I’ve long-since given up on Shoukoku no Altair catching any wide appeal, but it continues to improve. If you enjoy political intrigue there just aren’t that many options in anime, and it isn’t simply a matter of “any port in a storm”. That side of Shoukoku is really good and genuinely interesting, and that’s not surprising – the manga has the wealth of Eurasian military history to draw on, and the freedom to take whatever fanciful directions it wishes to with that history.
This is one of those eps where I took a large raft of notes, just because there were so many moving parts and so much going on. The fate of the four stratocracies continues to be at the center of the narrative, with Mahmut being given a cursed gift. He has the opportunity to restore his name and position by leading a revolt that must encompass all four stratocracies – a revolt which, if it fails, will be pinned squarely on him (almost surely resulting in his execution by any number of queuing parties). And it’s a race against the clock, because a road is being built to connect the mineral-rich Biçki with the Empire, turning it and the other stratocracies into trading hubs and cementing their connection to Balt-Rhein.
The odds are pretty tall against Team Mahmut (and its “weak point”, Kiros) here. The Empire has the establishment, the larger forces, and the lure of wealth. But the situation is, to say the least, complicated. Suleyman joins up and helps the trio flee the Red Alm, and they head for the Kiliç stratocracy – the poorest, but ruled by the clever “masked sultan” Selim. His territory’s lack of wealth or might forces him to be a political weathervane, and he’s already cut a deal with the Empire. But his son Orhan (Shimazaki Nobunaga) is engaged to the rebel princess Ayşe (Kayano Ai) – Beyazit’s niece. She knows him well, and believes that hope exists for a partnership there – so she and Team Mahmut head off in that direction.
Meanwhile Suleyman and Beyazit head for Biçki, where the sultan has likewise cut a deal with Balt-Rhein. But his son Ismail (Okamoto Nobuhiko) sees the danger in the wealthy future his greedy father has planned out. Once his sultanate becomes wealthy after the completion of the road, it becomes a cherry ripe for invasion by anyone with a bigger army. That makes a less ostentatiously rich future allies with Turkiye seem a safer and more appealing option, and he intercepts Suleyman and Beyazit in order to see if they have what it takes to sell him on having better odds siding with Turkiye.
Team Mahmut eventually wind up in one of Selim’s cells – though this is simply a ruse for him to meet with them in secret. Selim too seems to be intent on working a deal with Turkiye, but only if he can be convinced it offers he and his state better long-term odds for safety. It’s the quick-witted Ayşe who formulates a viable short-term plan – announce her wedding to Orhan and invite the sultans of the other stratocracies. If they show, it gives Team Mahmut a chance for a four-in-one coup – if not, Selim can declare any agreements between them invalid.
The kicker here, though, is what happens in Biçki, which seems to be the lynchpin for the fates of all the stratocracies – it has the most mineral wealth, and sits at the terminus of the road to the Empire. Ismail may be suspicious that his father’s greed spells trouble for his homeland, but he’ll need good convincing to go against that man, Balaban and the Empire when even with the support Suleyman and Beyazit can offer, their side would still be outnumbered by a factor of 10. Beyazit has a trump card though, and one he (understandably) wants to keep close to his vest – showing it only to Ismail. It’s a matchlock musket, and as Nobunaga Oda could tell you it was a game-changer in this era – and Beyazit says he has access to 77 of them. How Beyazit came into possession of these weapons is still a mystery, but the state of battle in Shoukoku no Altair will surely be changed forever by their entry into the story.