It’s really starting to seem as if Shoukoku no Altair is going to be one of those anime that does the thankless work – plugging along, telling a good story without much flash or sizzle, largely ignored by the vocal portions of the fan community. If in fact that turns out to be the case, it’s not a tragedy – the fact that it got an anime at all is great (if you’re been following series announcements this year, all the more so), much less a two-cour commitment. And truth be told it’s not doing anything to get even me jumping up and down for it – it’s just good, solid historical fantasy anime.
Stories like Shoukoku no Altair always have a beginning, middle and end – a bildungsroman is a bildungsroman be it manga, anime or Western novel. I don’t know if we’ll get to see the “end” part, but the beginning and middle are certainly going to get their time to shine. There have been times in the first few episodes where I’ve been frustrated that Mahmut is as fallible as he is – impetuous, a bit naive, too idealistic – but I think that’s anime conditioning talking. This is a boy that for all his painful memories, has little of the real-world experience he needs to succeed in the arena he’s chosen to make his vocation. Shoukoku, then, is the story of his ongoing education – and we can already see the form it’s beginning to take.
Once Mahmut meets up with Kara Kanat Suleyman (Konishi Katsuyuki) and we learn a bit more of his past, it’s hard not to compare his story with Kurapika’s. Both are young men of seventeen (when we meet them) who’ve had their entire home and people wiped out. Kurapika’s response is – well, you probably know, and it would take too long to summarize it here. Mahmut’s is rather different, though I suspect it wasn’t always that way. It’s not clear yet whether Mahmut began his military training with the intent of being a peacemaker (if he did, I credit Halil Pasha’s influence) or whether it was initially an attempt to grow strong enough to fight those that committed the genocide. Either way, Mahmut is now someone who wants only to prevent more fighting – and the suffering it will bring to more children like he was.
Another major difference, of course, is that Mahmut isn’t completely alone – Suleyman is another eagle handler from Tughril Village. He survived because he was in Florence, working as a falconer for a spymaster living as a noble patron of the arts, when the Balt-Rhein Empire destroyed the village. After a meeting with the young Zaganos years earlier, Suleyman is now the bahskan (head) of Zaganos’ spy network Goz Kulak. And through his field agent Barbaros he makes contact with Mahmut, establishing a relationship that I assume is going to be very important in the story going forward.
In fact it’s already important, as Virgilio Louis’ Red Orm spies have targeted Zaganos’ agents in reprisal for the Hisar debacle. It’s clear from this encounter that though Mahmut is certainly skilled in eagle handling (though Iskender being a boy is highly unusual), Suleyman has a huge advantage over him in every sense. What engagements like this show is just how much Mahmut has to learn if he’s to become a real player in regional politics as he wishes – he has intelligence and an ability to read people, but is otherwise ill-equipped to swim in the deep end of the pool with the real power players we’ve already met.