A bit more of a mixed bag this week coming off the stronger episode from last week.
We open with a short scene between Souma and Juna. It is meant to be a soft, sweet moment between the two of them. Souma is exhausted, so Juna comes in and comforts him until he falls asleep. My issue is that it is less sweet/tender and ends up being more pandering. We have hardly seen these two interact, so having Juna basically pledge to fill in the gaps for another paramour (Liscia in this case) feels like a very cynical reminder that her character even exists. The kicker of Juna singing a song as Souma sleeps ends up feeling more funny than sweet for precisely this reason.
The remainder of the episode is largely focused on the three dukes. This is where the series gets back to straining any sense of realism or practicality, for myself anyway.
Souma goes on a pretty lengthy discussion about the idea of “cruelties.” This idea that a ruler having to make harsh decisions to solve problems being an enchanted blade is an interesting idea theoretically, and makes a bit of sense. The issue with enacting cruelties of course is that a ruler needs a mixture of popular support, institutional support, and competent delegation of leadership to enact any policy – especially “cruel” ones. Souma stripping the three dukes of their positions is going to be a massive undertaking requiring all three to pull off even at an ineffective level.
This is one of those situations where the central premise of the show is a huge stumbling block. Firstly, there is not much in the way of excitement with nearly half the episode discussing the political machinations of cast members and nations we know next to nothing about. Secondly, the believability of Souma’s “brilliance” is really called into question here. The entire premise of the series hinges on the audience buying into the idea that Souma really is brilliant and sees things in a way no one else does because he’s so well-read and intuitive. But this episode makes it patently obvious he knows nothing about leadership.
Allow me to let you in on a secret I’ve learned in my time on this earth: when you take things from people, that makes them mad.
Authority, practicality, and technicality really do not matter at all in this. If you take things from people, they get upset. Shocking, I know. It does not make much of a difference if you are allowed to take those things, or if they deserve to lose those things, or even if you are technically correct in doing so – people get upset when you take things away. So you need to prepare yourself for the fallout of doing so.
Souma trying to strip the three dukes of their positions – even if his reasons are sound – is basically guaranteed to upset them. He has been king all of twenty minutes, so showing up and making drastic changes that also end with him centralizing power is an incredibly foolish move. He is guaranteeing friction and internal strife, full stop. For such a Machiavellian operator, this sure seems like a painfully obvious blunder. I suppose we could chalk it up to Souma having a weakness of not understanding people as well as he understands politics – an issue of lack of life experience versus the dry book learning of political treatises – but then that further undermines the show’s premise. Politics is people, and up until now Souma has been portrayed as a wonderkid in all categories. All I’m saying is, if I was going to strip three dukes of their titles and militaries in a feudal system during a series of nation-shattering socio-economic crises, environmental disasters, and vast public works projects, maybe I would not do that on my very first phone call with them. Take them out to dinner or something first, you know?