OP: 「BOY」 by (King Gnu)
「裸の王子」 (Hadaka no ouji)
As dearly as I love Studio Bones, I think Wit is the closest to a sure thing there is in TV anime these days. Their batting average is sky-high, their production values are consistently top-shelf, and they seem to take real pride in doing serious, interesting work – be it original or adapted. That’s why the news this week that the studio was in financial trouble and had ceded financial operations to parent I.G. Port was so distressing. It raises the question – in the current production committee model, is it even possible for a studio to be and do those things and not hemorrhage money?
I think we probably know the answer to that, and it’s not pleasant to think about. This sad state of affairs has been the dominant theme of Maruyama Masao’s late career, and I can’t think he’s happy with the answers he’s found either. I love Wit for standing down on Shingeki no Kyoujin and adapting Ousama Ranking, but that only gets you so far. As Kinky Friedman said, “money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make it wag its tail” – but you can’t pay a staff (or creditors) with love. We’ll see what changes are coming for Wit, but I can’t think they’re going to be pleasant.
That’s all the more poignant because in Ousama Ranking Wit has delivered the clear best premiere of the season. And it’s one that’s awash in the love of its staff – this show has the look of a passion project if ever one existed. Adapted from a manga by Touka Sousuke, it’s the story of a little prince named Bojji (Hinata Minami) and a strange little shadow named Kage (Murase Ayumu). Bojji (the name literally means “little prince”) is deaf, small, and not capable of clear speech. He’s looked down on with disdain by the Queen (his stepmother), most of the royal retinue, and even the peasantry as weak and stupid.
The thing is, though, that while Bojji may be small and deaf, he’s neither weak nor stupid. He is kind, though, and when he mets Kage on one of his ambles through the village and the creature demands his money (of which he has none) and settles for his clothes, Bojji happily surrenders them. He even agrees to come back the next day with even finer finery, so happy is he to have someone who can understand him (though just how, it’s not clear). Bojji has a friend, but the problem is that his walks through town in his underpants do his fragile reputation even more harm, and earn the disapproval of his parents and the king’s advisors.
As for the king, Bosse (Miyake Kenta, naturally), he’s a literal giant of a man – the hero who built his kingdom after saving the people from a troop of ogres. He’s now clearly very sick, and worried for the future of his country – but he loves his son dearly, as he did the boy’s late mother. Among the king’s advisors, the one who seems to hold a soft spot for Bojji is swordmaster Domas (Eguchi Takuya), who communicates with the boy in sign language. Of course what he doesn’t realize is that Bojji can read lips – which means he knows all the terrible things being said about him, and still chooses to face the world with a cheerful smile (most of the time, anyway).
Yes, there’s a lot more to Bojji than meets the eye – and there’s a lot more to Ousama Ranking too. It has the feel of a fairy tale, and in Wit’s hands the exquisitely-rendered look of one. But fairy tales often have hidden depths and surprising darkness. Despite his nature most of that doesn’t come from Kage, despite his cruel fate – he seems to be one of the last survivors of the “shadow clan”, a community of assassins that was wiped out after attempting to murder the king. He’s living as a petty thief but he comes to like the little prince – first through pity, then an amazed sort of respect. Especially when he sees Bojji defeat his much larger younger half-brother Prince Daida (Kaji Yuuki) in a duel with bokken. Bojji is quick and smart – he just has few opportunities to show it off.
Well, all of this is quite wonderful, really. The OP, the ED, the art design and the cinematography, and the characters. Bojji is a plucky underdog of a hero if ever one existed, sweet and gentle to a fault (literally) but not without his pride. His friendship with the snarky Kage (apparently a child himself) is immediately winning, and it’s clear that each brings to it something of great value (and not clothes, either) to the other. This is a world you just want to spend more time in, and the episode seems to last about five minutes before the end credits roll.
From the first time I saw the manga covers at Maruzen I had a gut feeling Ousama Ranking had something special about it, even if I couldn’t read it yet. And from the first previews it’s been obvious that Wit was on to something here – the spark of genius touches this show in an unmistakable fashion. While the manga is ongoing we are scheduled for 23 episodes, so Wit should be able to do wonderful things here – if they’re allowed to. I wish it were possible for Wit to be who they are and do what they do and financially thrive in the anime marketplace, bur clearly it’s not – and that means one way or the other, who they are is going to change. I plan to savor every moment of Ousama Ranking in the meantime, because it’s no given that we’ll see its like from Wit again.
ED: 「Oz.」 by (yama)