The Twelve Kingdoms
Episodes 40-42

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 40 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

How would you rate episode 41 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

How would you rate episode 42 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

With the story of Youko's first experience with rebellion all wrapped up, I wasn't sure where there was left to go for Twelve Kingdoms. After the frankly meandering arc with Taiki I was worried we might be in for another half-finished adventure to peter out the episode count. Which still might be the case, but so far “The God of the Sea in the East, the Mighty Ocean in the West” seems a little more substantive, giving us a peek into the early years of King En's now centuries-long reign, and the time he faced his own potential usurper.

Eventually, anyway. First we make a surprising pit stop in Hou to dig into how things have been going since Sonshou (no longer going by the assumed name Gyokuyo) left. What follows is a rather personal exploration of this particular act of insurrection, and how Gekkei – the provincial lord who overthrew King Hou – really feels about all that he's done. From an outsider's perspective, what he did was absolutely a good thing. Hou was a ruthless monster trying to murder his people into an impossible ideal of “purity” and removing him from power was the only way to stop outright genocide. But we learn that before taking the throne Hou was Gekkei's closest friend, and for all the outside circumstances that justified it, the real reason he finally killed him was so he could stop the agony of seeing a loved one turn into a monster. In the years since he's done everything he can to avoid taking the throne as an interim ruler just so he can cling to one last excuse for himself, but it's a letter from Sonshou that finally convinces him to take on the responsibility his actions now require. It's a pretty insightful little exploration, if a tad dry considering it's mostly two characters talking across three locations for most of the episode, and makes for a tidy epilogue that also sets us up nicely for the final arc.

Now King En, we already know, is decidedly less of a bastard than King Hou was, but that doesn't mean his present-day rule was all peace and diplomacy from Day 1. Like Youko, a much younger En finds himself with the task of rebuilding a war-torn kingdom into something that can last, and at least one ambitious provincial lord looking to show him how to really do it. We haven't gotten a deep look into Atsuyu as a character, but what we see of him does tell a good deal about why he'd clash with the seemingly lazy reign of En. Because this is partially the king's fault – it's a fun fantasy to play the secret genius who only pretends to be a fool, but in reality that just means most people think you're, you know, a fool. By virtue of not being an awful despot who threw the kingdom into turmoil he's managed to get by for a few decades of rebuilding, but the lingering issues innate to any country are still present, and with the man in charge seemingly too lazy or distracted to properly address them it's easy to understand why Atsuyu would want to take the wheel from the clearly buzzed drive. Heck, when even your heavenly-ordained unicorn advisor thinks you're a careless idiot, you should probably drop the act.

Because really, Enki just seems done with everything, to the point where he's pretty chill about being taken as a political prisoner. Having lived through two separates lifetimes of war and misery he's entirely disillusioned with the idea of political power, and all he wants out of anyone is to stave off bloodshed for as long as possible, even if he doesn't trust En to do much besides sit back and let others handle the problems. Complicating matters is the arrival of his...well “friend” seems like a strong word, but it's the closest we've got for Kouya. Much about this lad is still hidden in shadows along with his boss, but for Enki he seems to represent a kindred spirit – but one who's taken the opposite moral path. We don't know for sure, but the boy's willingness to steal a baby and threaten to feed it to his pet/family Youma suggests he's entirely happy with bloodshed if it gets him what he's after. I imagine the latter half of this story will be about shattering Enki's preconceptions of both En and Kouya eventually, but despite this story moving much faster than other arcs, the exact ending is still up in the air.

I'm still not totally sure about finishing this series with this story, but En is certainly an engaging character in his own right, so getting a deeper look into how he became the man we now know is an intriguing idea on its own. Plus exploring another ruler's relationship with their Kirin is something I've been wanting since the concept was first introduced, and this looks to be giving more of that than the incomplete Taiki story or the more externally-focused Youko arcs. So until we wrap things up next week, I'm content with where we seem to be headed.


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

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