The Twelve Kingdoms
Episode 15-16

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 15 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

How would you rate episode 16 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

I'm not sure what I expected, starting The Twelve Kingdoms' 2nd major story arc, but it certainly wasn't a total shift to a new protagonist. Youko's got plenty of royal duties to attend to, including getting her divine coronation squared away before another war can break out, but she and Keiki apparently have time to sit down and listen to storytime about Taiki, the wayward Kirin of the Tai kingdom. What follows is a surprising move into a different kind of isekai storyline than we've seen before, and so far it seems equally intriguing.

Through Taiki – born in our world as Kaname – we see what might have been Youko's journey into the kingdoms if she hadn't been hounded by Kou's schemes. A quiet, awkward boy who never seemed to fit in with his family or friends, Kaname warms up to being spirited away into a fantasy realm pretty quickly, once the initial shock wears off. In many ways it's a prototypical children's fantasy – being whisked away from a mundane life fraught with worries into a position of power and surrounded by supportive and helpful new people to make it all make sense. There are complications of course – Kaname seems wary about being born into such an auspicious role – but there's a sense that he's a bit too young for that pressure to really register the way it did for Youko, and besides he's got a cool chimera babysitter and tons of kind ladies to patiently answer all his questions and assure him he's good.

Things of course can't stay that simple forever, and while we've yet to see what precisely sent Kaname back to our world (though the cliffhanger for episode 16 gives us a good idea) the present day aspect of the story adds a certain edge to all this. Kaname's seemingly lost his memory of the Twelve Kingdoms and spends his days socially isolated, even actively pushing away Yuka as she hunts him down to ask about his disappearance. There's actually a whole family drama playing out around the edges of this flashback, which speaks to the series' dedication to characterization. Kaname's life and family didn't stop mattering during or after his vanishing, and that's doubtlessly effected who he is and who he will be if/when he returns to his real homeland. Though just who exactly he is remains uncertain: we've learned most of his history through other people describing his life, and that leaves the story's central character feeling a little doughy in the personality department right now.

That could easily change in time though, and for now the story of Taiki has continued 12K's strengths, though I do feel a little intimidated by what feels like being dumped into the deep end of its mysticism. The sequence where Taiki's doting guardian Sanshi is birthed fully formed from a fruit placenta and immediately paws her way up to cuddle her future orphan apple is a lot to take in, and the series' penchant for throwing titles, proper nouns, and multiple names for the same character can be as confusing as ever. But the emotional throughlines of the story are as clear and resilient as ever, so I think I'm finally acclimating to the series' particular style of worldbuilding. Just don't ask me spell anyone's name if it's more than two syllables.

Regardless of my surprise at this arc's current trajectory, I'm very much onboard in following Kaname's story so far. I'm also interested to see how exactly it might intersect with Youko's own now that she's (more or less) officially Queen.

Rating:

The Twelve Kingdoms is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Amazon Prime Video.


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