Altair: A Record of Battles
Tugril Mahmut becomes the youngest person ever elected to the position of Pasha (member of the Ruling Council) in the Empire of Torqye, but quickly gets demoted after an incident in which he acted on his personal feelings without the blessing of the other Pashas. He wants to restore his status, but his chief priority is preventing the avaricious Balt-Rhein Empire from achieving its goal of military conquest of Torqye and other peaceful nations.
The first thing I'd note is that I've never seen an historically-flavored anime where the Ottoman Turks ("Torqye") are the heroes, so you have to give the show credit for an unusual and exotic setting. This one also spins a sprawling tale, with a huge cast (check the list of characters in Wiki!), with a few tidbits of real history, and barely-disguised (or sometimes not disguised at all) actual nations and groups existing around the "Centro Sea" (The Mediterranean, of course) woven into the tapestry. Sure, in OUR world, some of the players were not on the historical stage at the same time; the "heroic" Ottomans were conquerors THEMSELVES, not just the "preservers of the peace" depicted here; and I can't think of an exact historical equivalent for our bad guys here, the Balt-Rhein Empire and its scheming prime minister, Virgilio Louis. (The Balt-Rhein Empire gets depicted as the perpetrator of some stuff that I believe the Ottomans did in real life; we’ll say that this show is about as historically accurate as U.S. cowboys-and-Indians shows are about, well, cowboys and Indians.)
On the other hand, as I said, some real history does pop up here from time to time- I just recently read that Venice (depicted as "Venedik" here) really WAS founded by refugees, as noted in a throwaway line in Altair. This mixing of a little real history into a mostly fabricated tale reminded me a bit of Le Chevalier D'Eon, but with one important difference: there's very little use of magic and the supernatural in Altair. To me this gave this show a kind of odd credibility that D'Eon lacked; I kept thinking of a line from Sesame Street's Ernie: "It DIDN'T happen that way. But it COULD have." (With just a few changes in the script of history.)
Mahmut certainly undergoes some changes in his outlook, from the idealistic and naïve youth he is at the beginning; later in the show we'll even see him engaging in some "regime change" to keep straying allies in line. I applaud the show's realism in not letting Mahmut ALWAYS win; sometimes his intentions to save an individual (or even a nation) utterly fail, and end in heartbreaking ruin, though bad decisions by others are usually the main factor here. I'm not that comfortable about the show's making its hero look, well, VERY non-Turkish. Mahmut does eventually acquire some interesting sidekicks and allies, of whom my favorite was the cynical Kiros. I also did enjoy the twin brothers from Spain (which is here called "El Tauro"), whose NAMES are the Spanish words for "left" and "right".
Another interesting character is Mahmut's chief opponent among the Pashas, named Zaganos. The early impression one gets of him is of someone always eager to go to war at the first sign of trouble (and always keeping some soldiers at the ready for this), but as Mahmut becomes more "worldly" through his experiences, maybe Zaganos in turn becomes more willing to trust Mahmut, and follow his lead.
I would say that the show is much more equal-opportunity than actual history was, even though none of the series' women are given as important a role as its chief males are. We meet a young woman named Shara early on, a dancing girl (fanservice alert!) who I kind of hoped WOULD either get paired with Mahmut, or at least with Ibrahim, Mahmut's friend who introduced her to him. There's also the "frisky" Caterina di Rossi (voiced by Mamiko Noto; again, I'm impressed by how far she's come from the "innocent" characters she played earlier in her career), who's apparently had a thing for a guy named Suleyman (who runs Zaganos' network of spies.) I DO wish the show had given us a little more detail about their relationship. But the show's rapid pace sometimes doesn't leave much room for character backstories, alas.
But maybe we WILL get more about this and other loose ends. The show's 24 episodes don't really finally conclude the business, though it DOES come to an emotionally satisfying stopping point. It's all fairly complex- the intrigues, as much as the battles themselves- but the combat scenes are intense enough, and if you appreciate strategy and tactics there's plenty of THAT here. (The Balt-Rhein troops owe a HUGE debt to the Roman Legionnaires in their infantry tactics, by the way.) And that enormous cast offers tremendous variety, from pacifists to pragmatists, from innocents to cunning opportunists, sprinkled here and there with some delightful eccentrics.
By the way, I'm not entirely clear how the star Altair is connected to this, though a triangle of stars that I assume is supposed to be the Summer Triangle (which contains Altair) often appears in the story. (It's NOT an equilateral triangle though, as the artists sometimes mistakenly depict it here.) So the Recommendation is ANOTHER show about battles that features a star name in the title!
Quite the saga we have here. I thought it started a little slowly, but once it got going I was hooked. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Some minor fanservice, but some brutal war violence, including impalements and decapitations. I'm going 16+ here.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Altair: A Record of Battles © 2017 Mappa.
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