Boy have I let this one slide. It’s been ages since I covered any, and most of my junk bin entries I have at home are over a decade old. I need to see if I can knock any more of them out.
Here’s a good candidate.
“Jing: King of Bandits”
This is another one of those animes they pushed at a convention one year and, similar to “Spice and Wolf”, faded soon after. It got a fair amount of exposure when it debuted, not only pushing the anime on DVD but also releasing the manga at the same time, but the series itself was only 13 episodes long and it never seemed to catch on.
The story centers around the titular character, Jing, who appears to be nothing more than a roguish kid on the outside but is actually the greatest thief in the world. Aside from being incredibly skilled at thievery, he’s also an extremely powerful, tenacious and intelligent fighter. He has a wrist-mounted blade that apparently can cut through almost anything, and his partner, a talking bird-like creature named Kir, can mount to his other arm and spew out an incredibly destructive beam cannon. Personality wise, Jing is eternally cool, confident, suave, and on top of things. In addition to being at-home in any situation, he possesses a natural charisma and street-smarts that lets him almost always seem to know how to deal with an individual in a given situation. By comparison, Kir worries a lot, browbeats him a lot, and is far more “normal” in temperament and attitude, providing a natural foil to him.
The short series does not follow an overarching narrative. Rather, it’s a series of short storylines that involve Jing coming into a town or land looking to steal some priceless or well-guarded/coveted treasure. Why does he want to? The audience really never knows or gains any real grasp of his motives. That’s because almost every new storyline focuses more on a young woman he meets in each situation and who ends up briefly teaming up with him, and she usually ends up being the emotional anchor for the story arc. Then, at the end of each episode, he moves on and the next place is a new story and a new young woman. Since there’s only 13 episodes, Jing is barely in one, two are a two parters, and the last one is a three-parter, that only leaves a few stories to tell even in an already-short series.
The setting is an alternate universe, in a world that’s quasi-fantasy, quasi-technology, and filled with creatures that are normal, magical, and perhaps downright bizarre–most notably the use of beasts of burden that appear to be animate bones. Since almost every episode is a new setting, it gives the opportunity for a lot of different environments and locales, as well as continuous new characters and situations.
The episodic type of storytelling is a bit unusual for most anime but not unheard of. When most people think of an episodic anime about a bandit, the most infamous one that comes to mind is the “Lupin the Third” series. However, in this one, the focus is never really the heist. It’s usually focused more on the characters that Jing interacts with. Furthermore, the main conflict that gets resolved in each episode usually only distantly relates to the object he’s trying to steal. Usually, it instead represents a personal conflict being resolved with the characters, such as reuniting a mother and her child, a hopeless person finding a new purpose, or even learning to embrace and appreciate one’s own mortality. Jing himself shows early in the series that he has no actual desire for anything he steals, so one could infer that helping the individuals he runs into was his true goal all along. In that sense, far from being a story like “Lupin the Third”, Jing is more of a knight-errant archetype acting out that type of tale.
So, that’s the series in a nutshell. Is it any good or worth watching?
For people who don’t really have the patience to stick with a long anime narrative, the episodic take is nice. Each new episode brought the promise of a fantastic new setting and conflict to engage interest, and the artwork, while a bit childish and cartoony in many points, is colorful and creative. Most of the side characters are pretty interesting and engaging. And while the series has a lot of drama, it actually has a ton of crazy humor and fourth-wall breaks on top of it all, so combined with the action scenes it does offer a little something for everyone.
Yet where the series falls flat is the titular character. “Sword Art Online” has been criticized, and with some justification, that Kirito is a type of Marty Stu who just ran around assembling girls for his “harem” by being the one thing they needed in their lives to achieve happiness. But even Kirito eventually faced challenges he either couldn’t defeat alone or challenged him and his philosophy and forced him to grow. By comparison, Jing is a true Marty Stu. He’s always confident, always in control, always knows exactly what to say and what buttons to press, always is superior to his opponents, and always has a plan.
There are only two times I recall in the entire series in which Jing even looks caught off guard. One is early in episode three when one of the villains surprises him briefly, although he recovers from that and adapts quickly. The other is a joke: when Kir accidentally causes him to fall off a bone ladder. That’s it. The rest of the time, Jing is the picture of perfect confidence and charisma.
I kept waiting and waiting in this series for a threat to come up that Jing couldn’t just smirk off. Something that would push him to his personal limit or force him to make a difficult choice. It never happens, though. Combined with the fact the series reveals little to nothing of Jing’s background or how he came about his power and skill, and Jing almost becomes a plot device or a force of nature rather than a character. Most of the drama is lost in every episode by the end because you know in advance Jing will succeed. And when a character is simply perfect in every way, they’re not that interesting. And since he is the main character and the one central point of the series (other than Kir), he takes a little away from every episode.
It’s a bit entertaining and has some things that seemed interesting and new at the time when it came out, but it’s not much surprise this series quickly faded into obscurity and is hard to find. If you do pick it up, it’s a bit of good clean fun and some nice little adventures, and the final three-parter is a bit touching and bittersweet, but it’s definitely not a must-have. I’d recommend it over the other entries in the Junk Bin I’ve rated lower, but that’s all.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Good enough to be a somewhat uncommon treasure, but far from a rare find.
What You Should Do With This DVD: If you want something cheap, short, and you’re new to anime, pop it in for a quick little adventure. Otherwise, pass it by in search of a real gem.