Kingdom 4 – 19 – Lost in Anime

Kingdom being spectacularly good isn’t a surprise at this point.  This arc and season have delivered since day one, but over the vast majority of its length this series has been truly excellent.  Thank goodness it’s as popular as it is in Japan because that’s the reason we keep seeing new seasons of the anime, but the way Haikyuu!! was royally screwed by Shueishia and Toho this week is a reminder to never take that for granted.  If a series that’s sold 55 million volumes and redefined the commercial potential for sports shounen can get stiffed on a full and proper adaptation, who’s truly safe?  Maybe Kingdom is lucky in not being an international property – it’s just right level of huge to get a modestly-budgeted TV anime, and leave the rest to live-action movies.

What we’re seeing on Kingdom right now is just great drama, plain and simple.  Principally great character drama, driven by huge personalities with huge egos.  Lu Buwei’s ego is, arguably, the prime mover of more plot in Kingdom than anything else.  But my tagline last week – “the gloves are off” – pretty much tells the tale.  The public facade Lu has kept up is finally sloughed off, and the truth is out there for all to see.  He’s a traitor as purely as it’s possible for a traitor to be, literally throwing open the gates to his country to an invading army – one which he’s raised himself.  Oh, and he’s also out to murder the king’s wife and children.

I’ve been musing on Lord Changping’s wild card status for a while, and now that too is out in the open.  The truth behind the message to Diao is revealed – knowing it would likely be intercepted by one of Lu’s men, he coded the message and trusted Diao to figure it out.  But wait, Xin protests – that doesn’t make sense for one of Lu Buwei’s “Four Pillars”.  Unless, of course, Lord Changping is turning his coat.  It turns out there are lines Changing is unwilling to cross, and I guess infanticide and open rebellion are among them.  There were signs of this during the coalition invasion too, truth be told – Changping was clearly uncomfortable with some of Lu Buwei’s strategizing as Xianyang came perilously close to falling.

Lu’s public response to this is, as you would expect, unflappable.  His balls are as big as all outdoors, no matter the situation, and he professes that he always knew Changping would leave his side one day,  That comes after a very tense showdown, though, where Lu Buwei does betray surprise and anger, however briefly.  And it prompts a speech where he basically declares to all assembled that the time for artifice is past – he intends to make this country his own, and no one has the wherewithal to stand against him.  He’ll “conquer all under Heaven” – the domain of a king, surely.  I might wonder how the remaining three pillars might feel about being publicly dismissed as “mere ornaments”, though…

The question remains – has Changping been able to do enough to stem the rebellion?  His defection is a major coup, but as he notes to Changwen after both have left the coronation hall to return home, none of it matters if Lu Buwei’s rebels are successful in their aim.  Which is, of course, to sack the city and murder Zheng’s wife and (especially) children.  Changping has left behind his Imperial Guard (if we’ve seen them I’ve forgotten it), a fearsome but small unit who provide some resistance to the Ai forces who’ve entered through the gate Lu’s traitors opened.  But they soon open another and even more invaders stream in, with their sinister goal clear in mind.

What of the Fei Xin force?  They’re as strong as ever but badly outnumbered.  It helps (sad but true) that Rongdi and his troops are only interested in revenge slaughtering the elderly, women, and children.  But Fan Wuji still has plenty of men, and Diao makes it absolutely clear to Xin what happened in Tunliu – arriving too late to save a member of Zheng’s family – is not an option here.  Once Zheng’s children are taken out there’s effectively nothing standing between Lu Buwei and a formal usurpation of the throne.

Perhaps Lu Buwei has unleashed more than he realized here, but fundamentally everyone involved, from Ai’s royal family on down, have been tools in his master plan.  It does strike me as odd that, knowing what was about to go down, Zheng didn’t secretly move his family somewhere out of harm’s way.  Was it pride, or a fear of looking weak?  Whatever the reason, it now falls to Xin to snatch them from the jaws of death.  And while there’s obviously no one else Zheng would sooner trust with that mission, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against Xin here.  This is the culmination of his brotherly bond with Zheng, what everything has been building up to for four seasons, and it’s a good thing Xin is someone who likes to do the seemingly impossible because he’ll need to here.