiling’s life prior to her marriage to Bosse. The opening sequence teases some of this and more (please give me anything about the Underworld family!), but the first two episodes stick with Bojji and Kage for two mostly inconsequential outings.
The first episode is a fluffy return to Bojji and Kage’s training period with Despa (Takahiro Sakurai is reprising this role after a scandal left him losing out on several others) where, after Despa wakes up with a new wrinkle, he behaves like a total queen and sends Kage out to locate a rare mushroom to restore his beauty. This culminates with Kage getting into a classic fairy tale scenario. He encounters an old woman, performs a bunch of tasks, and she rewards him with the mushroom. Later, Bojji and Kage try to get a job because Despa is a miser and Bojji needs real-world experience. They utterly fail at this, ultimately becoming something akin to carnival barkers.
This wouldn’t be the season’s opening episode if the industry listened to me. I don’t particularly like Despa outside of comedic relief, and the events of this episode don’t add any color to the main narrative. It’s cute, but there’s little to say about it beyond that. Bojji doesn’t learn anything about how the world works outside of how to set a rigged game. The closest thing to a moral that Despa teaches him is that charity is for suckers, and we should lock impoverished children into 0% interest loans.
The second episode fares better, if only because we get to see the weird sky animals again and are no closer to understanding them. In one of my favorite episodes of the first season, Bojji meets a king out in the woods, and together they perform a ceremonial dance to honor the dead. Then a giant cloud emerges and absorbs animal spirits before regurgitating fresh animals into the forest. This episode does not add any more context to that, but it does add more weirdness.
Kage and Bojji are traveling back to Bosse’s Kingdom after wrapping up training with Despa (post-episode 10, pre-episode 14). There’s a confrontation with a trio of thieves in a desert that’s not particularly interesting, but the second portion of the episode introduces an oasis (or mirage) that’s home to a group of animal spirits. Bojji and his entourage quickly warm up to them until an immense spirit (that seems to intentionally invoke the The Blind Men and An Elephant fable shows up to reclaim its baby. The “being chased by a monster who just wants its cute child back” is a well-worn cartoon premise, but I enjoyed the extra 15 minutes of weirdness as the entire oasis was sucked up into the sky (via the cloud god thing) and disappeared again.
I don’t need to know why. The less I know, the funnier the wtf-ery is. In a medium that often overexplains battle strategies, character motivations, and fantasy worlds, I’m happy to hypothesize all on my own. However, these two episodes haven’t exactly impressed me otherwise. The technical work on display is solid but not awe-inspiring, and the plotting risks being too fluffy from the get-go. Part of what drew me to the original series was emotionally intelligent writing, but these first two episodes lacked any gravitas. The first season already did the contextual legwork, Treasure Chest of Courage needs to capitalize on it.
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