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How Far Does Forgiveness Go? Ranking of Kings Ending Explained

by Michael Basile,

Across two anime seasons packed with heavy-hitting sequels and long-awaited adaptations, the fact that Ranking of Kings has managed to stay near the top of seasonal discussions for almost half a year is a testament to how engaging this series is and how many ideas it has within it to talk about. That said, for as solid as the project is on the whole, not all ideas are created equal, so join me on a dive into some of this show's disparate themes as we try to see what final conclusion this show arrived at.

Before we jump in I wanna do a brief recap of where this story ended up at the end just to keep it in mind as we discuss what led up to it, and I want to focus primarily on two of the major end results. Firstly, we have Bojji's final battle with Bosse. Whereas Bosse continues to fight Bojji with the same brute force he always has, though this time with Daida's body, Bojji's training under Despa has allowed him to become skilled in his own right through his superior agility and his talent for discovering an opponent's weak point, thus allowing him to triumph over his father. Secondly, we have the resolution to Miranjo's plot against the kingdom. After Bojji destroys the mirror, Miranjo's soul is collected by the same demon that granted Bosse his immense strength, but through Daida's empathy and compassion, her soul is rescued and returned to a living body. Daida announces that he forgives Miranjo for her misdeeds, with Bojji following suit, and that he plans to marry her in order to share the burden of her sins moving forward.

We'll start with that first climax, as it ties into what is easily this anime's strongest idea, that being the conflict between appearance and ability. With our main character, Bojji, being deaf and unable to verbally communicate with those around him, the topic of disability is centered at the forefront of Bojji's characterization and makes his life inordinately difficult. Other children laugh at him for his disability, while many of the adults find him frustrating to deal with, leaving Bojji with few people he can connect to. What's more, his disability often leads others to assume that he is of lesser skill or intelligence than those who are more able-bodied. One the one hand, this is true in terms of pure brute force, as it's revealed that his father, Bosse, made a deal with a demon that sapped Bojji of all his potential strength. As such, Bojji is looked down on by those who expect him to become a great king like his father despite his obvious physical disadvantage, asking something of him that he simply cannot give.

On the other hand, this disability also causes those around Bojji to perceive him as less intelligent, though this aspect of Bojji is an entirely false assumption. Because he often can't communicate what he wants in order to get his point across or just goes about life in ways that seem entirely foreign or nonsensical, those who observe Bojji simply attribute this to him being dumb, as it's easier to just write off his eccentricities as a part of his disability rather than try to understand him, thus adding to the issues that Bojji faces in both his social life and in his perception as a potential leader. Bojji is not mentally inept in any way. In fact, he often exhibits a keen sense of perception and intuition that vastly outpaces those around him, but because he has difficulties communicating these ideas to others, or more often so is unable to find people who will even try to understand to him, his reputation as a dunce becomes more pervasive despite his skills.

That said, even Bojji himself doesn't fully understand this concept until later on in the series. For at least the first couple episodes, Bojji and Kage are dead set on finding someone or some way to make Bojji physically stronger, as they too see Bosse as the ideal to be strived towards. This is readily apparent in how Bojji's more agile swordsmanship is bluntly rejected by the entire castle staff in favor of Daida's more straightforward and supposedly “honorable” style of fighting, and so Bojji and Kage seek out someone who can make him more adept with brute force. It isn't until both Desha and Despa lay it out plain as day that Bojji has zero potential for physical growth that they even attempt to find an alternative, and even that takes some persuasion on Despa's part. In this instance, even Bojji has gotten too wrapped up in his perception of himself and how he believes he should be viewed by others, rather than taking himself as he is and shaping his kingly identity around that.

Then we have Kage, our thief with a heart of gold. Kage is a descendant of the infamous shadow clan, a legendary group of assassins that had been purged some time before he appears on-screen. After losing his mother, Kage is treated with disdain by everyone around him, often as the result of his appearance, and ends up starving on the streets. Even after he finds somewhere to live, the person he lives with seems to hone in on Kage's heritage and starts using him to rob homes and other locations. Here, we have an instance that less appearance vs ability, but rather appearance vs personality. Kage doesn't want to be the bad guy, and we even see in a flashback that he saw his clan as good guys who loyally served their king, but the shady nature of their line of work causes people to constantly misread Kage's intentions, which we see with Bebin during the first few episodes. As such, Kage's experiences put him in the perfect position to understand Bojji. Though he too misinterprets Bojji's talents at first, he quickly comes around and is able to see all the good in him, and so makes it his goal to support Bojji in any way he can.

Finally, one of the more fascinating, yet somewhat understated examples of this contrasting of appearance against ability is presented through the brotherly relationship between Desha and Despa, albeit in a much less clear-cut manner. Desha, the king of the Underworld, is portrayed to be much less attractive and amiable than his brother, and, according to Despa, he would occasionally get hung up on his own appearance, as displayed by him defacing his own monument. Despite this, Desha's supreme power and charisma allowed him to gain popularity and become a great king for his nation, freeing his people from the tyrannical rule of his father.

On the flip side of that, we have Despa, highly intelligent and incredibly handsome, yet lacking in the physical strength and extraordinary powers that his brother possesses, and much like Desha, he too envies that which his brother has that he does not, as shown in a flashback where Despa mourns his lack of physical prowess in comparison to his kin. Despite this, much like Desha, Despa eventually grows wise enough to recognize the usefulness of his own talents, shaping his persona and combat tendencies in ways that only he can and not simply trying to mimic his brother, a trait that he has endeavored to pass on to Bojji so that he too can carve out his own path without trying to follow in his father's footsteps or compete with Daida solely through strength. Bojji's incredible agility and insight into discovering an opponent's weakness is his greatest asset in combat and something he achieved precisely because of his disability, and Despa recognizes how wasteful it would be to squander that talent, thus allowing Bojji to overcome his lack of strength and stand on equal footing with Daida and Bosse.

This aspect of Bojji is symbolized perfectly by his choice of weapon, a small rapier given to him by Despa. While deciding on what weapon to train with, Bojji initially tries to use an axe, as it's the same weapon his father, who is portrayed as the ideal powerful king, uses on the battlefield, but even the smallest of axes proves too unwieldy. Thus, Bojji ultimately chooses the rapier, one that seems to have very little offensive power at all and tricks even Kage into thinking that it's worthless. Yet, Bojji is able to draw out the full potential of this weapon by using a fighting style best suited for him, one that emphasizes agility and small strikes over heavy hitting attacks. This allows Bojji to completely incapacite his opponents with no bloodshed, a perfect representation of Bojji's endless altruism towards even those who seek to harm him.

In a sense, Bojji's arc is not so much about gaining the physical strength to become a better leader, but more so about coming to understand himself so as to highlight the talents he already has. Bojji being deaf does not automatically make him lesser, but it does change the set of talents and ability preferences that he is endowed with, and so Bojji's arc is almost entirely one of internal growth and learning to see past the expectations of others in order to discover what will actually help him succeed, and this internal growth is also loosely tied to this anime's second major theme that becomes much more readily apparent in its second half: forgiveness.

With this being a fantasy series centered around a monarchical power struggle, betrayal and backstabbing are very much the order of the day for a large chunk of the plot, especially with Bojji being a potential rival for the throne. Even after the high ranking officials of the kingdom supplant Bojji's claim and choose Daida as the new king, Miranjo still convinces Daida that Bojji must be disposed of, and so Domas, Bojji's sword instructor, is tasked with his assassination and would have succeeded if Kage had not been there to save Bojji from his fate.

When Bojji and Domas meet again after this incident, Bojji is nearly paralyzed by fear, still believing Domas to be someone who will bring him harm. Even after Domas apologizes profusely and begs for forgiveness, Bojji runs away, unable to fully process the conflicting emotions swirling around in his head. He wants to forgive Domas, the person who's been by his side so often and tried his best to help Bojji improve his swordsmanship, even going so far as to learn sign language in order to better communicate with him, but Domas's betrayal still hangs heavy in his mind, and so he's simply not ready to forgive him yet. Kage seems to recognize this and, rather than keep trying to convince Bojji to forgive him, he runs off with Bojji to support him, knowing that this issue will take some time. It's a complicated and interesting topic to tackle, recognizing that forgiveness should occur, but simply not being ready to fully resolve those emotions, making Bojji's emotional arc regarding this issue quite compelling.

That said, as strong as that specific plotline is, not everyone seems to be given the same level of care and depth when it comes to the idea of forgiveness. Quite frankly, most of the characters are unusually quick to forgive their enemies and welcome them back into the fold despite the transgressions they've committed, and it begins to strain credibility on all parties involved. With Bojji, a quick forgiveness would make sense since he's just a wholesome little ball of wonder, but even he had to pump the brakes a bit before forgiving Domas.

It feels as though the story is trying to transfer the emotional arc Bojji experienced onto every other character in the show and it's just not landing for me, especially when it comes to the central antagonist, Miranjo. With her being the mastermind behind the attempted coup and destruction of Bosse's kingdom, her list of offenses is easily the longest from this cast, and she's also the only one to bring about the death of a named character, that being Bojji's mother, Shiina, who dies horrifically in front of Bojji as Miranjo is laying siege to the kingdom while Bosse is away.

Despite this connection, Bojji is not the one who gets tied to Miranjo in this series. It's Daida who is positioned as the one to play off of Miranjo during the present-day section of this plot, with Miranjo acting as his advisor through the magic mirror and her past self interacting with him inside his mind while Bosse is in control of his body. It's through Miranjo that Daida is led towards purging his advisors of dissent and even attempting to have his own brother killed, ultimately leading to him being trapped in his own mind after Miranjo used his body to resurrect Bosse. In theory, this should have led to a similar forgiveness arc in which Daida comes to terms with how Miranjo has wronged him, sorted through his feelings, and then eventually came around to forgiving her. Not exactly the same, but similar in that an arc should exist.

But, that's not what we got. Instead, Daida just skips straight to step three and not only forgives Miranjo immediately after learning that she had been deceiving him this whole time, but also declares that he will marry her in an attempt to lead her down the right path in the future. No intense thought given to how this situation has complicated his feelings for Miranjo. He just gets over it immediately and decides to reform her, glossing over what could have been a very interesting character dynamic.

Also, what about Bojji? Like I know that we'd kinda be repeating his forgiveness arc again, but he still had to watch his mother die in front of him because of Miranjo. That trauma is still very much baked into Bojji's character, and yet the only thing we get from Bojji on the matter is him telling Hiling that's Miranjo's cool now. It's uh…a bit hollow in my opinion, and that's to say nothing of all the other people Miranjo has wronged throughout the series on various levels. Yes Daida basically orders them to forgive her, but they certainly don't seem to be holding in any conflicting emotions. With the very brief exception of Hiling, everyone's totally on the same page about forgiving Miranjo, and it feels kind of insincere.

The story tries to dance around this by not having Miranjo, or really any character for that matter, actually get anyone killed during the present-day of this story, but this also ends up coming back to bite it as massive tonal dissonance with its own set of issues. Despite the dismemberments and desanguinations and all other methods of inflicting pain in battle, the fact that pretty much no one is killed by another person, with the exception of Bojji's mother and one other example we'll discuss in just a moment, relieves the story of having to answer that final question. Could these characters forgive each other if they actually did kill their friend or apprentice or any kind of close relation? We know Bojji can because his life has naturally sculpted him into being the most altruistic and kind-hearted person in the show, but it never forces the other characters to follow suit. Everyone makes it out of this coup alive, and even those with severe injuries like dismemberment get prosthetics attachments out of nowhere, so it never has to test the resolve of these other characters and see whether they could follow Bojji's lead in the face of something that really can't be taken back.

This does, however, bring us to the incredibly unpleasant elephant in the room: episode 18, in which we are shown Miranjo's back story and how she came to suffer the trauma conveyed to us through her talks with Daida. Now, before we dive into this, I do want to at least present the notion that most of this information is conveyed through Bosse, who, due to the circumstances we're about to discuss, could be considered an unreliable narrator. However, the story still has yet to present anything that even remotely disputes what Bosse says, and we even see the perspective of other characters that line up with this story, so to me, the validity of this interpretation leans more towards truth than fiction. Perhaps a somewhat exaggerated truth, but a truth nonetheless. In any case, Miranjo and her mother were residents of Houma, a kingdom that sought to “modernize” the kingdom of Gyakuza so as to borrow their aid in the fight against the gods. Despite the goodwill of Houma, the people of Gyakuza remained ever-skeptical and deceitful, which the show directly states is a fundamental trait of all of Gyakuza's citizens as a result of their geopolitical history, a shockingly black-and-white statement considering how nuanced the story has been previously.

Because of this, Miranjo's mother is killed in cold blood by the people of Gyakuza and Miranjo herself is horrifically maimed, with her hands cut off and the skin on her face peeled away. This heinous treatment sends Bosse into a blind rage in which he kills seemingly every resident of the town, even young children. In a more nuanced circumstance, this moment would actually play into the theme of forgiveness and show that Bosse and Miranjo were lacking in the same willpower that Bojji possesses. However, because the people of Gyakuza are presented as unambiguously and unilaterally evil and cruel, there is no reason to forgive them because there is no suggestion that they are deserving of forgiveness. The story has completely dehumanized these people to the point of them barely being human anymore.

Again, this could very well be the result of Bosse being an unreliable narrator regarding his interaction with Gyakuza, but because we are never shown evidence to the contrary and we see the perspective of a third party, we kinda have to assume that this is the truth until proven otherwise, and that's extremely troubling. This incredibly yikes portrayal of an entire civilian population gets upgraded to YIKES when you see the immensely uncomfortable parallels to the real life history of Japan's colonization of Korea, complete with visual similarities. This is a very deep and troubling nationalistic hole to go down, but even without the historical parallels, these events feel obscenely out of character for this series, as though it didn't know how to justify Miranjo's tragic back story, and it ends up making said back story weaker as a result because of how comically evil it is.

This effect can also be seen to a lesser degree with Ouken, an immortal with a thirst for blood and violence. What irks me about this character is that his plight is only conveyed in words spoken by other characters, not through his own actions. We see what he's like after immortality has driven him mad, and we see what he was like before his immortality, but the steps in-between have been cut entirely, steps that are arguably the most important part of a character whose defining personality trait is being driven to insanity. There's nothing to empathize with in Ouken because his entire descent into madness was not elaborated on, and his character wasn't exactly really fleshed-out beforehand, making him nothing more than a rampaging monster who enjoys slitting wrists and torturing his opponents. Much like the people of Gyakuza, Ouken has been completely dehumanized, thus removing him entirely from the forgiveness equation even though he easily gives Miranjo a run for her money in terms of the most harm done to other characters. I do hope that this will eventually be resolved since Ouken still remains part of the story at the end, but for now he just feels hollow and disappointing.

And so, in the end, I'm left with half a story I really love and another half I just don't feel invested in at all. The dynamic between physical appearance and actual ability was immensely interesting and truly endeared me to characters like Bojji and Kage who were desperately trying to live as equals to everyone else in the world they inhabit, and I'm very curious as to what direction the manga takes these characters after the events we've seen thus far. On the other hand, the severe lack of true consequences for a large bulk of this plot makes the theme of forgiveness feel rather infantile, almost contrived at times. The idea that everyone's getting along just fine after this cheapens the depth of this message. It's easy to forgive someone when everything's completely healed up at the end, but it's quite another when there's actual fallout to deal with, and Ranking of Kings clumsily sidesteps said fallout and comes out weaker for it. I still enjoyed my experience on the whole, especially considering the insanely strong animation and artwork provided by Wit Studio, but it's still a much shallower enjoyment than what could have been.

Thanks to all of you for watching. If you enjoyed this video, be sure to like and subscribe and follow Anime News Network on Twitter for more great anime content, and if you wanna see more from me you can check me out at Ember Reviews on YouTube and Twitter.

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