「からみあう陰謀」 (Karamiau inbou)
I had some suspicion that Ousama Ranking was going to be altogether darker and more offbeat than it let on by appearances. And that was before I’d read the first few chapters of the manga. That said, I never expected it to be quite as grim thematically as it is. Comparisons have been drawn to Game of Thrones, and I certainly never would have called that in advance. I think that comparison only goes so far (Hilling and Daida are certainly no Cersei and Joffrey, for starters) but one can’t help be reminded at times.
The thing is, the more you learn about the backstory behind the manga (which moved up to #11 on the Oricon charts this week) the more intriguing it gets. Mangaka Sousuke Tooka wasn’t published until he was in his 40’s (Ousama Ranking is his first published manga), which is extraordinarily rare. He brings a different perspective than most mangaka because of that, and I think that’s reflected in the way Ousama Ranking (and its characters) are so difficult to pigeonhole. The world can often be a much subtler place when you’re in your 40s than when you’re in your 20s.
Game of Thrones, Made in Abyss – whatever you compare it to, this is a fascinating and complicated piece of work. If anything, the simplest and most straightforward aspect of the story is the friendship between Bojji and Kage – two children with very different approaches to the world. Kage was indeed the one who saved Bojji from the poisoned meat – and it wasn’t the only time he saved him. And he was acting on orders from Bebin, whose role in court politics and the ascension struggle remains quite mysterious. Kage was, in fact, hiding in Bojji’s knapsack all along – which certainly gave quite a start to the mulyak who stole it.
And a good thing too, since it was Kage who saved Bojji after Domas shoved him over the edge into the pits of Hell. This is a place Kage seems to know something about too, as he suggests they proceed down rather than up, so that Bojji can meet someone who can give him great power. Not before a tearful reunion, though, where Kage gets a first-hand reminder of just how much his friendship and loyalty means to Bojji. For someone in his position – surrounded by sycophants for most of his life, scorned by the people for his perceived deficiencies, and finally betrayed – loyalty is about the most precious thing imaginable for Bojji.
Much of the action, surprisingly, actually surrounds Daida. First, we get a flashback to his assigning Bojji’s assassination to Domas. He scorns the swordmaster for his disloyalty to Bojji in voting for Daida as king, but I think this is a very calculated move to goad Domas into doing the deed (others may interpret it differently – either way, it works). Then we see him venture into the seemingly endless warrens deep beneath the castle, magic mirror tucked under his arm, on his own downward journey in search of power. Apeas is not far behind him, interestingly enough…
That whole bit with the great hall full of frozen mythical beasts could easily have slipped right out of A Song of Ice and Fire, that’s for sure. The mirror has brought Daida here to drink a potion to transfer Bosse’s powers to him. It’s not exactly clear how this works, but it’s a helluva cocktail – Bosse’s frozen body goes into it, along with some kind of phoenix or other fantastical bird that’s hatched from an egg and then beheaded by two of the mirror’s servants. Once again we’re asked to decide how much sincerity to credit to Daida – this time for refusing to drink the potion. Was he genuinely honoring Bebin’s advice or was he simply grossed out by seeing how the sausage was made?
That remains to be seen, for now – and of course the fact that the members of this cast are complicated and drawn in shades of grey is one of the great draws of Ousama Ranking. Bojji and Kage do eventually make it to see someone who may be the King of the Underworld (though they’re unconscious at the time). His confirmation that Bojji is cursed (“a giant who’s had his power taken”) strongly reinforces my belief that Bosse traded his son’s future for his own power. More puzzling is his description of Kage as a shadow clan member “in altered form, who has met with divine disfavor”. I’m not even going to try and deconstruct that on the information we have so far.
Lastly, we have Domas. The fact that he’s tortured over what he did does little to redeem him in my eyes – he attempted to kill Bojji in order to gain power, plain and simple. Hokuro seems one of those few straightforward characters, and his horror over what’s happened is undeniably genuine. He attacks Domas surely knowing he can’t possibly be a match for him, which means he expects to die. In fact I think Domas is half-hoping he somehow dies in this skirmish, and in the end finishes what Hokuro has started and cuts off the hand that pushed Bojji to his doom (he thinks). The ultimate litmus test for Domas will be what he does – and how he feels – when he finds out that Prince Bojji is still alive.