Let’s put the ugliness of Shingeki no Bahamut Virgin Soul behind us and move on to that other MAPPA series, the one most of the manga fanbase seems to have summarily denounced and dismissed after the first couple of episodes. That’s fine – they’re entitled to their opinions. As someone who came into this series unencumbered I continue to find Shoukoku no Altar an entertaining and interesting historical fantasy, never threatening masterpiece status but consistently delivering the goods week after week.
You could do worse than to view the conflict driving the narrative here (the showdown between Turkiye and Balt-Rhein, of course) as a chess match. There’s a reason that metaphor is so often applied to political-military conflicts, with each side trying to think one (or several) moves ahead of the other. In Mahmut you have someone who imagined himself as the hand moving the pieces, but has ended up largely being a pawn – or at best, a knight. He may have aspirations to change that, but for now is role is very much to move as he’s bidden to (by Zaganos, mostly) for the benefit of his side.
In Louis, black has a rather resourceful hand in control. His overture to Balaban was largely successful no matter what happens here, as it’s fractured alliances in the Sultanate’s military and political alliance to the point where states are fighting against each other – and so are brothers. For Mahmut this means trying to hold out with an incompetent sultan as an ally and his forces outnumbered better than 4-1 by the enemy. In Zaganos’ eyes Mahmut is required to do little more than be a sacrificial pawn here, buying his side the time it needs to move on the three sultan’s capitals. But pawn or no, Mahmut is resourceful and ambitious enough in his own right not to merely play the role of sacrifice – especially given that he’d be taking Kiliç down with him.
Just as Louis did, Mahmut uses Balaban’s own pride against him – given the insider knowledge the key players on his team are able to provide him on thats subject. Perhaps if this weren’t so personal that ploy might not have worked, but Beyazit’s presence at the head of the opposing army is enough of an affront to Balaban’s ego that he takes the bait and fights on Mahmut’s terms. The real deciding factor here, though, is Beyazit’s literal secret weapon – the one that forever changed warfare everywhere it made its first appearance in this era. Even so, though – after Balaban’s fall Mahmut’s forces are still outnumbered three-to-one by the other two sultans – and they’re unlikely to be so generous in leveling the playing field…