The Twelve Kingdoms
Episode 5-6

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 5 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

How would you rate episode 6 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

Boy, Yuka sure is a piece of work, huh? She's been, shall we say, less than accommodating for most of the adventure, oscillating between a ruthless pragmatism for survival and flights of fancy over her desire to be the main character of this otherworldly journey. That all comes to a head when the King of Kou and his mysteriously Keiki-like servant come down from on high to inform Yuka that she's totally the chosen one who's destined to save the Kou kingdom from destruction at the calamity that's definitely being brought by Youko, we swear. Now, we the audience know that's a ton of youma droppings, but Yuka's more than happy to buy into it because it validates her two biggest feelings: her desire to be special and her resentment of Youko.

The first of those has been present since the monsters and magic first showed up, but it's the second that comes to a head in the climax of episode 5. Hyped up on her own body-controlling magic spirit and fantasy sword, Yuka channels her inner Yui Hongo and tries to straight-up kill Youko, revealing in the process how personally she took Youko's so-called “Good Girl” act. Our heroine may have thought she was being friendly to an outcast, but Yuka could see her motivation for doing so was because the girl couldn't stand to have anyone think harshly of her. Thus it becomes clear that her betrayal – if she even thinks of it that way – is a culmination of a long-standing disdain, and the stressors of this new world have served to agitate that until her last nerve's skin was worn down to nothing.

All this serves as a believable, human reason for Yuka to do what she does. Many similar Greatest Anime Betrayals often feel pretty contrived – either the person was secretly evil the whole time, or they're tricked into doing something they'd never do under normal circumstances. Yuka's being tricked, yes, but only because she's being told what she's been wanting to hear, and having her worst instincts validated. Neither misguided nor evil, she's simply a flawed person willing to do what she must to get what she wants, though she has enough conscience intact to hold back on actually killing her classmate. It's a continuation of The Twelve Kingdoms' stellar character work, though I should note the series doesn't go so far as to make her unquestionably sympathetic. Much as it sucks for her to find out she's been duped by the King of Kou and dumped onto a barren plot of land as her “reward” I can't feel too sorry for her. Play stupid games, etc etc.

Meanwhile Youko has absolutely hit her low point. She's been betrayed by one friend, with the other missing or dead, barely clinging to life as she limps through a world she vehemently wishes to escape, and the spectral monkey man keeps showing up like the worst shoulder devil ever. If I'd been through even half of what she has I'd probably have already curled up inside a cave to die, so I can't fault the girl for just collapsing on the side of the road under the strain of it all. But it's exactly there that she meets perhaps the first trustworthy person she's met in this whole world, and ironically he's a rat.

Rakushun seems like an all around swell dude. He's kind and generous despite obviously humble means, but also smart enough to counter Youko's initial distrust in ways she can't ignore with cynicism alone. He and his mother both take pains to accommodate Youko without invading her boundaries or forcing anything on her, and it's that respect that starts to ever-so-slightly unravel the gnarled not of her emotions as she recovers. In the face of continuous betrayal and a boogieman twisting every knife left in her back, she's retreated to the cold pragmatism Yuka embodied to begin with, only trusting Rakushun so long as she has the leverage of violence to keep him in check. That stays true even as he begins to guide her to the kingdom of En, rebuffing the adorable rodent's attempts to commiserate over their shared alienation as outlander and beast-person. She's so twisted up that by the time yet another horde of monsters comes calling she leaps into action and laughs because at least in a fight against giant birds she knows where she stands. Youko's at the bottom of a very deep hole, and it looks like it'll be a long while before she can even start to climb back out.

Outside of the immediate character narratives we've also got a whole bunch more worldbuilding. I am still awful with names, but from what I gather things stand as:

1. Kei, a neighboring kingdom to Kou, unexpectedly lost its heavenly-ordained ruler, leaving monsters to ravage the land and the commonfolk to flee.

2. Somebody – possibly the King of Kou – has installed a fake ruler in Kei during the confusion, placing an enchantment on unicorn Keiki to claim divine legitimacy.

3. An envoy of some sort from En (I think?) has figured all this out, and is now searching for Youko and the other outlanders.

4. There are people referred to as Taika who are meant to be born in this world, but through some supernatural happenstance wind up living in our world instead.

5. Oh also babies in this world grow on trees. I guess because the storks are all evil. The would logically mean familial relations are decidedly more self-determined. Though with the brothel in episode 3 it's established sex is still a thing here so who knows how much society at large differs from our own.

6. Extrapolating from 2, 3, and 4 it seems safe to assume Youko is a Taika herself, and was meant to be the new ruler of Kei before things got all screwy. That would explain her special ability to speak their language, her magical makeover, and why Keiki showed up specifically for her.

That's a lot, and much of it is explained or implied on the margins of the story, so again I apologize if I got something wrong there. Or maybe my speculation is totally off and everyone out there is laughing at me, in which case you're welcome. Either way, these episodes continue to be riveting, and I'm very much excited to see where Youko and Rakushun's story goes from here.


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

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