「将軍会議」 (Shougun Kaigi)
“The Council of Generals”
Shoukoku no Altair is a tricky kind of story to adapt, because it is messy. It is certainly not, for example, a simple story of a hero fighting against some clear evil (good as those can be), and indeed when Mahmut goes out of his way to be the hero in this arc (and indeed, saves the day), he is punished for it. Rather, this is the story of many different people from many different factions, each with their own agenda that intertwine, and Altair‘s juggling act is to take all these subplots and try to show a big picture of a world order about to collapse into war. Just this episode we learn that even the hawks within the Balt-Rhein Empire are not completely unified, and may as easily vie against each other as against Turkiye. No doubt, things will get messier still.
But amidst this backdrop Altair also wants to talk about objective morality and making the ‘right decision’, and that’s where things get truly tricky. In this messy world of geopolitics, doing the right thing as an individual, like saving a friend, is rarely the right thing as the leader of a state. States are amoral and unfeeling, and individuals expendable. The general consensus, it seems, is that Ibrahim did not fulfill his duties as Vali. Do not negotiate with terrorists. If the hostages die, they will be necessary sacrifices. Hisar is Turkiye’s bulwark against Balt-Rhein, and it must not fall, and the good of the many outweigh the good of the few. But it’s hard to fault him for valuing the lives of family over the machinations of the country. He’s a good man, but because he’s a good man, he’ll never be a great man, in a position to lead the nation. Ibrahim was only reinstated as governor because they couldn’t risk instability in Hisar. He remains a pawn. But a Pasha, like Mahmut, cannot just be a pawn. He needs to be the one moving the pieces. Mahmut is a good man too, which is why he could not be Pasha in his current state.
I really enjoy these tensions between the individual and the state in stories like Shoukoku no Altair. It’s not an angle we’d often find in formal history books, and is the kind of thing that makes fiction more interesting while still being instructive. When war comes to the world of Altair, I’m sure the contrast between what’s good for a country and what’s good for its people will be even starker. And make no mistake, war is definitely coming, and these minor skirmishes so far are simply about how the war will start and on whose terms. If we read between the lines a bit, I think it’s easy to see the gravity of the situation. Recall that the decisions of the Divan are unanimous. That means that when Mahmut was demoted, his ally Halil also agreed with the decision. It could be peer pressure, of course, but I trust that the old man knows what’s going on. Most likely, war is inevitable, and Mahmut is not yet ready to face that fact as a general.
Thus Mahmut is no longer Pasha, which may allow Altair to focus more on the individual level before getting back to the big-picture geopolitics. Hopefully we’ll also get more on the culture and people of this world. Perhaps that’s only interesting for history nerds like myself, but it’s good stuff if you’re one. If you’re not, I think there’s plenty of other entertaining angles Altair will be coming from, like the intrigue. I think the main takeaway of these first three episodes is that there’s a lot going on in Altair. We’ve only just started to plumb its depths, I think, so if you’ve liked what you’ve seen so far I think you can expect even better as we go.