Hello, everyone! Through some sort of malevolent Christmas miracle, both mefloraine and I ended up with the same Secret Santa series! (Well, the same series to write about here, anyway. I am writing about other shows elsewhere!) But because (I think?) we have such different tastes in anime, surely we had vastly different opinions regarding the quality of King of Bandit Jing, right? Right?!
Um, no. No, we did not.
The main thought in my mind as I finished King of Bandit Jing was that I might have enjoyed this quite a bit more, say, 15 years ago. I don’t mean for that to sound condescending, even though it probably is. It’s just that there are plenty of things in this series that can theoretically be enjoyed, but they’re almost all things I am too damn old and grumpy to appreciate now. Jing, for instance, as mefloraine correctly points out, is quite the powerful dude. Often he strolls in and solves problems with relative ease. Sure, there are a couple of arcs where the villains appear to have the upper hand, but the end always feels as if Jing has been letting the villains think they have the upper hand all along before showing them how dumb and foolish they actually are.
Now, I don’t have an inherent problem with super powerful protagonists with few flaws. I liked plenty of them in my youth; hell, I like a fair amount of them now. With good enough writing, even the most flawless protagonist will be interesting. Take Golgo 13, for instance. He’s the greatest sniper who ever lived, someone who can make any shot first try, no problem. The reader knows Golgo 13 will always kill his target, no exceptions. So how is Golgo 13 ever interesting? It’s not so much the shot itself that’s interesting, but how he gets there that keeps attention. Golgo inevitably has to go through convoluted loops to get to a point where he can take a shot. The plans to open up a sniping opportunity are often ridiculous; however, the writing makes the reader believe. Golgo 13’s hard work makes the impossible possible, and that’s what is interesting about him.
Jing rarely goes above and beyond the normal. Sure, there’s some token planning here and there, but when Jing solves problems, it’s usually with a well-placed Kir Royale and then everyone packs their bags and goes home. Not really interesting at all! Sometimes side characters are lucky enough to solve their own problems, but that leads into the second big problem I have with the series: The one-shot episodes are very boring!
The usual format of Jing episodes is that Jing and his buddy, (the incredibly annoying) Kir, roll into a new place, get involved in some people’s business, unravel those problems, and then steal some incredibly rare item, because bandits gotta bandit, you know? And, admittedly, one of Jing‘s strengths is presenting unique settings that capture the viewer’s interest and commonly center around some sort of theme. The screenshot above, for example, comes from a pair of episodes that take place in a town where the main villain is obsessed with time. But more often than not, episodes will do these settings a disservice by being too short to develop them beyond their initial quirks.
My usual viewing experience with the one-shot episodes went something like this: Step 1: “Hey, this place is kinda interesting. I really like the way it looks!” Step 2: *18 minutes spent with a basic, predictable story that can’t find a decent balance among plot progression, making characters compelling and making awful jokes involving Kir hitting on every woman he sees* zzzzzz Step 3: “GIVE ME A KIR ROYALE!” “Huh, wha?!” Step 4: “Oh, huh, guess the episode is over . . .”
When I look back at some of the episodes, I wonder how they could be so dull. One that pops to mind immediately is the episode about a woman who grows up seeking revenge against the businessman who shot and killed her father. It’s a well-worn idea, but one that can also be compelling. This woman never feels real, though; she’s single-minded to the point of parody, even repeating her refrain about her “trail of tears along this godforsaken land” so often that you could probably make a drinking game out of it. The resolution should have some weight to it, but she’s so cartoony (in a bad way, which pains me to say) that it’s instead ridiculous.
It’s disappointing, because I actually do like the art style of the settings and the way the anime uses color to make them pop. These are settings that have some decent ideas behind them, and the show does justice to them visually. I’d also say that overall Jing is a better directed show than expected, too The creators occasionally do things out of the ordinary with the framing and presentation of the show. Whatever I say about the plot and characters of Jing, I did enjoy looking at it, and that is a worthwhile quality. And to be fair, many of my problems with the show’s writing are rectified at least a bit on the three occasions the show delves into multi-part episodes. There’s more time to explore the worlds, more time to build a decent story, more time to make Jing a more interesting protagonist . . . OK, that last one never really happens. But pouring more time into the stories and letting them breathe a bit allowed me to engage more and care about them a bit. The charm that is intended actually shines through. I wish the whole series had been comprised of two-part stories.
Oh well. I got some enjoyment from Jing, at least. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to take my bird friend, morph him into an arm cannon and shout out an attack named after an alcoholic beverage. Awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!