Ousama Ranking Review: Adorable Art Style With Characters & Plot That Subvert Expectations

Ousama Ranking review

It’s not always the case that a shōnen anime series diverges from the successful formula of “action-packed series with a hot-blooded protagonist” or the isekai genre. So when an anime as niche as Ousama Ranking dropped in Fall 2021, it quickly crept up to become the season’s fan favourite. 

The premise sounds simple – it is a riveting coming-of-age tale that follows a deaf prince’s journey to become a worthy king. In our Ousama Ranking review, we’ll break down the good and the not-so-great aspects of the series. Territory of spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned!

– What we loved –

1. Kage and Bojji’s bond

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

We love a good friends-to-lovers trope, but there’s something about pure, unadulterated friendship that makes just about anyone teary-eyed. 

In the beginning, when Kage first meets the naive prince, the hostile blob holds Bojji at knifepoint. His tough demeanour is understandable, given a rough childhood where he was forced to witness the massacre of his clan, and then abused by his guardian. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

Having long given up on finding true companionship, Kage sees his past self in Bojji as the latter tries hard to survive in a world that views him as an outcast. Eventually, Kage befriends Bojji and promises to stay by his side, no matter what. 

Bojji and Kage reunite in episode five
Image adapted from: Wit Studio

And stay by his side he did. Throughout the series, we see Kage as Bojji’s biggest ally and protector. He foiled Dormas’ attempt to poison Bojji and secretly saved Bojji’s life on multiple occasions whilst hiding in his bag.

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

The unlikely duo makes a great pair, and moments of their pure interactions truly tugged at our heartstrings like no other. 

2. Unique visual design

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

Set in a fantasy universe where kingdoms are divided and ruled by kings, Ousama Ranking has a whimsical animation style that is evocative of ancient fables. As expected of Wit Studio, an established animation company that has produced the likes of Attack on Titan, the visuals in the series are beautiful and arresting, and unlike anything we’ve seen before in mainstream series. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio

Though it has a fairytale-esque setting that can be easily dismissed as childish, the world-building is believable thanks to the intricate details in the character designs and attention paid to constructing the backdrop.  

3. Bojji discovers his strength

Bojji wins against Daida in a practice match

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

One of the overarching plot in the series is Bojji’s journey to become a king worthy of the title. But in a world that equates one’s worth with physical strength, his physical frailness and inability to hear inevitably make him a weak contender. 

His predecessor King Bosse, whose overwhelming physical strength alone warded off enemies and invaders, was the polar opposite of Bojji. In fact, Bojji’s fighting style, which consists primarily of dodging, is seen as dishonourable. 

Bojji splitting a boulder
Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

But that changes when Bojji comes under the tutelage of Despa. He senses Bojji’s dexterity and nimbleness, using them to develop a customised fighting style for the young prince. Noting Bojji’s lack of physical strength, Despa recommends a needle-sword, which allows Bojji to deliver a precise strike to his opponent’s vital points, thus rendering them unconscious. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

Strength comes in many forms. The interaction between Bojji and Despa teaches us that with the right mentor and guidance, even your weakness can become your greatest strength. 

4. Unexpected dark twists and turns

Dormas’ severed hand
Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

At first glance, Ousama Ranking looks pretty PG-13 with its cutesy key visuals and character designs. Yet, as the series progresses, the audience is thrown a curveball as there are more dark elements than what the art style suggests. 

King Bosse’s frozen body heading for the grinder.
Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

In episode five, it was revealed that King Bosse’s corpse is being kept frozen in an underground dungeon. While morbid, it’s a pretty normal preservation method – or so we thought.

Miranjo begins to pulverise the dead king’s body and uses the liquefied corpse in a satanic ritual that involves beheading a mythical bird. 

When made to drink the dead dad smoothie in order to gain King Bosse’s strength, Daida outwardly refuses – like any person with any semblance of common sense would. 

Bojji soaked in his mother’s blood.
Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

When it is necessary to drive home emotional impact, the series does not hesitate to shy away from uncomfortable scenes. Notably, in episode 16, Bojji is drenched in his mother’s blood as she protects him from the rain of arrows. 

5. Hiling. Period.

Hiling berating Bojji in Episode one
Image adapted from: Wit Studio

When we were first introduced to Hiling in episode one, our impression of her wasn’t the best, to say the least. She ticks all the boxes of a stereotypical wicked stepmother – she’s spiteful, seems to value keeping up with appearances over the welfare of Bojji, and obviously favours her biological son, Daida. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio

However, by episode three, our expectations of the clichéd evil stepmother archetype was completely overturned. We learn that Hiling genuinely cares for Bojji and wants to be a good mother for him. In episode three, when Bojji sneaks out of the tower by climbing down a flimsy makeshift rope, he free falls after the rope disintegrates. 

Panicked, Hiling leaped out of the window without a care for her own safety in an attempt to catch Bojji. Thankfully, she was saved by Dorshe, and Bojji’s fall was broken by his bag. 

Hiling and Dorshe learning sign language in episode nine
Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

She puts in effort to bond with Bojji, even taking the time to pick up sign language to be able to communicate with him. This makes us reevaluate our first impressions of Hiling. Through this new lens, we see that her berating of Bojji in the first scene, albeit worded harshly, came from a place of maternal love. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

If this isn’t enough to solidify Hiling as the greatest anime mother of all time, we don’t know what will. 

6. Superb voice acting

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

The entire cast comprises veteran voice actors – Murase Ayumu, who is known for his role as Hinata in Haikyuu!!, plays Kage. Kaji Yūki, who voices Eren in Attack on Titan, voices Daida. Special mention goes to the latter, whose seamless transition from a stoic king to an anxious young prince experiencing a mental breakdown in episode nine stole the show. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

Even amidst a star-studded cast, Hinata Minami, who lent her voice to Bojji, stood out with her stellar performance. Although this was the rookie voice actor’s first lead role, she was able to deliver the nuances and complex emotions of the deaf prince through unintelligible lines.

7. Multifaceted characters

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

One of the biggest strengths of Ousama Ranking is its portrayal of characters that are nuanced and complex in a way that makes them feel real. No character is one-dimensional. Instead, they face internal conflicts and struggle to choose the correct path. 

In episode five, Dormas is caught between his loyalty towards the ruling king and his care for Bojji as his mentor, but ultimately chooses what he believes to be for the greater good of the kingdom. Yet, he wrestles with the guilt of betraying the prince and ends up severing the hand that pushed Bojji to his death as an act of atonement. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio 

Likewise, Apeas seems to have an unwavering sense of allegiance towards Miranjo. But as King Bosse’s faithful spearman, his sense of loyalty extends to Bojji and Hiling too. Each time you think you’ve got a character down pat, the series subverts your expectations by having them react in unpredictable ways. 

8.  Puns galore

Image credit: @osama_ranking

International viewers who can speak Japanese will find it exciting to spot Easter eggs in the series, as many of the characters’ names consist of Japanese puns. 

Sometimes, you’ll find on-the-nose word plays: “Hiling” is a homonym of “healing”, which is fitting as the queen has the supernatural ability to heal injuries. Hokuro means mole (黒子) in Japanese, and the character has an obvious mole on his face. 

Other times, when it’s more subtle, it’s fun to dissect the names and find out what they mean. A reversal of the Japanese pronunciation of the word “spear” (スピア; supia) will give you “Apeas” (アピス; apisu), which makes sense as he is literally a spearmaster. Meanwhile, Bojji’s name  is derived from hitori bocchi” (一人ぼっち; alone). 

– What could have been done better –

1.  Pacing problems halfway through the series

Image adapted from: Wit Studio

That said, Ousama Ranking is not without flaws. Mid-way through the series, it suffers from pacing problems as the bulk of the second cour focuses too much on fighting scenes. 

Notably, the battle between Hiling’s and Miranjo’s factions dragged on from episode 13 to 14. Perhaps it’s because we were so pampered by the superb storytelling and character development from the first part of the series, that the battle scenes pale in comparison.

Image adapted from: Wit Studio

That’s not to discount the amazing animation work and action sequences done by the production crew. But we wished more could have been done to interweave character building with the ongoing conflict. 

2. Too many things left open

Image adapted from: Wit Studio

While the ending culminated in Bojji relinquishing his throne to Daida and choosing to create his own kingdom instead, the series is pretty much left open-ended and has left several threads hanging loose. 

In particular, we are left with a cliffhanger, with Desha about to select his prize for accepting the first place ranking in episode 22. Despite its title, the series doesn’t really explain the Ranking of Kings system in depth, nor what’s in the treasure vault, opting instead to focus on Bojji’s journey to become stronger. 

Image adapted from: Wit Studio

There hasn’t been any announcements from Wit Studio about the release of a second season, likely due to the fact that the original manga does not have enough material for the series to adapt. The 23 episodes of Ousama Ranking covers material up to the 155th chapter of the manga, which is currently at chapter 192. 

On the upside, the open-ended finale implies the possibility of a second season, which will explore Bojji’s journey in building his kingdom from scratch and reveal what happens to Despa. We just have to wait for one.

Ousama Ranking review: a refreshing series not to be missed

It’s easy to write Ousama Ranking off as a kids’ show because of the fairytale-esque art style. But you’d be missing out on one of the most wholesome and unique anime series in recent times if you judge a book by its cover, so give it a go! Just remember to prepare some tissues for some serious ugly sobbing.

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Cover image adapted from: Wit Studio and Aniplex YouTube Channel

Xiu Ting Wong

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