As I noted last week, the continuing education of Mahmut seems to be the dominant theme for at least the early portions of Shoukoku no Altair. The notion of a Pasha or military general of Mahmut’s age isn’t as unlikely in this setting as some might think (though it certainly wasn’t common) but even for exceptionally intelligent and inquisitive kids like Mahmut, the world is almost always an exponentially more complicated place than they realize.
There was really only one thing that tempered my enjoyment of this episode, actually, and that was how Mahmut resolved the hostage situation. A bunch of eagles flying off with the tent is really the sort of thing that only happens in fantasy, and since Shoukoku no Altair seems for the most part to be going for realism, that’s strikes me a bit of a clunker. Especially in that the rest of the episode seemed to be pretty much on-point, with a lot of interesting stuff going on.
At its core I think this whole Hisar arc amounts to a classic head vs. heart situation for Mahmut. He makes many decisions which are both defensible and correct in the heat of the moment, but in the context of the larger picture are at best naive. It’s hardly surprising that Zaganos (who for a time considers using medieval chemical weapons, much to his attendant’s horror) has a larger plan in mind here that he’s been developing for months – one which Mahmut’s interference scuttles, though it’s the boy’s improvization skills that save it from devolving into a complete disaster for Turkiye. Nor is it surprising that this plan has the tacit approval of the Divan. Did Mahmut Pasha simply join too late to become aware of it, or was information reserved for only the most trusted members?
It’s also interesting that though in the final analysis it was Mahmut whose actions rescued the situation, and he was in no way responsible for causing the Hisar “crisis”, he was the only one who was sanctioned by the Divan – stripped of his Pasha title. Both Zaganos and Ibrahim kept their heads and their jobs – obviously for reasons of political and strategic expediency, what with what’s coming. Mahmut acted out of compassion, used intelligence and great analytical skills, and managed to avert a human tragedy – and in the process proved to the Divan that he’s not ready to be a Pasha. None of those things matter when you’re playing with the big boys if you don’t have your priorities in order.
In the larger picture it’s obvious that Zaganos and Louis are engaged in a covert battle, and that both the Balt-Rhein and Turkiye regimes are planning for war. Zaganos, in fact, seems to have engineered the whole Hisar fiasco as a way of convincing the country that the Empire was an imminent threat. It’s clear Louis wants war – it’s not 100% clear that Zaganos (and by extension the Divan) do, or simply feel that it’s unavoidable and are trying to prepare the nation to face it. If indeed Mahmut believes that avoiding war is possible, he’s got a tough road to hoe – and the journey he’s embarking upon now is either going to be to prepare him to face the war to come, or convince him that it’s still possible to stop it.