Witch trials and witch hunts are not new territory in fiction. But in The Kingdoms of Ruin, it feels just intriguing enough to set itself apart. It follows the story of a society pivoting away from peaceful coexistence with witches to a sort of medieval-influenced quantum leap into the information age. The “Gear Expansion” sees witches and their magic as a hindrance to technological progress, and they’re horrifically persecuted. The premise is laid down before we meet two main characters in the premiere: Chloe the witch, and Adonis, her human friend and sympathizer. Thanks to a screener generously provided by Crunchyroll, I am happy to provide my review of The Kingdoms of Ruin Episode 1.
A World Where the Witches Are Undeniably Martyrs
The Kingdoms of Ruin can be a bit insistent on who should be considered the good guys and who are the bad guys. Witches, most strongly represented by Chloe, are a peace-loving group and believe in a god who is merciful towards them. The humans are seen as a timid race who fear witches but are meant to be treated with patience. That feeling is not reciprocated for even a moment’s notice: these are some of the most brutal, over-the-top evil humans around who wish only for the extermination or subjugation of witches.
The Kingdoms of Ruin provides us with a world where the witches are undeniably martyrs, and even though it feels a bit forced and insistent, it provides an interesting twist on these stories. The Redia Empire is comically evil, sure, but it’s interesting seeing European Gothic architecture at the highest points of an otherwise modern metropolis. It makes humanity’s watchful, satellite-empowered gaze on the planet feel like a combination of Orwellian dystopia atop a more classically oppressive kingdom archetype. But it does often manage to go too far in its insistence.
We Have to Talk About -That- Scene (Spoilers)
You know the one. This is the narrative point where we have a sympathetic character stripped away from us just as we get to know her, and her death transforms another character forever. This comes moments after the heroes are tracked down and beamed to the Redian capital where a horrible fate awaits. We have to talk about -that- scene. We’re of course talking about the execution of Chloe in front of the Redian masses, as Adonis is forced to watch.
The Redian 23rd Emperor Goethe takes it upon himself to be there for this public humiliation of the captured witch, Chloe. He sees Adonis as in need of execution for traveling with her, but in doing so, it sparks Chloe to do one more selfless deed: she claims to have raised him as her slave, shifting all blame to her and staying his execution. For that, she is killed. Like, crazy killed, as in, “Stop it, you’ve emptied two clips, it’s over.” I’ve not seen such a comically over-the-top death that turned things from dramatic to darkly funny in a long time.
I’ll rewind a bit: Chloe attempts to speak with Goethe, but immediately is met with his scorn, because humans are bad, as this series will remind you. She then is stripped topless in front of a roaring Redian crowd, trying to conceal herself as everybody takes out their phones to record her. As she sees there’s no way out of this fate, she tries to keep Adonis on a merciful path and tell him she loves him before the following happens:
- Goethe shoots her point-blank in the head
- A firing squad shoots around Goethe and annihilates her body with a hailing hellstorm of bullets
- Goethe comes back with a sword and beheads her
This isn’t a multiple-choice question of how she dies, they genuinely use three different instant-death methods in sequence. After this, Adonis is sent into a blinding rage, presumably captured, and the plot skips 10 years because some anime and manga don’t make readers wait before the really exciting stuff.
The Real Plot is Exciting at the Expense of a Silly Prologue
The timeskip comes and goes, and we see an internment camp brimming with young witches. We meet Doroka, a new character likely meant to be seen as a protagonist for the viewers, selflessly giving away her bread rations to fellow prisoners. She also has hand puppets, for some odd reason. But Doroka is merely seen as a number, as is her fellow prisoner, Number 218.
When 218 is called upon, Doroka swaps for her place, and is faced with the likely fate of being sold off. She makes her escape, sets all the captive witches loose, and reaches one final holding cell: inside is Adonis, fully grown and too angry to die. This gets me interested in subsequent episodes because we’ll see a similarly kind Doroka character as a foil to the all-too-likely intense and violent new Adonis. The real plot is exciting at the expense of a silly prologue, as I’m curious to see how intense his rage will be. Nobody who sees the humiliation and execution of their closest friend will come out still as their old self.
I waffled between liking this premiere and laughing at how quickly it crossed the line. I think it makes some interesting observations on modern problematic trends like how people are far too eager to publicly shame others, especially outsiders. The action and technology made for an impressive visual showcase, and I liked the characters, but the series has a problem nailing down a convincing tone. I think it has potential, and the execution scene will live on in memes, but the second episode will need to bring the heat.
This review of The Kingdoms of Ruin Episode 1 was made using a screener provided by Crunchyroll. The Kingdoms of Ruin premiered on Friday, October 6, 2023, at 10:30 AM PT, and is available to stream on Crunchyroll.