Ranking of Kings
by Lynzee Loveridge,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Ranking of Kings ?
Community score: 4.2
Ranking of Kings has put me between a rock and a hard place. Last week's episode elaborated on Miranjo's back story and in what was uncharacteristic for the series, introduced a country of two-dimensional villains in what on the very basic surface level read as pro-colonization propaganda. Quickly following last week's episode, I learned that the corresponding manga chapters had also drawn the attention of readers in Japan who likened it to an allegory for Japan's colonization of Korea. Initially, I wasn't sure if that specific comparison was applicable, but then our reporter Kim Morrissy looked into and found images comparing the background art to pre- and post-colonized Korea and I can no longer dismiss it.
This is an incredibly disappointing development. I've sung the praises of this show for almost half a year, become deeply attached to Bojji and Kage, and promoted the show's thoughtful subversion of fantasy tropes including the characterization of the "evil" stepmother Hiling. I've appreciated how it introduces depths to its characters and refrained from clear-cut "evil" and "good" or at the very least, asked its audience to empathize with its antagonists like Ouken. Ranking of Kings has continually asked its audience to "abandon malice" which is why it is so striking that it would then ask us to accept that an entire country is filled with nothing but backstabbing, cruel brutes who murder women in their homes and maim their daughters for public ridicule. Then to further suggest that this is allegorical for South Korea after the country rejected Japan's attempt to colonize it and show the country as ungrateful for the schools and hospitals that were built—while ignoring all the other very relevant aspects of history—is astounding.
Japan committed cultural genocide against the Koreans, and if that allegory is applicable here, Ranking of Kings is suggesting that that very culture was one of evil and violence. This narrative turn, one that has been praised by Japanese nationalists on social media, makes it very hard for me to then delve into "what I liked" about the episode without feeling dismissive and tone-deaf. Was Kage's reunion with his mother touching? Yes. Did Arifumi Imai deliver on his promise of an exciting episode? Yes; the action between the Four Pillars, Mitsumata, and Ouken was some of the best we've seen in the series thus far. There were a lot of moments that, when separated from the rest of the episode, I really enjoyed. But the Houma and Gyakuza story will remain an ugly spot on this series, a caveat that will certainly change how I discuss it with other anime fans and I'm so, so disheartened about it.
Rating: I honestly can't attribute a number to this.
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