「黒鉄の鎖」 (Kurogane no Kusari)
“The Iron Chains”
「古都陥落」 (Koto kanraku)
“The Sinking City”
I got to give Altair credit, it may have been a rocky start, but goddamn has the show found itself. This week’s double dose nicely built upon all the parts quietly growing under the hood which are slowly turning this show into one of anime’s better historical fictions of late. Yes, I’m calling Altair that already. This is how you do a struggle between nations right.
There are two key themes of interest this week, with the first being the fall of Phoinike. It’s a simple development plot-wise, showing the evil of Balt-Rhein and hardening Mahmut’s convictions, but the meat for me lies in why Phoinike fell. Normally one would expect courage, pride, and honour to win the day (because moral good), but lo and behold the Evil Empire (TM) effortlessly prevailing. Seems a little strange, except when considering our plethora of real world examples. We usually consider fear a losing strategy—as it often is—but as shown in Balt-Rhein’s hands, it’s as useful as Phoinike’s pride. The reason for this is fear (when correctly used) is never applied alone. Balt-Rhein’s elite mountain troops for example are fighting to improve their homeland. They may be fearful of a “friendly” knife in the back, but the reward of a better life makes that risk seemingly worthwhile. By missing the carrot on Balt-Rhein’s stick, Phoinike fails to see how their empire has flourished up until now. Of course Balt-Rhein’s strategy heavily relies on having the wealth needed for the occasional handout, but as long as they continue expanding and winning, it’s a problem without teeth. Need look no further than the Mongols to see how long such an approach can remain feasible.
Where this difference grows particularly intriguing comes from Phoinike’s other mistake: placing faith in trust. Nations are inherently different things from individuals, two people may personally know one another (as Constantinos and the Doge did), but as rulers their respective country—not their relationship—comes first. This is likely why Venedik broke the alliance (which they technically didn’t), they saw their survival as an independent state threatened if dragged into war with a power both they and Phoinike combined could not defeat. As Venedik cares about its economic stability (being a resource-less island state), why not let Balt-Rhein assume control of Phoinike in exchange for guaranteed trade security and supply? Probably a little more to it than this, but it’s the sort of reason which plays nicely in regards to the theme of people versus country that Altair has been developing. From a theoretical standpoint Altair is running realism, where the survival of state is paramount and everything else—including the individual—is secondary. Mahmut’s struggle is simply seeing this dichotomy play out, where the aspiring ruler learns just what it takes to lead a country and the consequences of a bad choice. Saving a nation can often involve counterintuitive decisions which seemingly sacrifice its people, using a short term loss to further long term survival. Constantinos for example may have stayed true to himself with his vainglorious martyrdom, but he nearly cost his country everything for such selfishness. It was ironically Apollodorus who understood Balt-Rhein’s fait accompli and took measures to ensure his country survived. Phoinike may have lost this war, but there’s no reason it cannot rise again later. Such a lesson Mahmut has only scratched the surface of.
Next week, however, we will find out just how realistic Altair is when the little Pasha
that could meets with Venedik’s Doge. With the show having now found its stride I fully expect some more intrigue and real world tidbits to pop up alongside the ever enjoyable growth of Mahmut himself. Plus with having acquired a pirate friend, it’s about time we saw how the kid handles a human sidekick. For better or worse, Mahmut’s real journey begins now.