「新しい国王」 (Atarashī kokuou)
This is a real work of art, no question about it. It’s a first-rate production both technically and aesthetically in every way – the backgrounds, the cinematography, the music. As much or more, though, what really blows me away about these first three episodes is the amount of emotional punch they pack. I haven’t gotten these sorts of feels from characters I barely know in a long time. This is a magical show, no question about it, and not just in the narrative. When I keep checking the slider and hoping there’s more time left than there is, that’s a very good sign.
The first major development in a very story-heavy episode is that someone (I suspected the obvious candidate and that was who it proved to be) comes in and casts healing magic on Bojji. Kage secretly witnesses this, but is later confronted and captured by Bebin (the snake guy). Bebin is legitimately convinced that Kage is there to assassinate someone, so from his viewpoint his actions make sense – but then, he doesn’t know Kage like we know him. The little shadow soon winds up hanging from a hook in the dungeon.
King Bosse left the scene sooner than I anticipated, and his death sets what seem to be the main gears of the plot into motion. He’s left a will of course – and in it, he declares that Bojji will be the next king. Daida is naturally horrified by this, but everyone is horrified when a huge demon creature emerges as smoke from the king’s body and takes form, then proceeds to point at Bojji and laugh- well, demonically. What exactly that was all about is in no way made clear, but I have my own ideas on the subject…
Daida, as it turns out, is being advised (controlled) by a magic mirror – a classic fairy tale motif if ever there was one. She (it speaks with a female voice, anyway, and it’s no less than Sakamoto Maaya) informs Daida that “all is going according to my plan”, and that he’ll be the next king. That suggests it was behind the demon creature, but it’s too early to say for sure. In any event Queen Hilling orchestrates the choosing of Daida over Bojji against Bosse’s wishes, literally tearing up his will. Only two at the table vote for Bojji – Apeas the King’s Spear, and Sandeo.
If there’s a fairy tale trope as classic as the magic mirror, it’s the wicked stepmother. And Hilling seems for all the world to fit the bill perfectly. There’s only one problem – she’s not wicked at all. In flashback we see the truth – she loves Bojji as if he were her own son. He resisted her emotional advances when she arrived at the castle, still wounded over losing his mother. But Hilling kept plugging away, and eventually she finally does win him over – by healing the snake she kicked after it bit Bojji when he was trying to render it medical assistance. Yes, it’s the Queen who healed Bojji earlier – and she’ll soon be called upon to do so again.
These flashback scenes are heart-rendingly effective. But they do beg the question – why is Hilling moving to deny Bojji the throne when she clearly loves him? My assumption is that she simply loves him a little too much – and she assumed because of how special he is, and how kind, that being king would destroy him. Bojji is a lot tougher and smarter than most credit him for, apparently including Hilling, but I love that she turns the wicked stepmother trope totally on its head. She most certainly isn’t evil, but she is overprotective.
I think Ousama Ranking is teaching us in these early episodes not to trust our assumptions about any of these people, from Bojji on down. That’s why I’m not definitively concluding anything even on Daida yet, though he’s clearly playing the role of villain for now. He orders Apeas and Sandeo assassinated for voting against him (which he shouldn’t know, theoretically) and is clearly considering eliminating his brother too. How much of these is the mirror’s influence, that’s the question. As for Bebin he apparently dies in the attempt to kill Apeas – who swears to see Bojji sit on the throne – but I suspect we haven’t seen the last of him yet.
As for Bojji (his tears cut through me like a knife through butter) he’s furious and dismayed at the betrayal of his father’s wishes. And at Kage’s absence, too – and Kage has cut through his own body to free himself, only to be caught by Bebin again. Bebin passes along a message that Kage is leaving on a journey and will never see him again – which of course Bojji won’t take lying down. He goes to see Mitsumata – now a monstrous two-headed snake but apparently the small one Bojji saved and Hilling healed – and Mitsumata (who reports to Bebin) tells him that Kage is indeed safe, and on a mission for Bebin. Hmmm.
There’s still more – like Bojji determining to leave on a journey to find his friend and Hilling refusing to let him go, which eventually leads to Bojji trying to escape his tower on bedsheets (not nearly long enough) with disastrous results. All this healing seems to take a lot out of the Queen, permanently or not I don’t know. She eventually agrees to let Bojji go on a trip to see her parents, accompanied by Domas and a soldier, Hokuro (Yamashita Daiki), who knows sign language. All this seems to harden Daida’s feelings even further, and the queen isn’t the only one sensing ominous portents on the wind.
Well, that’s a lot to write about a third episode – but there was a lot of ground to cover here. This is a fascinating premise to be sure, full of intrigue, with an absolutely irresistible hero at its center. For all the plot development I love the small moments of wistfulness, like seeing Bojji’s mind wander as he tries to process everything that’s happened. He’s a very special little boy, even more so than those who know him realize, and this is a very special series.