The Twelve Kingdoms
Episodes 43-45

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 43 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

How would you rate episode 44 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

How would you rate episode 45 of
The Twelve Kingdoms ?

Considering it only had a handful of episodes to call its own, it was inevitable for “The God of the Sea in the East, the Mighty Ocean in the West” to feel like a step down from the sprawling, 18-episode saga it followed. That's not to say this conclusion is bad. It's thematically consistent with the rest of The Twelve Kingdoms' arcs, and gives us a smidgen more understanding of King En and what makes him tick. But it also feels like a smaller, less interesting exploration of ideas that were already covered thoroughly. King En ultimately outwits Atsuyu and largely avoids war while still quashing his rebellion, and it's interesting how he reflects on all this in the present – admiring the confidence his would-be usurper showed in overthrowing his father and making Gen province prosper, and wondering if he might have been a better leader in a different timeline. However that time would never come, as Atsuyu's twisted pride left him unable to graciously accept failure, blaming others if he ever achieved anything less than perfection, and that ultimately kept him from attempting to become King legitimately. Ironically it's En's own past as a failed leader that makes him a perfect choice to rule – he knows the pain of losing those who believe in him, and is dedicated to never repeating that.

That also winds up resolving Kouya's story, perhaps too quickly for its own good. We barely got to spend time with the kid and his man-eating best friend before En gives him a heart-to-heart and he realizes he needn't follow Atsuyu simply to have someplace to belong. It's not a bad character arc – and the way it contrasts Enki's uncertainty with his own liege is engaging – but it has to take a backseat to everything else going on in this short, yet cluttered story arc. And that's mostly how I feel about this “concluding” storyline – it's not bad, but I doubt I'll recall much of it compared to the high points of other story arcs. It's at least a complete story, if a bit truncated, which makes it leagues more satisfying than Taiki's half-finished outlier of an arc.

Nevertheless, having at last wrapped up The Twelve Kingdoms I feel confident saying that Youko's storylines were the standouts of all this, and largely constitute what I'll remember most fondly about the series. Be it the sprawling, politically-minded epic of arc 3, or the harrowing and introspective introduction, the stories with the Queen of Kei at the center were just more compelling moment-to-moment. And for my money they represent some of the best of what isekai stories can offer as a subgenre; thrilling, dense, and character-driven with a sense of danger that masterfully utilizes the idea of parallel worlds you just don't see much of these days. The surrounding stories are weaker, and even the strongest narratives have their share of pacing problems, but by-and-large this show left a strong impact on me with its sharp and cogent political perspective that never forgot to build those ideas on endearing, complex characters. It's slow, dense, woefully incomplete in some places, but The Twelve Kingdoms proved to be a remarkably rewarding watch, and I'm glad I got to ride it out to the end in these reviews.

Rating:

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


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