This season has certainly been saturated by isekai, but none is more interesting to me than How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom. Out of all the anime I’ve watched so far, this one has more political jargon than any. I quickly realized that a viewer would require basic political literacy to even understand what is unfolding in the plot. The show features far too many social science concepts for me to put into a single article of reasonable length, so I will only focus on only one for now: International Relations, otherwise known as IR.
Drawing on my experiences working as a political campaign manager in Canada, I will attempt to explain in very simple terms how the series skillfully integrates IR theories.
IR Theory 101
There are two main schools of thought in the field of IR.
First, there is idealism, which we more commonly call liberalism. It’s an idea that emerged out of the Enlightenment in 1795 from Immanuel Kant’s book Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. The precepts he laid out for liberalism, still applicable to this day, form the Kantian triangle: democracy, economic interdependence, and international institutions. For liberals, they are the three keys to achieving peace. It’s not hard to understand liberalism since we currently live under a liberal world order: liberal democracy is the most common political system, globalization requires countries to depend on each other for trade, and the United Nations keeps everyone in check.
By contrast, realism is everything that liberalism is not. Realism far precedes liberalism by centuries. While Thomas Hobbes is considered the father of realism, Thucydides and Machiavelli are two prominent philosophers known to have made important contributions to the concept. The latter’s ideas play an important role in informing how our Realist Hero, Souma Kazuya, acts as a sovereign. Indeed, realists believe that the world is in a perpetual state of anarchy. Therefore, for realists, long-term cooperation between states is not possible and war is inevitable. Unlike liberals, realists do not concern themselves with political alignment, but rather relative power. According to realism, states rationally respond to incentives. Basically, if your country is strong, it will deter your neighbors from invading. By creating a security dilemma, a balance of power between states can be established. In fact, a good example for a realist world order is perfectly demonstrated in this anime.
The term Realpolitiks or power politics is an important realist concept that Kazuya abides by. Just like how Machavelli recommends sovereigns to hold on to power by any means necessary even in peacetime, our protagonist uses his modern understanding of politics to accomplish exactly that.
One of the first instructive moments of the show is an exchange between Kazuya and Liscia. Kazuya surmises that leaving domestic issues such as the food shortage and refugee crisis unattended would make it easier for external forces to manufacture a revolt. Yet, Liscia insists that the people of Elfreiden love their nation and would never revolt against the monarchy. Kazuya’s answer? Starving citizens will have neither morals nor patriotism.
In this instance, Kazuya values material circumstances over the population’s political alignment with its leaders. He acts as a realist counterbalance to his fiancée’s more liberal worldview and doesn’t take popular support for granted. Realists believe that the laws that govern the world are ”rooted in human nature,” to quote Hans Morgenthau. Therefore, it’s perfectly reasonable for a realist to expect a destitute population to revolt against its rulers and external hostile forces to foment disaffection.
The second and more significant instance of Kazuya’s realist thinking is how he feels about the Elfreiden Kingdom’s politico-military infrastructure. Broadly speaking, Elfreiden is a feudal kingdom. Under feudalism, smaller nobles pledge their loyalty and arms to a monarch in exchange for lands and titles. The actual standing army of the monarchy is much smaller than all of its subjects combined, but they can be called to mobilize alongside the royal army in times of war.
Accordingly, Kazuya’s royal army, called the Forbidden Army, only makes up about 40,000 of the kingdom’s 100,000-strong army. However, part of the royal army is made of mercenaries from the Mercenary State of Zem. Kazuya rips a page out of Machiavelli’s book and promptly cancels their employment contract with the crown. The realist he is, Kazuya finds it preferable to weaken his personal army instead of keeping a force that fights for profit within it. After all, mercenaries could switch sides on a dime at the behest of a higher bidder.
The rest of the Elfreiden army is under the command of three vassal lords: a 40,000-strong infantry force led by Duke Georg Carmine, a 10,000-strong navy force led by Duchess Excel Walter, and a 10,000-strong air force led by Duke Castor Vargas.
Although this mirrors how a feudal system would have functioned in our own reality, the reason for this specific arrangement has a lot to do with Elfreiden’s history and ideals. Originally, the Elfreiden Kingdom was founded by multiple races with the goal of peaceful coexistence. The humans outnumbered all the other races, so the king would be chosen among them. However, each of the other three major races received lands and were each allowed to field powerful armies. That way, if a human monarch ever reneged on the arrangement and became a tyrant, the three Dukes would be able to swiftly remove them.
However, Kazuya recognizes that a force that can be used for a kingdom’s protection can also be used to turn against it. For example, one of the Dukes could become ambitious and ally with a foreign power to install himself as a ruler. For a realist who believes that the world is in a constant state of anarchy, this system is a disaster waiting to happen, because the monarch could quickly find themselves surrounded by enemies. As a result, Kazuya comes to the conclusion that this system has significant flaws and could leave his kingdom more vulnerable in the end.
In fact, Kazuya’s fears were proven correct when Halbert Magna, a noble from one of the most prestigious families, openly talked about joining Duke Carmine’s army as the latter allegedly wished to rebel against the new king. As Machiavelli once wrote, ‘’it is much safer to be feared than loved’’ and Kazuya handled the situation accordingly.
But where realism truly shines is in foreign policy. In the show’s plot, the continent of Landia is populated by different races who all speak a common language known collectively as Mankind. However, in recent times, a new people has conquered the northern part of the continent. They speak a different language and are not native to the ecosystem of the continent. Henceforth, they were labelled as demons and the part of the continent they occupied became known as the Demon Lord’s domain.
The forces of Mankind fought the Demon Lord’s armies to a stalemate and were unable to fully eradicate them. Due to the language barrier and aggressive expansion of the Demon Lord’s domain, Mankind’s different nations are loosely united in interest when it comes to resisting their advance. However, Kazuya learns a shocking fact from one of his new subjects that could change everything: it turns out that the Mystic Wolf, Tomoe Inui, can speak to any creature – including demons, a feat that was once thought impossible.
For Kazuya, this is the equivalent of a diplomatic lightning rod. Indeed, the unity of Mankind against the demons was predicated on the fact that their enemies were savage barbarians who spoke an incomprehensible language. The word barbarian itself comes from the Greek word barbaros, which referred to foreign peoples who did not speak Greek or followed Greek culture.
Despite the great threat the demons pose, the nations of Mankind don’t exactly like or even trust each other. After all, most of them have long histories of war and hostility between each other. As a result, the possibility of dialogue between Mankind and the demons means that a nation could forge an alliance with the Demon Lord’s domain against the other nations of Mankind for self-interested reasons such as territorial expansion or revenge. Previously, the balance of power favored the status quo, but with this development, there is a much higher incentive for an opportunistic nation to side with the demons. Hence, it becomes Kazuya’s most pressing concern.
Of course, Liscia has a dismayed reaction to this theory. Idealistically, the cultural, and political alignment of all the nations of Mankind would supersede a self-interested alliance of convenience – IR liberals would agree with this assessment as well. However, the Prime Minister points out that Mankind, just like any group, is by no means a monolithic group. As stated before, there have been wars between countries before the arrival of the Demon Lord’s armies and bad blood does not wash away so easily.
To best explain this dynamic, it would be wise to look at our own history. The fictional character Sir Humphrey Applebee, from the British comedy TV show Yes Prime Minister, put it best in his explanation of British foreign policy: ”We have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians.”
In the end, there is no right or wrong answer in IR; it’s a lens through which one sees the world. As such, some rejected the binary and found new ways to explain world events. Over the years, more frameworks have emerged, such as Constructivism, Feminism, and Marxism. While the show may portray realism in a particularly good light, Kazuya also has good reasons to act the way he does. After all, liberal democracy emerged from the Enlightenment, and the ideologies of Landia insofar haven’t evolved in that direction. With the different races, mythical creatures, and magic being a significant departure from our reality, who knows if democracy will even be possible in such a world? So far, Kazuya has displayed a great deal of wisdom in his performance as a king. Without a doubt, his decisions are educated by our own fraught history. But that is a conversation for another day.
Bhromor Rahman is a 1L Law student at the University of Ottawa. He’s worked for three years now as a campaign manager for the Conservative Party of Canada. He’s the former editor-in-chief of his college newspaper, the Marianopolis World Review and is currently the senior columnist for The Game Crater. You can find him on Twitter (@brosbrawls).