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June 29, 2012 / Bradley

In the Shounen Heart, Just About to Burst: Kingdom 1-4

Oh hello new anime season. Does ANN know you’re here yet? No? Kingdom just decided to drop in about five weeks earlier than anything else? Well all right then, come in and have a seat, let’s take a look at you.

I had Kingdom mentally bookmarked from the day cowboybimbop first released his Summer 2012 chart. A new shounen series from Toei based on a long-running manga that has topped the bestseller charts in Japan for about three years running sounded promising, and it looked to be a mix of several of my favorite things: medieval China, shounen adventure, and historical fiction. Now if you’ve ever read any review ever, you should be familiar with the writing cliche of talking about how promising something is just to set-up the disappointment of its actuality. You don’t even need to finish an intro paragraph that starts that way, because you know how it’s going to end. I’m honestly surprised you even made it this far. And you know what else is routine? Kingdom.

There is one thing that makes it stand out, but it’s not flattering. The series uses a combination of cell shaded CG animation, and the more familiar digital animation that most anime today is made with, and the two mix poorly. Now, this happens all the time in anime, because CG is generally cheaper and easier to use, but it’s normally reserved for buildings, robots, and anything else that’s mechanical, structural, or artificial. Kingdom uses CG to animate its characters, and it looks awful. The characters are a stiff mess of polygons that glide on their X-Y-Z axis with the grace of a stuffed duck. It’s animation that was wince-worthy in 2003, making it an active distraction in 2012. You could lose track of Kingdom‘s simple story by staring agape at just how bad the animation looks. There were probably very practical reasons for deciding to use CG for this series. A lot of the appeal of stories from medieval China is about its huge scale: armies that number in the millions; interior courts that stretch for hundreds of yards, packed end to end with bowing sages; massive landscapes. It’s more difficult and expensive to match that scale in traditional, hand drawn animation, so instead, the always industrious and workmanlike Toei decide it’s finally time to make a CG series. But bizarrely enough, they don’t commit to it. Some scenes are made in the more traditional, hand-drawn animation we’re used to, usually when characters have to physically interact with each other. It’s a relief when that comes up, because the uncanny valley is so strong in the CG, but the randomness by which it pops up counteracts any feelings of relief with confusion.

Even if there was a good story buried under the messy animation, you’d be forgiven for missing it. But what we get is a dry riff of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, packed end-to-end with reliable shounen cliches. It makes fairly effective use of cliffhangers, crazy villains and passionate speeches, but it’s almost cynical in how heavily it relies on the oldest pillars of pulp. For short stretches, I would enjoyed it as the simple children’s cartoon it’s clearly intended to be, before running into a second problem: there is no plot point or motivation it will not explain, thrice over. So what should be a streamlined, sleek plot built on decades of knowledge of what makes for a good serial feels clogged and sluggish. This is a top to bottom disaster.

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One Comment

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  1. r042 / Jun 29 2012 2:09 pm

    This is the one with that art that looks like Inazuma 11/Dendoh isn’t it? A shame it’s rubbish, I admit I was semi tempted what with Aquarion and Mouretsu Pirates finishing…

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