A couple weeks ago, I finished watching the incredible first season of “Severance.” It was a show whose popularity seemed to gather momentum as it went along. After the 6th episode, I felt like everyone was raving about it on social media. And rightly so! It was fantastic! But when you love a show enough, there’s this moment right after a season ends where you can anticipate a kind of emotional come-down as all the excitement and adrenaline drains away.
Unless: you find another great show to watch right afterwards.
For me, that show was “Ranking of Kings,” which I discovered on the anime streaming service Crunchyroll. I don’t watch a ton of anime, but I watch enough that I pay for a whole other subscription service. So I have a general familiarity with a lot of the big shows, even if I haven’t watched them. I’d never heard of “Ranking of Kings” before, but when I opened the app, it was featured prominently, and it made me pause. Compared to the hyper-maximalist style of most anime shows, the art looked…simple. And sweet.
I watched the first episode and was charmed enough to want to keep going. After the second episode, I was hooked. Lindsey and I binged the rest of the season. Since finishing, it’s become my mission to talk to anyone I can about “Ranking of Kings.”
Before I go further, if you’re dismayed at the idea of having to pay for a new service to watch this show I’m about to recommend, you can sign up for a free Crunchyroll trial. It lasts 14 days, and if your reaction to the show is anything like mine, you’ll watch the whole season with a few days to spare.
“Ranking of Kings” is a fantasy show that centers around a little prince named Bojji. He’s extremely sweet-natured and small for his age. He’s deaf, and he can vocalize but can’t form words. His personality combined with his disability leads most of the people in the kingdom to assume that he’s stupid, and can’t understand them, but in fact, he can read lips, and knows what everyone says about him. Still, he maintains his sweet demeanor and tries not to let on that he’s almost always hurting, and deeply lonely.
ARE YOU IN LOVE WITH BOJJI YET?!?
In my research, I’ve discovered the Crunchyroll Anime Awards, and this year, Bojji won the award for “Best Boy.” I am delighted that this is a category that exists, and relieved that Bojji won, because he is indeed the best boy, and all you want to do is root for him.
“Ranking of Kings” isn’t a show for children, though. It feels like someone took the beloved animated miniseries “Over the Garden Wall” and stirred in a dollop of “Game of Thrones.” There’s murder, demons, and violence. I think older kids could probably handle it without issue, but there are a couple of very dark moments.
An aside: "Game of Thrones" comes to mind for a few reasons. Besides the fantasy setting and the palace intrigue, I couldn't help but think of Tyrion Lannister, and the cruel childhood he'd endured. Like Tyrion, Bojji has an accomplished brother, and comparison between the two of them hangs over their heads. And I think about that line from Tyrion (which may have been him speaking for George R. R. Martin himself) when he said, "I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, and bastards, and broken things." He was talking about Bran Stark, but he knew he was seen as a 'broken thing' himself by the rest of the world. "Ranking of Kings" is very tender towards Bojji, despite the cruelty he endures, and that keeps the show buoyant.
Besides Bojji, the other characters in the show are compelling, complex, and surprising. Some of them initially seem like they’re playing fairy tale tropes, but every character turns out to have morally complicated motivations for what they want, and by the end, it’s hard to see anyone as purely a villain.
Watching this show felt like stumbling upon a box of cookies you didn’t know you had in the pantry. Each bite feels like a treat, and you rush through them, despite knowing they’ll be gone soon. Hmm. Maybe this paragraph says more about me and cookies than anything about this show or what your reaction to it will be. Still–watch “Ranking of Kings” if you want to enjoy an underdog story set in a fascinating, mysterious world that unfolds its secrets slowly, throughout the entire season.
And then come to one of my concerts in May so we can talk about this show! Here’s where I’ll be, singing songs and telling stories with my dear friend and collaborator, Jenny Owen Youngs:
Hope to see you!
Your best boy,