The Twelve Kingdoms
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 13 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?
How would you rate episode 14 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?
So episode 14 of The Twelve Kingdoms is a recap episode. There's a little bit of new information to it via a framing device of Rakushun and Youko having a study session to get her up to speed about the lore of the world, but it's minimal and only really worth it for the last couple of minutes. It's sweet to see Youko thank her closest ally in all this, and to assure him she'll repay his kindness by building a kingdom worthy of it. But otherwise there's just nothing to it, and I'm only including it because we gotta keep these episode numbers straight.
Thankfully episode 13, the “Last Chapter” of this arc, has plenty to talk about. See, I'd been expecting this arc to wrap up with the defeat of King Kou, which would lead into the next story arc about Youko and her companions challenging the pretender to Kei's throne. Turns out, nope! Kou's defeat does happen early in the episode, with him fittingly killing his own soul-partner Kourin in his heedless desire for supremacy, thus sealing his own doom. But once he's out of the way the entire episode feels like it starts chapter skipping to get to the important cutscenes. We go from Youko and En invading the Kei capitol, to rescuing Keiki, to defeating Joyei and installing Youko on the throne all in about 5 minutes. For a story that's been so meticulous in its pacing (Youko didn't even learn why she'd been Isekai'd until episode 10!) it's jarring to see it completely skip over the material other fantasy stories would likely spend multiple episodes on.
That isn't entirely a bad thing, though. It's a bit whiplash inducing, and it does make the overall conflict feel rather slight when a month of big fantasy battles happens offscreen, but I do sort of get what the show is going for. For one, animating epic battles with hundreds of soldiers and monsters is just not something you can manage on a TV anime, especially not one scheduled to run for a year. So if a large-scale battle is narratively necessary but not meaningful, it can make sense to skip over it to get to the actually important character moments. In that regard this episode still delivers. Youko reuniting with Keiki is pretty touching, and it's genuinely shocking to see her deliver fullthroated orders at the enemy soldiers to stand down. The standout scene is when we finally see our heroine upon the throne, clutching a blood-stained sword and on the verge of tears. It's not said outright, but considering an aide asks her what they should do with Joyei's remains it's pretty obvious what must have happened moments before this. Even without seeing her do the deed, we witness the impact taking another person's life by her own hand has on her, and it's perhaps more unsettling than seeing the death in the moment.
That said, there are some shortcomings to this approach. Youko swears she'll remember the name of every casualty that brought her to where she is, but that lacks any impact when we never saw any of the bloodshed. Even just a short sequence of Youko looking out across a corpse-laden battlefield would help that sentiment feel earned, but everything we know about the conflict is communicated through narration. Yuka's arc also feels truncated by the time she leaves–there's a sense that a lot has changed between her and Youko during the war, but it's all left to our imagination because we have to send her home. With how repetitive her character had gotten by episode 12 this is probably a good move to let her exit from the story proper, but it ultimately leaves her story feeling aimless when we don't get to witness her mending her relationship with Youko.
In all I can't quite decide how I feel about the conclusion to “The Shadow of the Moon, The Sea of Shadows” right now. I understand the idea behind it, and even admire the confidence of skipping over the most expected elements of high fantasy stories, but there are still so many aspects that feel rushed regardless. But even with those issues, this first story has proven The Twelve Kingdoms can craft a rich, engaging, and often harrowing adventure with thematic weight to match. So bring on “The Sea of Wind, The Shore of The Maze” I say.
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