The Twelve Kingdoms
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 7 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?
How would you rate episode 8 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?
Youko's made a lot of mistakes in the show so far. Many of them are understandable, and even when not totally sympathetic she's always felt very relateably human. She's a kid in way over her head being forced by circumstance to crawl out of a very deep hole, and I have plenty of room in my heart for flawed characters making poor choices under duress. I bring this up because perhaps the most visceral emotion to overcome me while watching The Twelve Kingdoms was when I yelled “NO!” at Youko abandoning a prone, apparently injured Rakushun in episode 7. Listen Youko I get you're going through a lot right now, but if you don't find that varmint and get him back to his mother I will never forgive you.
To be fair, Youko also immediately realizes she's messed up, and it's enough of a shock to finally get her to really confront the monkey on her back who keeps telling her to be the worst version of herself. After weeks of this demon she's been feeding putting his foot on her throat, she fights back, throwing off the angst and hurt from so many betrayals and deciding that it's her decision, her agency on whether or not she chooses to trust someone. Ultimately following this smarmy specter's words is just another form of the subservience she practiced in her original world, and all that ever brought her was anxiety and alienation, while hurting those around her all the same. With her back against the wall, Youko chooses for herself to face the world in front of her, rather than escaping into a hole of self-hatred and paranoia.
And it pays off almost immediately – after killing the monkey (who was actually her sword's sheath I guess? Ok.) she comes across the traveling band of performers she almost robbed for food in episode 5, and their matriarch agrees to take her in while they travel to the port where Youko can finally embark for En in ernest. Like Rakushun, the people Youko ends up finding sanctuary with people who live on the fringes of Kou's social structure – they have no kingdom to call home, which in many ways can isolate them from the strict and prejudicial country Kou has constructed, but it's that perspective that makes them open-minded enough to take in a Kaikyaku and offer her safe passage. Youko is certainly a world with dangers, but there's just as much room for kindness and understanding if she's willing to look for it. I also rather liked how this continues to tie into Youko's relationship with her parents: she felt her own mother could never understand her, but only as she grows herself can she acknowledge she never tried to reach out either. It's not a judgmental observation, but merely recognizing that other people won't know what she needs without her speaking out to them, which is a lesson a lot of young adults have to learn even when they aren't living in a dangerous fantasy adventure.
Yuka is also, very slowly, learning some tough lessons. She finally got that magic makeover she was jealous of, though unluckily hers involves a lot more crunching bones and twisted muscles to get there. And now that King Kou knows for certain Youko's still alive, Yuka also gets a second chance to kill her which will definitely turn out differently this time, he swears, because she's a Good Kaikyaku and he certainly won't send her back to a barren farmland once she's done murdering her schoolmate. Also please pay no attention to his magical servant who's clearly dying from a physical manifestation of his corruption. It's nothing. She'll be fine.
Again, Yuka would almost definitely be smart enough to realize she's being played, were it not for her desperate need to “belong” in this new world, and as she ventures out in disguise to hunt Youko down, it does start to dawn on her that this new world is not some fantasy playground where she'll get to live out her isekai daydreams just as soon as she kills the girl who took her spot, especially as she almost-sort-of befriends her own furry companion, a cat Hanjyuu immigrating to En in hopes of finally building the life he'd never be allowed to in Kou. While she does her best to deny it, I think meeting these scraggly catboy is sharp wakeup call to Yuka that gets her to start pondering if she can really trust that what Kou has to say about this world is actually true. She's still very much in denial, but after her royal benefactor runs out of patience and just sends a horde of monsters to destroy the ship she and Youko are on, I imagine it'll be harder to justify going along with the guy.
On the worlduilding side of things, I'm finally starting to pick up the larger ideas The Twelve Kingdoms is putting down. In particular the story with the cat Hanjyuu shows me the story has a sharp understanding of the political structures it's established within the titular kingdoms. Even on a ship sailing to a new country with different societal moors, he's subject to the prejudices and segregation of his fellow immigrants, who are, I should mention, very quick to baselessly accuse him of being a criminal and insist on deporting him back to Kou before the ship has even made landfall. It's a thoughtful bit of writing that exemplifies the complexities of the culture at play, and it did a lot to sell me on the complex web of political movements going on in the background more than anything else so far.
The Twelve Kingdoms remains as steady as ever, though I do find my patience waning just a bit, and I hope that with this arrival in En we're finally about to turn the corner and learn more about just why Youko's here in the first place. Also bring back Rakushun, that fluffy critter deserves more screentime.
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