Seems like last time I was both very right and very wrong.
To be exact, I was right when I drew a comparison between what was happening in the episode and the birth of Protestantism, because that’s exactly what’s happening right now. The Lakeside Convent declares a secession from the central Church declaring itself a new, “true” Church; knowledge of the new faith is quickly spread throughout the people of the country thanks to the newly invented means of paper and print; and the religious shift of power corresponds to social unrest, as the peasants see this as an occasion to challenge authority and subvert traditional order. This is something that happened in the real world as well – though it didn’t end nearly as well as in MMY (check it out: German Peasants’ War). Here, in fact, the King and his peers seem so eager to give freedom to the peasants one has to wonder why were they peasants in the first place. The resulting scenario is something that picks a bit from Germany – the popular malcontent, the spreading of faith aided by print – and a bit from England – mainly the fact that the True Church doesn’t seem to involve any changes in doctrine besides a refusal of the central authority, and that the change emanates directly from the monarchy (though it’s kind of a forced act after things reached this point). Luckily, at least, it does not involve beheaded women or horny kings.
At the same time, mercantile mentality spreads together with this new view of religion, as the increased independence from the Central Church and the Central Nations allows to break the cycle which pumped wealth from the other countries into them. We see in a flashback Demon King herself making a quite clear statement about the importance of free market and the flow of wealth, which makes her automatically Adam Smith with boobs. It is interesting to note that here free market is seen as an antidote to extreme gaps in wealth between a lot of poor people and a few extremely rich ones. When someone points out that we might have the same problem today (“we are the 99%”, anyone?) he tends to be labelled a commie, not a free market supporter.
What I was completely wrong about last time was that this act of defiance towards the Church would have no serious consequences on the long run. Those consequences instead arrive quickly: by the end of the episode, the Central Nations and the Winter Kingdom are at war. It is here, in the ominous shadow of the imminent conflict, that an interesting economic game is played. The Merchant that we’ve already seen in the past juggles his way between these changes and relishes in the imminent destruction, as it allows him to make – you guessed it – more money. In a convoluted move he basically starts emitting futures on wheat from the Central Nations, buying not only already harvested wheat, but promises on wheat that has not been produced yet. This produces a cascade effect, and panic ensues as not only the price of wheat skyrockets (due to the reduced availability and to fears of imminent war) but the price of other replacement foods does as well, which in turn allows Merchant to do what in economy is technically called “a shitload of money” by selling his wheat that he still doesn’t even have. And if you find this confusing, try modern stock market.
All of this puts pressure on the food resources of Winter Kingdom, where the prices are still unchanged, and the kingdom apparently reacts with a protectionist policy, applying a heavy levy on the wheat exports, to prevent being drained by external demand. All of this shows me a glimpse of what I was truly expecting from this anime at the beginning: a fantahistorical plot driven by economic games. This episode left me satisfied in this respect, though the narration style is still quite dull and sort of chronicle-like: there’s no real passion whatsoever breathing in these characters, everyone is just an almost lifeless doll enacting this puppet show of politics and economics. Besides that, it’s not clear to me if the show willingly takes no stance on the morals of the characters, or if we’re supposed to sympathize with the Merchant, whose unashamedly speculative behaviour is hardly stigmatized. The first option seems unlikely, considered how obvious was the bashing towards the Inquisition as well as other ‘villains’ (on that topic, where did those guys plotting revenge a few episodes ago go? Were they behind the excommunication of the Chrimson Scholar?). The second seems slightly disturbing to me, as what the Merchant is doing, for all his wit, is inflating a price bubble bigger than his momma. The kind that drives people into economic ruin and suicide. This is the stuff Black Thursdays are made of. If Demon King embodies the good that can come from free market, Merchant definitely is its Dark Side.
Also, how creepy is that flashback where we discover Demon King has been lusting over Hero until he was a newborn?
And finally, while war finally ensues, while the armies of thousands march towards each other, while men get ready to kill and to die, swords are forged, horses are saddled, “I want YOU” recruiting posters are affixed, the Hero goes to the Winter King and asks him to wage war as long as possible without any casualties on either side.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA yeah right, I totally want to see this.
P.S. “when you don’t know what to do, eat sweets!” has to be the dumbest line ever. Bonus points for being said in response to a crisis meeting trying to find a way to avoid imminent war and the ensuing death and destruction.