The last time I was this obsessed with an anime/manga, it was One Piece (http://onepieceofficial.com/). Anyways, let’s go over the manga first before touching on the anime.
Kingdom isn’t radically different from various properties that have come before. Names like Braveheart, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and any other medieval/war property you can think of pretty much prepare you for what this is about.
Kingdom takes place during the Warring States period in ancient China; the seven states of China are locked in a constant state of war. We are introduced to Xin and Piao (Piao is pronounced Hyou in Japanese), two child-slaves who wish to become the greatest generals under the heavens. Through happenstance, they meet someone with ties to the royal capital and we see a former slave try to work his way from the bottom rung of the military to the top.
It’s fun wandering through history.
There are many aspects of this title which drew me in. Firstly, the history. China’s warring states period is a lot like feudal Japan or the wild west in that it’s an often revisited and romanticized setting for fiction. Like in many other properties, Kingdom use of famous figures (e.g. the first emperor of China, famous generals, etc.) lends it some authenticity and intrigue. In my case, whenever a new character is introduced I would hurriedly go search the character on the internet to see if it was a real person. It’s a lot of fun reading about the real history of a character and trying to predict what the author is actually going to do with the character. It should be noted that the author takes extreme creative license with history, but I feel that that is a positive and adds the entertainment of the story.
Further, reading through Kingdom actually makes me feel like I’m learning something. I’ve never really had that much in interest in Chinese history, but after reading this I can say I’ve gained a great curiosity for it. Things like the politics and relationships between states in that period as well as the military tactics employed at that time. With that said, I’m sure many parts of Kingdom are fictionalized since the author took such creative license. Still entertaining though.
The battles are the best part, along with the art.
The battles are brutal here. Stabbed in the throat, cleaved in half, decapitated, eyes knocked out of the head, heads crushed, it is all drawn in impressive, brutal detail. I remember the first time I saw Braveheart (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112573/) uncensored. The sights and sounds of men dying had never been portrayed so brutally. It was an impressive cinematic feat. The same is true for Kingdom. The violence is brutal and only adds to the visceral nature of the manga.
The character design is also… interesting. Sometimes it leads something to be desired. Other times, it perfectly portrays how large and frightening some of the characters are. These great generals are meant to be larger than life, and the art perfectly portrays that.
The story isn’t bad, but it is a war story so it is mostly action anyways.
As for the parts that are not related to warfare, they are surprisingly inspired by actual historical records. The part involving harems and affairs and the King’s origins, all of that was actually part of the historical record where all this comes from (the Shiji). I’d like to give the author credit, but he merely elaborated and embellished a little what was actually written. Once again, real life can be stranger than fiction… or at least inspire fiction.
In regards to the action parts, they are amazing. My favorite types of story is the one where an individual stands against overwhelming odds and overcomes them. There are many such stories here. The protagonist, Xin, is a looked down upon former slave. Over and over again he must overcome obstacles in order to realize his dream of being a great general. It’s awe inspiring at times and there were many times where I choked up watching him stand against overwhelming odds.
And… the anime, sigh.
All that needs to be said about the anime is that the first season is pretty crap. It is only appealing if you like bad looking computer generated images. In the second season however, the producers probably realized how nasty the computer generated models looked and went back to hand drawn models. Computer generated art is only used in the background while hand drawn art is used in the foreground, where the viewers’ attention is centered. It works a lot better and, as a result, the second season is infinitely more watchable. Accordingly, I hated season one because of the art, enjoyed season two somewhat, and am curious about the upcoming season three. A lot of the violence is also censored in the anime, which sucks since the violence of war is a big part of this story.
Watching the anime is unecessary. READ THE MANGA. Kingdom is currently my favorite manga right now. There is no other manga out there right now which I have enjoyed as much as this. The only people I would not recommend it to are people who are squeamish and hate action.
Score: 9/10 This score only applies to the manga. The anime gets a 3.4/10.