The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide Altair: A Record of Battles
How would you rate episode 1 of
Altair: A Record of Battles ?
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How was the first episode?
Even though I've always been a fan of learning about history, I've always had a difficult time diving into the nitty gritty details of the machinery of warfare. When it comes to the names and dates and battles and the labyrinth of treaties and double-crosses and tactical feints that make up the crux of the narrative of grand scale warfare and politics, I always find myself getting overwhelmed in the details and losing the emotional core of the story. That's why I went in to Altair: Battle Record expecting the worst: It's very name implied the kind of intricate politicking that turns me off of these kinds of stories. So the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did means it must be doing something right.
Don't get me wrong, this is still a story vested heavily in political and military intrigue, but it does enough to focus in on its likeable and interesting protagonist to ensure I never lost the forest for the myriad assassination attempts. It also helps that our hero has a badass falcon friend that will mess up his enemies for scraps of meat. The world of Turkiye and its battle against the Empire is doubtless filled with political intrigue, but I was much more invested in Mahmut Pasha's personal story. His interactions with the feisty Shara and the wise Halil gave him a bit of humanity that some of these otherworld war histories feel lacking it, at least for me.
I didn't hurt that the show was so visually interesting, and even if it doesn't have the best technical specs of the season, Studio MAPPA is at least going all out with its color direction and costume design. Altair: Battle Record is Pretty with a capital P, due in large part to the vibrant and fanciful costume and architecture that the series is liberally borrowing from the real world Ottoman Empire and its geographical neighbors. Even though the second half of the episode did indeed feel a bit rushed and overstuffed, as I feared it would, the series was never boring to look at. Anime is a visual medium after all, and if my eyeballs are happy enough I can excuse some overdone storytelling, at least to a point.
Will I be following Altair: Battle Record into the rest of the season? Probably not, if it were completely up to me. It simply isn't the kind of story to get its hooks in me, and I'm much more likely to opt for a series with a simpler political setup and a richer personal narrative. Still, I did have some fun with Altair's premiere, and if I had to cover it for the remainder of the season, it certainly wouldn't be the worst show to follow for the next few months. Given how little I was expecting from the show at the start, that is a sign of success in and of itself.
Altair: A Record of Battles spends its first episode trying to set up a complex, international political drama that will eventually lead to war on a continental scale. If you've watched any other series that operates on a similarly grand scale, you'll know what this means: the first episode gets off to a slow start. There are a lot of people to introduce, not to mention plenty of backstory to explain. All the geopolitical stuff leaves very little time for outright entertainment, but what little we do get seems decent enough.
The “war on the horizon” scenario calls for some very familiar character roles and plot points. Mahmut is the typical young hero, full of idealism and conveniently in possession of a useful weapon (in this case, a totally badass hawk). He has a kindly old mentor and an obnoxious rival, along with a suitably tragic past to keep him motivated. Most of these characters fill their roles reasonably well, with one unfortunate exception: Louis, the obligatory scheming baddie, doesn't seem especially competent or dangerous. If he's going to be the main antagonist, he'll need some serious character development as soon as possible.
As the characters go through the motions of dismantling a fake assassination, the writing and direction prove to be solid if unspectacular. I'm still waiting for this series to distinguish itself from other titles in its genre, but at least it has the fundamentals figured out in its first outing. If nothing else, it provides ample opportunity to show off some colorful outfits and locations; Mahmut's wardrobe is pretty impressive, as is the capital of the faux-European empire. As long as the story can minimize the amount of time it spends traveling through generic dusty plains and bland rock canyons, it should provide a nice supply of eye candy.
Considering the number of individual parts that Altair still needs to set in motion, it could be a while before this series finds its footing. More than anything else, it needs to give its cast some more personality and find a way to distinguish itself from the crowd. I can see it evolving into something worth watching if everything goes well, but it could also turn out to be a major time sink if it runs into trouble. Unless you have a burning need to watch everything the moment it comes out, I'd recommend waiting a few weeks to see how this one develops.
Altair is a fantasy series done in an alternate-world setting which doesn't much resemble our own in terms of continental map but nonetheless borrows heavily from real-world Middle Eastern settings. It is clearly setting up to be an epic story at least vaguely in the vein of Heroic Legend of Arslan, though the first episode suggests that it is aiming much more to be a story about a hero who triumphs through use of his brains rather than military might.
To that end the first episode does its job in workmanlike fashion. It establishes the protagonist Mahmut as an up-and-coming young Pasha (essentially a noble rank in the Ottoman Empire of our world) who is so serious-minded that he even rejects a gorgeous dancer who is lounging in his bed and clearly interested in him, despite the fact that he has no compelling reason not to and no one would probably think less of him for doing so; in fact, he'd probably be admired for it. It shows that he's keen to avoid war because of past personal tragedy associated with it, has a mentor figure in Halil, and is developing potential rivals/enemies in both the court of his home kingdom and the much larger and more powerful Empire which has factions that seem intent on instigating a war. He's also getting a reputation built and has a pet eagle which can be a terror to potential aggressors so that he doesn't have to dirty his hands personally.
All of this is well and good and covers all of the necessary bases, but it absolutely fails in developing the spark necessary to turn its story into a gripping, satisfyingly dramatic affair. Almost the entire first episode feels like the story is just going through the motions so it can make sure it hits all of its requisite checkpoints. Subterfuge involved in instigating a war? Check. Turn the tables on a supposed surprise attack? Check. And so forth. What little it has for action scenes completely underwhelm. Director Kazuhiro Furuhashi has extensive experience with titles that have extensive action components (Ruroni Kenshin, Getbackers, You're Under Arrest, among others) so I would have expected much better here. The animation and artistic effort is courtesy of MAPPA, but while the visual effort is competent it hardly dazzles, either.
Part of the problem here may be that I watched this episode immediately after the debut of Made in Abyss, and just about anything would pale in that comparison. Even factoring that in, though, the only way I'd probably continue watching this one is if that dancer proves to be a regular cast member. She is, by far, the highlight of the episode.
Welp, looks like a new show is giving The Heroic Legend of Arslan shtick another shot. Welcome to Altair: A Record of Battles, a show about new Pasha Mahmut and his merry adventures.
Altair is already setting itself up to be a faux-historical war drama, centered on young Turkiye official Mahmut and his various associates. “Turkiye” is presumably just Turkey, and it seems like Altair in general will be focusing on a slowly emerging Mediterranean war. Mahmut himself was deeply influenced by Turkiye's previous war, and thus has sped up the ranks to become a Pasha, a government adviser who may just have the power to stop the next one.
Altair's first episode does a fine job of introducing Mahmut and his world, understanding that the audience doesn't really need any exposition to figure out the roles of Pashas and other governmental minutiae. Instead, this episode is mostly focused on developing Mahmut as a character, as well as rushing him through his first official adventure. Though that story is indeed rushed, it's clear that the show is working hard to run through its own prologue, and thus the extreme pacing and somewhat disjointed tone of this episode are a little more forgivable.
On the aesthetic side, Altair is a generally attractive production. The background designs probably won't wow you, but the character designs are attractive and expressive, and the show's color palette is very lively in spite of its desert setting. The costume designs are particularly noteworthy, but the show in general has a clean and appealing look.
Overall, this episode felt somewhat hamstrung by its own narrative objectives, but still offered a reasonable platform for an ongoing fantasy narrative. The somewhat disjointed implementation of flashbacks and hyperspeed narrative resolution would strike me as bigger issues in another show, but here seemed like awkward but forgivable consequences of a story that's very eager to get to the important stuff. If you're into this sort of war drama, Altair seems like a fine riff on the genre.
Come for the political intrigue, stay for the Mahmut fashion show in the ending theme. Altair: Record of Battles definitely has my favorite aesthetic thus far, with its use of sumptuous fabrics and glowing stained glass, but that's just the window dressing on this story about totally-not-Turkey going to war with absolutely-not-Germany. Based on this episode, it looks like there could be an interesting discussion about warmongers and the people who actually have to live through the wars the mongers start, exemplified by Mahmut, the series' protagonist, and the evil Louis, a minister in the other country's court. Louis, for reasons only he knows at this point, is bound and determined to start a war, and Mahmut, having lost his mother and his village in the last war twelve years ago, is equally determined to stop it.
What's most baffling at this point is how remarkably bad Louis is at provoking conflict. He didn't bother to fully do his research when creating a fake arrow and assassinating his own ambassador with it (he used the wrong part of the wing to get the feathers from), and then his minions did a crap job of trying to kill Mahmut and Halil on their way to present the arrow to Louis' emperor. Between that and his nasty-looking little beard, Louis is about as incompetently evil as it's possible to be without looking like a total fool. Given attitudes at the time, of course, which appears to be somewhere in the 17th or 18th century, it's entirely possible that he's just grossly underestimating foes he sees as being less human than he is based on their nationality and religion, but he's taking an awful lot of risks for someone trying to frame the other guy for a major assassination. He is tenacious, though, I'll give him that.
I feel like it's going to be the characters who make or break this show going forward. Mahmut's anti-war sentiments and relentless drive to become a pasha and have a voice in the government makes sense, but apart from that and his apparent aversion to girls there's not much else that's remarkable about him. Halil is just another kindly old mentor, while the grumpy pasha with purple hair is a pretty stock rival character. Mahmut's friends in town have more potential thus far, and maybe in interacting with them further we'll be able to see more of an actual personality for Mahmut. The closing narration also implies that other countries will become involved in Louis' pet war, which may also provide a larger background for Mahmut's development.
Altair: Record of Battles really does have potential. It looks lovely, it has an interesting time and place for its setting, and that trick with covering the bad guys with mutton before siccing the hawks on them was inspired. This may very well have been a prologue to a much more involved show.
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