Shoukoku no Altair – 04

Mahmut’s first posting as a newly-demoted Binbashi is his home village of Tughril, rebuilt since its destruction twelve years ago in the last war. Mahmut still carries emotional scars and has nightmares of that night, but he’ll no doubt have to overcome or refocus those fears if he wants another shot at Pasha.

Using the Pyramis crystal at the water shrine, we and Mahmut quickly find ourselves deep in the intricate spy world of Turkyie. Barbaros, an old man who once carried the flag for Halil Pasha, now kulak of the village, serves as go-between between Mahmut and Zaganos’ spy in the area.

That spy turns out to be Suleyman Kara Kanat, who along with Mahmut are the last survivors of the previous Tughril village. Like Mahmut, he cursed himself for not being in the position to save his village, but for a different reason: while Mahmut was just a wee kid of five, Suleyman was off eating, drinking and cavorting in far-off Florence.

Consumed by despair and self-hatred and pity, Suleyman ended up raised up by one Zaganos Pasha, who would later visit him the first day of his promotion and offer him a job in his new spy network, one to rival the splendid information system that was the real power of Florence. Given purpose and a goal again, Suleyman gladly entered Zaganos’ service.

Meanwhile, after a scene of Minister Louis drawing up some dastardly scheme, his Rod Orm assassins arrive in the village and attempt to knock off Barbaros, who turns out to be as spry as Yoda and gives them a fight.

Mahmut and Suleyman join the fight, but Mahmut makes a couple of potentially fatal mistakes when he underestimates the assassins’ ability to adapt to his tactics and use some of them against him, as well as misjudge their weaponry.

After a literal cold shower (to get the eagle-luring blood off his clothes), he puts his trust in Suleyman and Barbaros, and the three re-confront the female assassin and run her out of town, destroying her mask in the process.

When called upon, Altair can execute action competently, albeit at a slower pace than most shows in the genre muster. That said, it’s good to see Mahmut’s usual tricks countered, suggesting a worthy foe. This is all a valuable learning experience for the next stop on his spy-world itinerary: Phoenicia.

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Shoukoku no Altair – 03

We left Tintin Mahmut in dire straits last week, but still with an ace in the hole: his trusty eagle Snowy Iskender. As Zaganos, outnumbered 10-1, considers using poison to pull out a victory, the female Imperial officer stopping Shahra from cutting any more tent ropes, and Mahmut straight getting his ass kicked by the male officer, it’s all up to the bird.

I must say, this show’s clever (if sometimes credulity-straining) use of Iskender and the eagles to lend Mahmut a hand in times of great need add a sheen of destiny to his story, as if nature itself would prefer he succeed in his endeavors.

Or rather birds, plural: scores of them descend on the hostage tent and pull it away; conveniently dropping it on top of the Imperial soldiers standing by for orders to burn it. Instead, they are the ones who burn, in a nice bit of irony.

Iskender him(her?)self comes to Mahmut’s aid against the big guy, who after all has only one eye and thus has a depth perception shortfall that results in a rather creative death: Mahmut and the eagle work together to wrap a chain around the guy’s face and throat, and Mahmut snaps his neck.

Thus Mahmut’s would-be tormentor is dunzo, and so is the Imperial plot to take Hisar. Ibrahim Vali opens the gates to Zaganos and his forces, and Mahmut makes the call to release all of the Araba, despite their rebellion. For that, and for all their roles in the brief Hisar rebellion, Mahmut, Ibrahim, and Zaganos are all brought before the Divan of the other 11 Pashas to testify and be judged.

To Ibrahim and Mahmut’s shock and delight, the former is not executed, but restored as Vali of Hisar. Zaganos is reinstated as Pasha. But Mahmut, as I figured considering the outcome of the other two verdicts, isn’t so lucky. He is stripped of his rank of Pasha, and demoted to Binbashi under Halil Pasha. He couldn’t have ended up under a nicer commander, but it’s still a huge step backwards for Mahmut, for whom duty is life.

Having tasted the sweet top only makes the demotion all the more bitter, but Mahmut does not contest or even disagree with the Divan’s judgment. There were always risks Mahmut exposed himself to by becoming the youngest Pasha, and that included letting emotional detachments make him forget that the role of Pasha is far more than going off alone to save one’s friend.

It’s just as bitter to think that by accomplishing so many great and noble deeds in Hisar, thwarting those who threatened peace while saving thousands of innocent people, in this case, was the wrong move, at least in his position. Being a Pasha must mean being more detached, more aloof from personal concerns, while far more attuned to the greater needs of the state as a whole.

It’s a big picture position, and Mahmut simply wasn’t ready yet. But he’s learned his lesson, and is eager to see more places, meet more people, and be reinstated as Pasha as quickly as possible…but not so quickly that he doesn’t do it properly.

Judging from the scheming of both Minister Louis and Lelederik, and the fact Louis is aware of Zaganos’ spy network (which Z gave Mahmut the means to contact) and is taking them out one by one, Mahmut can’t get back in the Pasha’s seat soon enough.

Shoukoku no Altair – 02

This week’s Altair begins with more of Mahmut’s backstory; specifically, when he was still in school and excelled at everything but convincing others to follow him—and inspiring loyalty is a key trait in a pasha. What inspired him to work harder to adopt that ability was a friend of his, the older Ibrahim, who vowed to become Vali of his hometown of Hisar.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Hisar is in rebellion, with Ibrahim at the center. Zaganos Pasha immediately sets off with a punitive force, but Mahmut breaks out his usual indignation with the situation, clearly having not learned how to properly engage with the impatient Zaganos.

Thus, he gets nowhere, and must follow Zaganos to Hisar to find out what’s going on. Shahra decides to tag along, because she belives she could be useful; I know of no other reason she has besides seeming to like Mahmut (who doesn’t return her interest, even for a moment).

Elsewhere in Hisar, the families of all thousand soldiers in the castle’s garrison are the hostages of an alliance between the Araba and the Empire. The deal is, Ibrahim’s and his mens’ loved ones will be seen safely to the Turkish capital if they hand over control of the city.

That would be bad news to Turkyie, as Hisar is a buffer between them and the Empire. Unfortunately, between the Imperial representatives, the Araban leader, and the local (female) lord who has brought a large force of her own to bear near Hisar, all the new characters create a bit of a haze and no one really stands out. They’re all just kind of around. But with the tent soaked in oil, there are certainly human stakes to consider.

When Shahrah gets a little dance party going outside that tent, it lures out one of the Imperials. Mahmut, Good Guy that he is, tries to tell the Arabans—happy to be gaining a new city and nation—that they’re all pawns in a larger game of geopolitical chess being played by Minister Louis, whom if I’m not mistaken was roundly beaten by Mahmut in his little fake arrow scheme.

Nevertheless, Mahmut is right in the thick of things, having to cross swords with an opponent of unknown ability (that turns out to be pretty formidable) out of loyalty to his friend Ibrahim. The Imperial tells him it’s no worth it, as Ibrahim had already failed in his role as Vali by letting personal emotions supersede his duty.

He accuses Mahmut as failing for the same reason, but vows not to take his life until the Imperial army is within Hisar’s walls and he can claim victory. And that’s where we leave things: with Mahmut in some very deep water; but with a few pieces (like his at-large golden eagle) to work with, he’s certainly still in the game.

Shoukoku no Altair – 01 (First Impressions)

Take away the exotic setting and lush costumes, and Shoukoku no Altair is the very common story of an overachieving young man determined to move forward, be useful, and protect his country, after enduring tragedy earlier in life in which he wasn’t able to save his family.

Fortunately, Altair does have an exotic setting, lush costumes, and a very decent soundtrack to boot. And so we have ourselves a show that isn’t all that original in storytelling but is able to just sail by on competent, often stylish execution.

Newly-appointed Pasha Tughril Mahmut is the youngest Pasha ever, but never comes off as arrogant or petulant, even when a comrade accuses him of having a “tantrum.” Rather, I liken him to Tintin: young, courageous, resourceful, cunning…and yes, a bit dull. He has a strong sense of justice and is always ready to shut naysayers down…but has no idea what to do with women.

One of his mentors, Pasha Halil, sees a great future for Mahmut, so when the Balt-Rheim Empire accuses their homeland Turkyie of assassinating their prime minister, Halil chooses to be the sacrifice they demand.

War claimed many lives twelve years ago, as we see in a heart-wrenching, well-directed flashback in which a young Mahmut struggles in vain to save a woman I presume is his mother. From that point on, he swore always to do whatever he could, never standing still.

So Mahmut does what Tintin would do: investigate the incident and find the real truth, which is that the arrows used to kill the minister were of Balt-Rhein design. He joins up with with Halil, who believes the Empire as a whole does not want war, just an isolated element.

Thanks in part to a clever use of mutton stew and the local eagles, the pashas weather an attempted ambush, capture the conspirator’s men, and bring them and the false arrows before the Emperor himself.

War is staved off—for now, but the minister who conspired to start it was not tried or even named for his role, meaning this is only the beginning of Pasha Mahmut’s duty. With only THE REFLECTION left to air on my Summer list and my interest in Apocrypha fading fast, Altair is just interesting enough for another look or two.