「夢のいけにえ」 (Yume no ike ni e)
“The Sacrifice of Dreams”
It’s always a good acid test for a series when it has to sustain narrative momentum without the main characters present. Togashi is a master of this of course, though hardly alone. And I doubt Bojji and Kage will be away from the spotlight for all that long. Nevertheless this was an episode that represented quite a shift both in tone and content. Fortunately the cast of Ousama Ranking is so packed with conflicted and fascinating oddballs that it was just fine, thank you very much. And the mythology just gets deeper and deeper.
In point of fact much of this episode takes place in the past. In the process it artfully reveals enough detail to pique our interest yet further, without settling too many open questions. As I’ve noted already what really makes this show special is the fact that no one is as they appear – or perhaps more accurately, no one is only as they appear. Over and over I find myself feeling sympathy and revulsion towards the same character at the same time. There’s definitely something of A Song of Ice and Fire here – the good version, the novels and the TV series before it jumped the shark.
Of all this opaque people, the most crucial of course is King Bosse himself. I wavered several times this episode about just what to think of him. It’s now 100% clear that he knowingly entered into a deal with a demon to sell the life of his child (or at least his strength – and hearing) in return for being made the strongest man alive. This was interesting in itself – then demon tells Bosse (with Miranjo translating) that it can’t give him power out of nowhere – it has to be stolen from a blood relative. And since Bosse doesn’t have any of those, he has to make one – literally. And that’s where Bojji’s mama comes into the picture.
Say what you will about Bosse needing to be stronger to defeat the hordes of ogres – what he did here was naughty as hell (and morally indefensible). It seems clear he later regretted it, but so what? I don’t think that mitigates his crime. Yes, there’s something of Dororo in this premise, but it actually goes back a lot farther than that. What Tooka Sousuke (there’s a fascinating interview with him out this week where he says his parents still don’t know he quite being a salaryman to draw manga) is doing here is plumbing the depths of fairy tale tropes – the magic mirror, the wicked stepmother, et al – and turning them on their heads.
What we still don’t know that seems crucial to all these mysteries is just who or what Miranjo is. Once a seemingly normal human, now stuck in a mirror, always seemingly behind Bosse, pulling his strings. If there’s a “root of all evil” figure in Ousama Ranking it seems to be Miranjo. The question is, to what extent was Bosse complicit in having himself brought back – thus sacrificing a second son – and in Miranjo’s plans going forward? These scenes with Bosse-Daida can be interpreted in multiple ways. Miranjo’s latest move is to order the assassination of Queen Hilling – and Bosse agrees. But I’m not so sure.
What the mirror showed the king – that Bojji was now the strongest man alive – may have changed his mindset. He takes out one of the magical beasts Miranjo plans to use to murder Hilling in the name of “testing” them. He attacks Dorsche (Hilling’s personal bodyguard) but doesn’t injure him. Is he trying to undermine Miranjo’s plans without tipping her off? She’s certainly suspicious that he keeps whispering orders to people. Perhaps seeing the son he loves advancing so quickly has encouraged him to stop defying death and leave the fight to the next generation.
One of those people being whispered to is Domas, who’s come back to the castle to try and rescue Hokuro. He’s about to be executed by Hilling – exactly what Domas predicted would happen if Hokuro returned to tell her what happened to Bojji. Domas is another of those characters I feel little sympathy for – “just following orders” is not a credible defense – but he is clearly broken up over what he’s done. Once Bosse realizes who Domas is (and Domas has realized who “Daida” really is, too) he gives him a secret order – to destroy the gate to the underworld beneath the castle. Yet another act that could be interpreted in multiple different ways.
As for the next generation, Daida isn’t dead at least – or if he is, his soul is trapped somewhere dark and deserted. Another character I feel conflicted feelings about – he ordered Bojji killed, albeit under Miranjo’s aegis, but this seems a very cruel fate indeed. As for Bojji, we see almost none of him but apparently Death-par works pretty damn fast. We still don’t know what weapon he’s using to level up so quickly (and neither does Kage), but Miranjo herself says he’s now the strongest so whatever this training is, it seems to be working a treat.