Oh lord, so many names.
Better late than never, Kingdom returns for its fifth season. This show has the worst luck with timing, and this time around it was the Noto earthquake causing a week’s delay (which beats an entire year as a result of the pandemic). I love it a lot – it’s been a part of the LiA experience for better than a decade now – but Kingdom certainly makes me earn my stripes. All those names to keep track of, the subbed version never matching the soundtrack. And there’s more of them every year, as this is an epic in every sense of the word.
Still, I very much appreciate what this franchise does and the way it goes about its business. The manga is in the top 20 all-time in volume sales, and while there was one long gap between seasons the anime has generally proceeded at a steady pace, with announcements at the close of affairs. It’s a no-bullshit series with a no-bullshit adaptation, Pierrot to a T – no fancy visuals but a keen understanding of why the property it’s adapting is successful.
So, as we remember, Yu Buwei has finally been defeated – the headline of Season 4 and arguably of the entire series so far. His fate has never been directly addressed on screen – it makes sense to think he’s been executed but officially that’s undetermined. The other big news at the end of last season was that Chu was in turmoil, their king dead and a succession battle resulting in the assassination of their powerful chancellor Chunshen. But they’ve apparently got their house in order quickly, with Wa Lin stepping in as chancellor (a female chancellor in that day and age is extremely unusual). This prompts Changping to table his plans to invade Chu for the moment, in order to observe how events unfold under new management in Chu.
Instead, the Fei Xin Force is sent to Heiyong, a vast forested region, to do battle with the forces of Zhao. Li Mu was quiet in Season 4 and he’s not directly involved here, but he does send his top tactician Qing She to lead the defense. As for Qin, the Fei Xin’s 8000-man force are to rendezvous with Huan Yi’s 50,000 strong. Huan Yi is a rival for eventual great general status of course, but even more he’s a ruthless savage. His way of waging war is irreconcilable with Xin’s, and it’s a good reminder that the notion of good guys and bad guys doesn’t really hold with Kingdom.
This is an uneasy alliance to say the least. Huan Yi is the ranking general so of course Xin has to obey his orders, but Huan Yi is hardly diplomatic in the way he goes about things. He calls Xin naive and his army childish for the way they fight. His camp is full of prostitutes and he executes an officer exchange without Xin’s knowledge. His tactician at least is keen enough to realize that Diao is smart and should be listened to, and of course this is a general whose track record is one smashing success after another. He may be evil, but Xin has to respect that he’s also brilliant.
With the battlefield a dense forest and no castles to storm, the key to victory will be the five hills peppering the forest. Huan Yi’s plan is to establish a front on the enemy side of the central hill, thus allowing his army to secure the three hills behind it with minimal resistance. He assigns the Fei Xin the right flank – an extremely dangerous mission but also a critical one with ample opportunity for glory. But Diao is caught out for a change, and the enemy has already seeded an elite guerilla force on the Qin side of the central hill. Things aren’t looking good with Xin surrounded by the enemy and no reinforcements anywhere in sight. But Qian Lei’s scout squad is rarely in sight…
Sunrise in the East, taxes, Gyomu Super favorite items disappearing from the shelves. Some things you can always depend on, and Kingdom is one of them. The series will continue to produce gripping drama and fascinating tactical battles, Pierrot will continue to deliver them with minimal fanfare and even more minimal missteps, and the series will continue to draw very little interest in English (even here). That’s just how it is and I’ve accepted it for what it is – I’m just glad to have this old friend back to fight for another place in the year-end lists.