What They Say:
One year has passed since Xin and his allies successfully returned Zheng to his place on the throne. Now, the Kingdom of Qin must turn its attention to a larger battlefield and a loftier goal—uniting all of China under one ruler.
With a scrappy squadron of 300 men at his command, Xin begins to rank up achievements on the battlefield as he gets another step closer to becoming the world’s greatest general – but he’s not the only one. As the war between the Kingdoms of Qin and Wei intensifies, he meets two other young squad commanders whose skills rival his own.
While Xin struggles to stay one step ahead of the competition, Zheng begins fighting his own war against political enemies who’ve appeared within the castle walls. Will the young King be able to keep hold of his throne, or is history doomed to repeat itself? Find out in season two of Kingdom!
Contains episodes 1-39 of season 2
The audio presentation for this series is solid enough for what it has to get done, but I’ll admit to being spoiled by a whole lot of lossless tracks these days. The release comes with the original Japanese language track and the new English language adaptation, both of which are presented in stereo encoded at 192kbps. This is fairly standard level encoding but the show is one that feels like it could definitely elevate a good bit with a lossless presentation with all the action. And there is a lot of action, a lot of yelling, and plenty of sound effects that brings it all to life in a good way. This is also well balanced by a solid dialogue side of things when it comes to matters of court or just the downtime for the soldiers. The release captures everything well enough and it’s certainly not a bad mix with what they do, but it just feels like it lacks some of the impact that it should have. Everything is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013 and 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirty-nine episode series is spread across six discs with seven episodes per disc while the final disc has the final four episodes. Animated by Pierrot, the show works a really good blend of CG and regular animation here to achieve its goals. My first impression of the CG style didn’t’ do much for me but as the show progressed and I saw how it was used I ended up coming away really appreciating it more and finding it to be ideal for this kind of series. There’s a good bit of detail to the designs and coloring style that’s well conveyed here and the fluidity level, while having that digital/cg side to it, works well overall. There’s a more muted approach to the show in general with its color tones but this just makes the more colorful elements stand out more and it works well. Everything has a good look about it for a standard definition release and I imagine most fans will be pretty pleased by the end result as there’s no real issues to be had here.
The packaging design for this release doesn’t scream cheap but it does have the kind of feeling that a lot of oversized boxes like this have when paired with simple design elements. The front cover goes with a blue order to frame everything with the yellow overlay that gives it an old school look that’s appropriate for it but it lacks enough pop to really grab your attention. Within it we get the four main characters from the Qin side with serious looks about them that are solid looking and with some good detail to them, but it all just feels a bit muted overall. The back cover goes for a flat blue background where the left side runs with lots of text to break down the premise while the right has a food strip of shots from the show that are bigger than usual, giving you a better idea of what’s inside. The technical side is kept small and simple, and hard to read with yellow on blue with a small font like this, but it works reasonably well overall. The release does have artwork on the reverse side which uses the same framing but by not having the logo to it they’re able to use larger character pieces that catch your eye more and stand out better overall. There are no show related inserts included with this release.
The menu design for this release goes for a very simple approach with the same design used across all the discs but with different character artwork pieces swapped out. The central design is that of some of the landscape for the background that we can see only around the edges while the middle has the classic Chinese style ornate design with the use of reds and yellows to define it all. The logo is kept to a good size and the navigation is simple with little here besides the show and the language options. The character artwork choices are solid enough as they give us a look at the main cast across the six discs and it provides for a little more color and diversity in the overall design. Navigation is simple and easy, though this is exactly the kind of release that I wish had a marathon play option provided for it.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name from Yasuhisa Hara, Kingdom is a thirty-nine episode second season that digs deep into that massive manga series. With forty-one volumes out now, there’s plenty to work with. This set follows up the first season that ran for thirty-eight episodes in 2012 and 2013, which I unfortunately did not get to see. So I was definitely curious going into this season how easy it would be to get into it after missing out on that much material. While there are likely connective elements that went over my head, the show is certainly far more accessible than I thought it would be and it proved to be thoroughly engaging. That said, when talking about this amount of material it can be a difficult thing. You can either end up working through pages upon pages of material about it and what goes on, what works and what doesn’t work, or it can be too simplistic and unable to convey whether it would be of interest. In a lot of ways, this is a series that really does work better in the episodic breakdown format since there is a lot going on.
Kingdom does work in a lot of familiar territory and those that enjoy the historical genre in general will find a lot to like here. A lot of my impressions from it had me reminiscing at times about Berserk with its TV series and how that operated in terms of strategy and the military side of it. At the same time, there are a lot of things in here that brought Akira Kurosawa to mind, particularly with Ran when it comes to the action sequences themselves. The story of unification of the Middle Kingdom is one that has been told a million times in a million different ways, yet they all find something to bring out that can make them engaging. I’ll admit that I do struggle with Middle Kingdom stories for the most part as it’s an area I’m not terribly familiar with and it all just feels weirdly distant considering my overall minimal knowledge of Chinese history. But the show is one that keeps itself focused more on the commanders and strategy, making it far more accessible than it might be otherwise.
This series largely works along two tracks in the tale it wants to tell. The smaller of the two in terms of time spent is also one that is hugely critical. This is the one that intrigues me the most because it is all about politics and intrigue of the time as we follow Zheng’s story as the new king of Qin and his goals of unifying the seven kingdoms. His position is tenuous for a whole host of reasons that are covered more in the first season, though we get some flashback material here that shows the journey that brought him to Qin. Within his story here we see his main opposition in Lu Buwei who is using the tried and true slow but steady method of amassing power and influence in order to climb the ranks of power. He’s not exactly subtle about it but he’s also aware that the things he does keeps him from being taken down because it’s all within the rules of the day. This keeps Zheng from doing anything while trying to hold onto the power he has. The problem is that holding onto power is hard, especially when you need to be expanding it as well.
Zheng’s storyline is one that I understand why it gets less attention and interest as the matters of court don’t always make for great television. But I like what we get here as he attempts to navigate the dangers with those advisors that are on his side. Dealing with power players from other kingdoms, forging alliances while being wary of the new partners, organizing what’s going on with the greater war and then dealing with other elements such as his mother and courtesans that are sent to comfort him provides for a range of stories to work with. Zheng’s material probably accounts for about a third of this season of episodes but it’s almost done as bookends, and with the bulk of it early on so that the second and more engaging storyline can take precedence.
Xin, commander of the three-hundred man Fei Xin Force, is the up and coming young man of simple background that has strong ties to Zheng. Xin knows what it is that Zheng wants to do, though it takes time before they really come to the same page in the same way, albeit with different overall intentions. Xin has all the hallmarks of a young commander with the whole peasant look and running an independent group that doesn’t fall into the usual line with the tight formations, uniforms, and all the other trappings. They’re not exactly a guerilla force in a sense as they do work within the standard tactics of the time, but they’re not behold to military orthodoxy as established by the big generals of the day. Some of this comes from the fact that those legendary generals are falling away from age and there are only a few left and they’re looking to make one more imprint on history. What this does is open up the stage to this whole new generation and Xin is intent on having a huge impact on history through his actions.
Xin’s story is expansive here and it’s one that really needs to be dug into in individual episode breakdowns because he goes through some solid growth here. A lot of this comes from the others that he ends up aligning with, sometimes simply because they’re commanders from Qin of similarly sized groups as well. Xin has that inexperienced aspect about him that serves him well because his natural instincts are strong and that unpredictability is what helps give him an edge. But he’s also a commander that has some very solid people behind him assisting with strategy – though not all of them survive this leg of the journey. The support side of every commander is what truly makes or breaks a leader and Xin gets most of this explored here, to the detriment of other commanders as they’re more singular in their presence and that serves to undercut them. But for following Xin, who is our main lead character, it’s no surprise. Those he goes against in full are huge personalities and his scrappy ways certainly play well since he’s so well supported.
What drives Kingdom beyond the core characters and the wide, wide, range of supporting characters that gives it color is the action element. I’ve long been a fan of the whole strategy side of things and the movements of war like this, whether it be galactic conquest stories or these historical pieces. Kingdom works it very well with what they do here thanks to the CG use in being able to field these large armies. Those movements are great to give it the right kind of scale and feeling as it zooms in on the more personal sides of it all with the commanders and named characters, but it also keeps a lot of this action in the background during these elements. Rather than providing for the focus on two core characters going at it, it uses the range of soldiers in the background fighting or cheering on in order to give it a larger and richer feeling. There are some beautiful sequences here where this works because it feels like the rest of the encounter doesn’t fall away or stop because it’s focusing on Xin or someone else. Though we don’t see bodies falling in the background, just the movement of ti all does a lot to keep it all flowing well. The animation and design team for this side of the series really go all out and there is such a labor of love kind of feeling behind it all that it just makes it all the more impressive. Kingdom puts it all out there and their use of CG and coloring that they use here is spot on the best way to do it, particularly in this historical context. These kinds of shows have come a hugely long way from what we saw done like this a decade ago.
With thirty-nine episodes and having missed out on the first season, I was both wary and excited for this season of Kingdom. The series hits a lot of areas that I thoroughly enjoy, though perhaps not as much of it as I would want. The main focus is on the side of war itself with Xin and his troops as well as other battles and skirmishes that exist, and it excels at working the nature of these stories with the sprawl and strategy with the cast that it has. This set is a pretty solid offering all around with what it does, though I dislike that we don’t get a formal English language cast list with it. And it would really benefit from marathon play. But if you’re just digging into the show itself, regardless of language, there is an immense amount of material and world building going on here that just delights. There’s a reason that the manga sells so well and that this series generated two seasons of exceptional length. And that reason is because it’s damn good.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: March 8th, 2016
Running Time: 975 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.