「王様と太陽」 (Ousama to taiyou)
“The King and the Sun”
There are a few exceptions, but I’ve rarely felt so conflicted about a series at its conclusion. Even the finale itself is a bit hard to categorize, but it’s really the series itself – everything that built up to it – that’s the issue. Whatever my thoughts are now, figuring out where to place this show at the end of the year is going to be incredibly difficult. Some of that depends on what sort of year it is of course, but it would be true irrespective of that. I can say for certain that what once looked like a dark horse AotY candidate certainly isn’t going to be that.
I could pile on the finale but like I said, that was really just the symptom, not the illness. I’m not going to disagree with anyone hating on the first five minutes – as I assume any viewer with a grain of common sense will be doing. As for what came after I suspect a lot of people are going to be hating on that, too. But that’s more complicated for me. In some ways I was kind of OK with it actually (which I’m sure will be a minority opinion), at least in principle. But it doesn’t negate the damage that had been done.
I’ll at least say this much. I was close to bailing (or smashing my monitor) during those first five minutes. To go full Roger Ebert I hated that part. Hated hated hated hated hated it. But I knew it was coming – last week decided that. And I’ve got too much affection for Ousama Ranking to bail with 15 minutes left in the final episode (and I’m glad I didn’t). If the rest of that episode being OK (for me) doesn’t negate the damage the Miranjo arc did, that damage likewise doesn’t negate the good the series had done up to then. Even as recently as Episodes 19-21 it was really, really good. Seriously good, sometimes great. And that shit don’t grow on trees.
A lot of virtual ink has been spilled on the Miranjo debacle, not least by me. So there’s not much point in belaboring that point, but this was just wrong on so many levels. I mean, what right does Daida have to forgive Miranjo and pre-empt the right of all the innocents she wronged not to? And that “thumbs-up” from her murder victims – I threw up in my mouth a little. That was awful, all of it. The only redeeming element was that Daida didn’t quibble with surrendering the throne to Bojji (interesting that it was Doumas who suggested it). But that’s grasping at straws, honestly.
Things improved starting with the prime minister and justice minister showing up after having literally been in hiding while the shit was hitting the fan. There were good moments here – starting with Hilling (who has more self-awareness than anyone in the cast) admitting that she was the one who “stole” Bojji’s self-confidence. That she did it out of love is to be acknowledged, but she never believed in Bojji’s strength – only his kindness. Then we had Kage choosing to leave, which I’m sure will be met with some outrage. I kind of get it – I could see him feeling that an association with a socially poisonous figure like him would be bad for a new king trying to gain the trust of his people. I don’t think it was out of character.
Now, Bojji deciding to give the throne back to Daida and found his own kingdom? A controversial plot choice, I’m sure. I don’t hate it – not like the Miranjo trainwreck anyway. I’m not sure I agree with it, and I don’t know if Bojji would have done it if Kage had stuck around. But Bojji did quite clearly have more fun adventuring around than he did being king, so sure – if he wants to bail, I could see a kid his age doing that. That it sort of invalidates a lot of the plot development in the first 22 episodes is a problem, though. This was Bojji’s kingdom by rights, and his whole journey was, to an extent, about getting it back. And how does the whole #1 ranking thing (you know, the title) happen when the strongest isn’t actually a king?
That question is something Part II of the manga (which recently began) is going to have to address, I suppose. I have no idea whether it’s going to happen in anime form eventually – this series has done decently well commercially so it’s certainly possible (though not for a few years). If indeed we do get an anime continuation, it’s going to be a difficult prospect to assess. I’ll watch and cover, certainly – Ousama Ranking has already proved it can deliver the goods for extended stretches, and I adore Bojji and Kage and their Gon/Killua dynamic. But my expectations are certainly going to be tempered by the serious stumbles in the second cour.
Endings are important (I’ve said that before). How important is an endlessly fascinating question that defies easy answering. The greatness of the first cour (and some of the second) is what it is – the ending doesn’t change that. But the ending is what a lot of the post-airing conversation is going to be obsessing over, and that makes me sad. Wit did a wonderful job with this series, and so did first-time mangaka Touka Sousuke before he kind of lost the plot (literally). We shouldn’t forget that – at its best Ousama Ranking set a standard for for visual brilliance and storytelling that 2022 will be hard-pressed to beat.
When I think back on Ousama Ranking I’m going to try and see Bojji and his smiling face, Kage’s undying loyalty, Despa’s decency and wit, and Hilling’s fierce kindness rather than the unfortunate missteps of the final arc. Fortunately that’s not so hard to do, because the strengths of this series were formidable indeed. Work of this quality is not so common in anime that one can afford to toss it aside when things start to go awry. And my hope is that in the fullness of time, that will dictate how this series is remembered.