Prior to hearing about the 2019 limited theatrical release of director Shinsuke Sato’s (Inuyashiki) Kingdom, I had no awareness of the 2012 anime or the 2006 manga. Coming into the film blind, I only knew that the story involved treachery, duplicates, and a great deal of swordplay mixed with martial arts. In a year that also gave audiences Shadow, Master Z, Furie, and Avengement, adding Kingdom into the mix truly made 2019 an embarrassment of riches for anyone who’s a fan of martial arts. Honestly, prior to seeing Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Kingdom sat at the top of my “Best Of” list in the foreign film category due to its wonderful fight choreography, beautiful cinematography, compelling story, and engaging performances. Luckily, Funimation has made it available on Blu-ray, DVD, and the Funimation Digital channel beginning February 4th, 2020, so that more people can come to appreciate the film that won over this critic.
Set during the Warring States period of China, two war orphans, Li Xin (Kento Yamazaki) and Piao (Ryô Yoshizawa), dream of becoming respected generals in the Chinese army. What they don’t realize is how fated they are to fulfil their dreams and how dearly it will cost them. Unbeknownst to them, King Ying Zheng (also portrayed by Ryô Yoshizawa) suspects his brother, Cheng Jiao (Kanata Hongô), plans to overthrow him and has Piao serve as his double. But when Piao is hurt during a mission, he goes to the one person he knows he can trust, the one person who can help finish the king’s mission and save the kingdom in the process.
If you want to know about Kingdom without having to worry about spoilers, then head over to the theatrical review and jump down a few paragraphs to get to the bonus features.
Of the films that came out last year, this is one I’ve been most excited to revisit (Promare, Knives Out, Ad Astra, to name a few others) and the home release is about as good as it gets next to hitting the cinema. Checking out the Blu-ray on my 43-in LG 4K UHD television, the colors are appropriately bright, the blacks are inky, and the sound is great. Without a soundbar hooked up, the scene where Xin and Zheng meet the masked Yang Duanhe (Masami Nagasawa), the audio reverbs nicely, giving off the weight to communicate the seriousness of the meeting without sounding distorted. Similarly, a few scenes later during the assault on the Xianyang Palace, when Duanhe’s forces spring to life after being shot with arrows, the action is captured flawlessly, the scale of it still giving off a grandeur on a smaller screen. In terms of audio options, the blu-ray comes with two: Dolby TrueHD: Japanese 5.1 and English 5.1, with appropriate subtitles optional, so watching this with a proper sound system will make the already impressive sequence feel grander.
A previous complaint with the theatrical was a sense that the story presumes the incoming audience already knows the story, so it tends to speed through some aspects faster than you might want. On rewatches, this is less of a concern as expectations are more measured. Rest assured that audiences less familiar with the original content but who are experienced with anime or mangas are still likely to get swept up in the adventure. Those with no experience at all are likely going to find the film odd in tone as it jumps between wuxia martial arts, silly comedy, epic drama, and a fierce bad guy who’s too ridiculous in design and function to be real. That last sub-section of audience is less likely to be watching this type of film, but fans are going to want to show this off, so maybe prepare them a bit before getting into this.
In terms of special features, this last bit is an absolute downer. The only things that come with on the Blu-ray are two Japanese trailers for the theatrical release. Considering the clear level of high-detail that went into creating the film, it’s a shame that there’s nothing supplemental to continue the live-action experience. Personally, even without knowledge of the manga, the ending begs for another story to be told and I’d love to see what Sato would do with that opportunity. Especially if that never comes, it would’ve been great to gain some insist into the creation of Kingdom. As the release is a Combo Pack, be advised that the DVD only contains the feature film. As of this writing, the digital copy can’t be validated by Funimation despite the release date already dropping, so there’s no way to determine what does and does not come with the digital copy.
While the home release is far too light on supplemental materials, the film itself remains an absolute delight. Yamazaki’s performance hilariously balances the overly exaggerated delivery of a variety of anime characters, while Yoshizawa wonderfully manages two desperate performances that make the engaged audience ache, worry, and rally begin his every choice. If you come to this film unfamiliar with Nagasawa’s work, Kingdom is a fantastic entry point. The film never looks down on her character, Duanhe, but lifts her up as a partner to the King and Nagasawa possesses the clear talent and presence to hold the audience equally. She can be next seen in Detective Chinatown 3, but I’d love to see her in a project with Veronica Ngo (Furie) — oh the damage they could cause. So, if you missed it in 2019, take the chance on Kingdom now. Even if it doesn’t turn you into an anime fan, you’ll certainly finish it feeling entertained.
Kingdom Bluray/DVD Special Features:
- Original Japanese Trailers (2)
Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack February 4th, 2020. To acquire a copy, head to the official Funimation Online Store.