「王子とカゲ」 (Ouji to kage)
“Prince and Shadow”

If you aren’t watching Ousama Ranking because it looks “kiddie”, or because it doesn’t have any lolis or standard modern anime tropes, you’re doing yourself a real disservice. A lot of people made that mistake with Hunter X Hunter (those unfamiliar with the manga, obviously). And in terms of a show making a big emotional impact this early in its run, it really calls Cross Game to mind. I’m not saying Ousama Ranking is Cross Game or Hunter X Hunter, but that’s about as high as the bar gets in anime these days. It’s certainly the most accomplished first two-episode run of the season.

I just hope everyone prays to their God of choice that whatever bad craziness is about to go down at Wit doesn’t impact production on this series, because I don’t want anything to change. Wit has certainly done flashier and more obviously expensive works, but you get the same “labor of love” vibes off Ousama Ranking that you do with Tsuritama or Uchouten Kazoku (if I’m dropping some pretty serious names here, it’s because these two eps deserve it). It’s clear that tremendous care has gone into getting every detail just right, and you don’t do that unless you believe in the project. That approach is likely what got Wit into financial hot water with I.G. Port. but it’s also what makes them arguably the best studio in TV anime.

Primarily, this episode is the story of the series’ other main player, Kage. In contrast to Bojji he doesn’t come from a pampered background. He’s a member of the shadow tribe, whose bizarre physical attributes make them the perfect assassins. But they love their children just like anyone else – we can see that very plainly in Kage’s backstory. Kage’s clan (it’s not clear if they’re all the shadow people there are or just one group) falls out of favor in their kingdom (it’s implied that they’re framed for trying to assassinate the king) and they’re systematically slaughtered. Only Kage – a small child of his kind – escapes, thanks to the sacrifice by his mother and the kindness of a young noble and her guardian.

This is a pretty grim and gritty tale, to say the least. It’s remarkable how quickly you (or at least me) suspend disbelief with Kage’s bizarre appearance and relate directly to his struggles. It’s especially brutal to see him emotionally bond with the lowlife criminal who shows him literally the tiniest possible amount of consideration. He makes a killing off Bouji’s unique abilities as a tool for thievery, then turns him in as soon as he sees a reward poster (whether for Kage specifically or any of his kind I don’t know). When the man meets his end rather fittingly in a bar fight. Kage cries for him as if the man had truly cared about him.

What we see here, of course, is that the street thief who meets up with Bojji originally isn’t Kage’s true nature. The real Kage is still there underneath all that scar tissue, and coming to know Bojji causes him to come back to life. It’s why Kage risks everything to stick around and watch Bojji’s duel with Daida – a duel which ups the emotional ante of the episode that much more. As Kage watches in secret and much of the castle in the open, Bojji uses his wits and ability to read his opponent to systematically frustrate and stymie his brother. It’s not as though there’s much power – or malice – behind his strikes, but they impact with the full power of humiliation.

I have to say, Domas interjecting to tell Bojji to stop dodging was some serious bullshit. “Not the swordsmanship of a king”, my ass – what could possibly be wrong with using an opponent’s arrogance and impatience against them? This is a fantasy of course, and placed in what’s effectively a medieval setting, where brute force may be valued more in a king than guile. Domas basically ordering Bojji to get beaten by a pulp in order to keep up appearances is just a reflection of how messed up the world Bojji inhabits is – one of the king’s spears, Apeas, is horrified enough to step in and put a stop to it before Daida can permanently injure Bojji. But Domas is unrepentant in the face of what’s happened.

Screw Daida and his mother and their scheming for the throne, obviously – that’s the surface-level drama here. But the existential pain of Bojji is the real story. He’s smart – he knows what people say (and think) about him, and he’s not immune to agonizing over limitations that aren’t in any way his fault. He can only be who he is (and he’s doing a very good job of it), but his mother is dead and his father is dying (which may not be a natural occurrence, one speculates), and no one really understands him. How painful to live in such a world, especially for an empathetic and kind kid such as this.

No one, that is, except Kage – and that’s really the upshot of these first two episodes. Kage sees the real Bojji – both the one who cries tears of frustration as he tries to lift that sword, and the one who offers to give it to his friend to sell. I don’t know how Bojji understands Kage (maybe he can read claw-thingies as well as lips), but these two have a connection that bonds them against a hostile world that cares little for either of them. That’s the setting for a great dark fairy tale of I’ve ever heard one, and great dark fairy tales have historically made some of the best anime there is. Let’s just hope Wit is allowed to see this one through in the manner it deserves.


  1. i am one of those folks that wrote it off because it looked like a kid show which i did with Sakugan as well. After reading your intro though and the non spoiler parts of the review i will give it a shot like i did Sakugan as i am now loving that show (thanks for recommend).. struggling again to find good anime to watch.

  2. I like this show, but it’s such a ridiculous premise. Both his parents were giants, but he’s a midget. Were they like brother and sister or something?

    Another possibility that i just thought of is maybe he’s cursed and you know curses can be broken…

      1. That’s nice but it doesn’t amount to much in commercial terms (its member count is still way below most of the big series this season). What will really help Wit (who could use it) is if the manga sales take a sizable leap. I don’t expect the discs to sell and while I have (surprisingly) seem some merch, I think manga sales are going t0 be the key metric on this one.

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