Ranking of Kings has now wrapped up its run along with the rest of the offerings from the Winter 2022 anime schedule, and it's likely that more eyes will be drawn to it as the years roll on. Sosuke Toka's original manga series first made its anime adaptation debut last Fall, but steadily drew more attention over the course of its episodes. It's not hard to see why the series initially had trouble building an audience at first because one look at its art design and style would probably make you think it's a series meant for children.
But that's what makes Ranking of Kings such a success. It's naturally unassuming introduction belies the true depth and heart of the series as a whole. Much like how one would overlook its central character Prince Bojji on first glance, Ranking of Kings is not a series you want to miss out on. An epic adventure from start to finish, it's one of the most satisfying character journeys in some time. By the time the final episode rolls its credits, you'll be eagerly awaiting the next adventure from the new king of anime.
Ranking of Kings is the story of a young prince named Bojji. Born deaf and tiny in size, Bojji has spent his entire young life ridiculed by the kingdom around him. Living in the shadow of his father, the giant King Bosse, and younger brother, the more adept Prince Daida, Bojji tries his best to keep a positive outlook on life. After a chance meeting with a living shadow (and final survivor of the shadow clan) named Kage. The two become quick friends, and as a result, Bojji is motivated by this to fully pursue his real dream of becoming strong just like his father. The two support one another as they take on their toughest and darkest challenges yet.
It's a deviously simple introduction for the character that hides the true strength of the series as a whole. Soon some major wrinkles are introduced to the situation with demons, dark magic, assassinations, loyalties tested, and a hidden plot to destroy the kingdom to name a few. Bojji is caught in the center of it all, and while those around him dismiss him due to his disability, he's far from naive and is completely aware of what everyone really says about him during the entire process. It's why when he's eventually passed up for the role of king despite being the true successor, that the series kicks into high gear.
Ranking of Kings has a design style that makes it seem like it would be a series meant for younger children at first, but the episodes soon make it clear just how much depth there is to Bojji's adventures. It's a slow burn adventure, however, that really kicks into high gear with the second cour of the series. While the first half indeed has plenty of impressive moments, it's more a set up for the high-octane kind of action we get in the second half. The series takes its time developing the world around Bojji, and to flesh out what each character actually wants.
There are a few subjects that do tread a little close to comfort with thinner than expected allusions to political histories (such as the "traitorous" people of Miranjo's home country), and that might be a bit difficult to parse when critiquing the series' world building as a whole. Each episode adds a little more to each character or more about the overall world (such as what the "Ranking of Kings" title actually refers to), and even the more hard to digest elements of the series are in the service of providing a more fully realized character. You'll find yourself hating characters you liked at first, and loving some you'll never expect.
This is all punctuated by an incredible production from WIT Studio. Directed by Yosuke Hatta (who has previously directed for series such as One-Punch Man and Death Parade), the series is impressive from top to bottom. Those fairy tale, childlike designs move with an incredible fluidity and have a wide range of unique expressions that can only really come through in that design. That's especially important for Bojji as he mainly communicates through sign language, physical movement, and emotional intent. You know exactly what he's feeling and what he wants at all times.
Kage is really the only one in-universe that can understand Bojji much like the audience can. Thus the production, narrative, and emotional heart all wrap together to give a much fuller experience when it all settles. It allows for a much more personal connection to Bojji himself, and when he succeeds there's a palpable feeling of actual victory for the viewer. Then it's all punctuated by some of the most impressive action scenes that WIT Studio has ever produced. Bojji's small design allows for a unique physicality in the fights that's emphasized with characters that feel like they have a weighted presence.
The second half of the season is filled with this dynamic sense of action and choreography bleeding into the storyboarding. Those seemingly fairy tale designs pop once more as it allows for a simpler sense of movement that is layered with all kinds of intricacies that really stand out as the fights get grander. Which means you not only get en emotionally rich story full of evolving characters, but you eventually get the intense action as a pay off. It's a series that delivers upon its initial promise that its slow build will lead to a satisfying conclusion.
Ranking of Kings stands out as such a successful debut season that should it never get picked up for a follow up (which is possible considering WIT Studio's track record with follow up seasons in general), it has a conclusion that feels like the satisfying end of a journey. It's truly the start of Bojji's adventure, but it's also a fitting end. This is exceedingly rare in recent years, and now that it's complete, it's the kind of rarity fans won't want to miss out on.
Rating: 4 out 5
Ranking of Kings is now streaming on Crunchyroll.