Altair: A Record of Battles Episodes 1-2
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Altair: A Record of Battles ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Altair: A Record of Battles ?
The job of historical fantasy is to give us a world recognizable on the whole but ultimately following its own alternative timeline. Altair: A Record of Battles definitely fulfills that requirement. Set in Türkiye, a fictionalized version of Ottoman Turkey that's much closer to its Medieval founding date than its official end in the early 1920s, these first two episodes present a version of Europe champing at the bit for war. The major conflicts seem to be between Türkiye and the Germanic Balt-Rheine Empire, with a scattered tribe of people known as the Araba, who appear to have become nomadic in the absence of a country of their own, thrown in as bait. It's a world far enough back in time to feel fantastical even without the addition of fantasy elements, and it's pretty appealing as a setting.
The story itself feels a little jumbled in these first two episodes, although it looks like it's getting itself straightened out. Our hero is Mahmut, the youngest pasha (an Ottoman rank comparable to general) in the history of Türkiye. Like so many other young heroes, he's driven by what he has lost, in this case his mother when his village was burned in a war. Therefore Mahmut's goal as a pasha isn't to lead men into battles, but rather to prevent those battles from happening at all, or at least to minimize the loss of civilian life. He's definitely got his work cut out for him though, since Minister Louis of the Empire and Zaganos Pasha (who previously held the title of youngest and is not taking his uprooting gracefully) seem determined to start a war. Their reasons aren't yet clear, but I'm hoping they have an actual motive other than boredom or “because we suck.”
What's interesting is that Louis doesn't seem to be very good at this yet, or at least he's doing his damnedest to look like he isn't – his tactics are either ham-handed (the arrow thing in episode one) or easily thwarted by Zaganos' superior tactics, such as when Zaganos' troops arrive at the city the Empire is trying to wrest from Türkiye's control. (Though I must say that the dual use of the Arabas and threatening soldiers' families seems like it ought to have worked.) Their major mistake, however, seems to be involving Mahmut's classmate and friend Ibrahim, who is currently the ruler of the city. Mahmut knows that Ibrahim would never turn against Türkiye on his own, and while he and the dancer Shara are only two people against two armies (three if you count the Arabas convinced that they're getting a homeland), he's already proven his wits in episode one.
Episode two does a lot to develop both Mahmut and Shara from their bare shells in the premiere. While we did learn Mahmut's driving force in the first episode, this time we get to see that he really was a little kid when he began training in earnest, and the bullying that resulted from his attempts to prove that he belonged there. He comes off as cold and self-aggrandizing (at least to his fellow pasha), but he's also a caring soul, determined not to let anyone else suffer through what he did. Shara, meanwhile, is looking like more than the boobs of the operation – she's fluent in Arabaic, she knows their dances, and she's got serious ninja skills, as we saw when she snuck into Mahmut's bed in the first episode. She's also gutsy, determined to help Ibrahim and not taking no for an answer when Mahmut sets out on his own; in fact, Shara's the one who gets the two of them into the city. Hopefully she sticks around, because even though her hair is channeling Princess Jasmine pretty hard, she's got a lot of potential as a character.
Her costumes are also a highlight of these episodes, going from modest to much racier. Actually, I love the costume design for almost all of the characters, with the notable exception of the old guy who looks like he's wearing a bag of unopened Pop Secret on his head. The ending theme is particularly good for this with its Mahmut Fashion Show, but even background characters look like care was taken with their designs. The animation is a little less impressive, with fight choreography being just okay and Shara's dancing in episode two looking very phoned-in. The historical detail, such as the siege towers and the architecture, is generally very nice. I also like that the Arabas speak their own language, even if Anime Strike needs to learn not to put English subtitles on top of Japanese ones, rendering both illegible.
It's tempting to write this off as Arslan 2.0, but Mahmut is a much tougher character and the world more overtly political than in Arslan. Although it isn't entirely clear how we got from the plot of episode one to that of episode two, this definitely has potential in both characters and story. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes and checking out Kodansha's digital release of the manga.
Altair: A Record of Battles is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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