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A Historical War Epic – Kingdom Manga Review

I can’t believe I put off reading this for so long. The combination of cover art and story summary (which by the way, does not do the manga justice. But then again, which summary does?) just dissuaded me for some reason. I wasn't really into olden time war plots, because there’s the stigma of them being overtly factual and dry. Furthermore, war talk and strategies can get pretty intellectual. I’m not the smartest crayon in the box so these things scare me.
But I was wrong (I’m always wrong). This manga is err-mazing.

Of course, such as with all my other reviews, we gotta start with the summary:
Having debuted in 2006, Kingdom (キングダム) is an ongoing seinen (?) manga by Yasuhisa Hara. The plot is loosely based on the Warring States period in China during the approximate starting period of 475 BC.
The story begins with Shin and Piao, two child war orphans working as servants in a village in the state of Qin. They dream of becoming Great Generals of the Heavens (basically a flowery oriental way of saying ‘the greatest generals on earth’) but Piao dies shortly due to being recruited as the king’s body double and being wrongfully assassinated in the process.
Overcome by grief, Shin intended to kill the king (named Sei) upon meeting him but was deterred by his offer: protect me and fight alongside me, and I will help you achieve your dream. Hence, Shin decides to live and carry on Piao’s will too. But Sei harbours an even more outrageous goal; to nullify wars between the states once and for all, he aims to unify all the kingdoms into one China. Kingdom follows the story of these two driven, talented individuals whose lives are bound together by fate.  
I like how Shin is sweating buckets and Sei is just like bitch I'm flawless

Having such a specific plot direction is kind of like a double-edged sword; while it gives the story a strong foundation and makes it instantly distinctive, it also creates less room for experimenting. (As such, churning out creativity and constantly surprising the readers becomes increasingly harder, especially if it’s a long running manga) In the case of Kingdom, it’s based on actual history plus it is a very straightforward war manga, being set in traditional times – fight, gain land, fight, gain some more land. So I’m really impressed with the plot flow thus far, it’s still interesting and exciting after so many chapters.

How about romance? Almost nil, in terms of like explicitly lovey dovey stuff and concrete relationships. Though there’s quite a bit of suggestive romance thrown around, like the quintessential “accidental” kiss and love triangle and whatnot. I won’t deny I like that kind of stuff hoho my imagination runs pretty wild. I headcanon everything
I’ve shipped Shin and Sei from the very beginning because of their bros-before-hoes chemistry (it’s very Guts x Griffith from Berserk, except that Sei is not a f***ing psycho), and I’m kinda digging those two commanders from Chu. (That archer dude and greasy haired guy) Mou Ten is giving me extremely strong bi vibes. Something about that beauty spot and eyelashes. I ship him with Ou Hon. I was also shipping Ouki with like… every other buff military guy he ever interacted with. (I’m going to hell)

And I thought my eyebrows were effed up..

Also, there are a lot of strong women in this manga. Ok fine, compared to the strong guys, it’s still definitely less but if you’re talking about manga in general, man this story is just swarming with them. And for some reason, like 80% of them masquerade as guys in the beginning. For the shock factor probably, though it gets a bit stale after a while. And besides, they don’t really pass off as guys (at least visually), even in their gender neutral get-ups so it ends up being a “Hell ya! GIRL POWER” rather than a “wtf that’s a girl” moment for me. You know, it would be quite nice if one of these girly characters actually ended up being a man. *prays hard*
The art style is… very chinese. (And I can say that because I’m a chinese) The thing is, the drawings are rather unorthodox for a Japanese manga. I won’t lie – I didn’t like the art at first. It’s just so in-your-face. But I grew to love the attention to detail and intricacy. Combine this with the mangaka’s keen talent for sprawling landscapes and ability to create a sense of overwhelming energy and ferocity through his art and you get amazing panels like these:


Overall, very dark, clean lines with a great contrast between the whites and blacks, and really raw expressions. I think that is what stands out the most in the art. Intense facial expressions and tons of awesome character designs!

Just.. What in the world is this guy's hair.
But the characters are more than just good looks; they have personalities, mannerisms and backstories that are genuinely engaging and interesting. In fact, there are quite a number of times when I found myself rooting for the ‘villains’ as much as for the heroes. This is one of those mangas where the side characters actually compete with the protagonist for the spotlight. Quite refreshing, no?

To sum it up...
Plot: 8/10 – The story really comes alive with great dialogue, character chemistry and dynamic art. It’s like watching an action drama that you never want to end. That being said, it’s still ongoing so I’ve yet to see if it can keep up its current pace.
The only thing stopping me from giving it an even higher score is this lingering sense of loopholes. I feel like the story could be made even ‘tighter’. Ok, and this part is my own personal preference, but I feel it has the capacity to be darker and grittier.  
Art: 8.5/10 – Art grew on me after the first few chapters. Fight scenes are awesome, so are the scenery and battlefield shots, plus all that detailing. Gosh. The mangaka and his team must work themselves to the bone.
Characters: 9/10 – It’s character design heaven. They all look SO cool. And their interactions are really entertaining.
Personal enjoyment: 10/10 – Let me explain to you how ridiculous my attachment to this manga is getting: I force myself not to read it so often so that it ‘lasts’ longer. (You know what it is with ongoing mangas) THAT’S JUST RIDICULOUS. Also, just a tip, go listen to the Mulan instrumental OST while reading this. It makes it like ten times more epic.
Overall rating: 9/10

One point away from a full ‘10’ due to the points I pointed out about the plot. (wow, that’s a lot of points in one sentence)
That being said, did you know that it won the 17th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize? Neither did I. Even if you skipped through my entire review, this should be reason enough for you to check it out.
Written by Faelan

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