Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – Maou’s First Steps

This scene literally rotated its crops around. Clever!

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha’s portrayal of society is engrossing in that I’m having a blast just picking out historical analogues. Granted, it is a fantasy story at the core, what with the whole deal concerning the Human-Demon War, magic that allows people to teleport vast distances, and all manners of monsters from a giant walrus to kraken, so an analogy to history isn’t going to be perfect. But it’s fun to see where the creator drew inspiration for the events in the anime.

After all, what’s got me hooked is the setup they have created for human society, which places economies on a war footing, with all the ramifications of that system, both good and bad. Things like war casualties and the enslaving of the defeated are but some of the negative aspects of war, but one shouldn’t forget the positive aspects: lower population lowers the risk of famine and plague, consumption of goods and services is greater (especially in war materials), which, in turn, prop up economies, and war creates plenty of jobs to go around. Peace would bring its own problems; all things being equal, population increases would increase the risk of famine, consumption of war materials would decline, forcing production to shift to different sectors after a painful transition period, and there’s always the danger of discontent former soldiers with no skills turning to banditry. In essence, what we have here is the classic example of the Broken Windows Parable as applied to war.

To overcome this requires a complete overhauling of the way society functions. Enter the Demon Queen, who seeks to bring about peace while limiting the impact of these aforementioned unintended consequences and building a springboard to bring society to even greater heights.

The challenge that’s set before her is pretty great, given that the scope of her proposals, like four-field crop rotation, weren’t implemented until the 16th Century, and even then, wasn’t really popularized until the 18th Century. Needless to say, the anime’s setting, which seems to draw inspiration from the High Middle Ages in Europe all the way up to the Renaissance, had not progressed that far yet. The Demon Queen is bent on really accelerating societal change with new farming techniques as the initial first step.

This first step makes a lot of sense. Assuming that the High Middle Ages European setting is accurate, the people were already starting to see the use of implements such as the iron plow to break up the harder soil typical of Northern European countries. Furthermore, many farming communities had already adopted the three-field crop rotation system, where farmers would plant wheat and grain on one field, plant legumes on another (to replenish nitrogen), and leave the other field lying fallow. Unfortunately, this forces one field to be unproductive for a year, thereby limiting crop yields.

But by transitioning to a four-field crop rotation system using the combination of a clover field, a wheat field, a barley field, and a turnip field, one can keep the area being farmed fully utilized with a lower risk of depleting the soil of nutrients. As the Demon Queen explains it, wheat and barley can be harvested, clover would be used for grazing and animals would defecate, allowing the soil to replenish itself, and turnips would be used to feed animals in winter. In addition to greater field utilization, the availability of grain, winter vegetables, and meat (usually pork) for consumption allowed peasants to diversify their food sources, giving them a more stable food supply that helps prevent a Malthusian catastrophe, a situation whereby a population’s existence reverts to a subsistence level because of a lack of food to feed people.

Stabilizing the food supply would be vital to making cities more viable. Although towns had been on the decline in the Middle Ages, as more food became available as a result of these changing agricultural practices, people became free to pursue artisanly tasks and engage in trade, dedicating themselves fully to their professions/trades, settling into an area on a permanent basis. The long-distance fairs that had been a part of medieval life would then be replaced by cities (especially those in Italy) as trading hubs and were often located near thoroughfares or castles. What helped in this development was the ability for many cities to obtain self-government by obtaining charters from the local Lord in return for paying the local Lord for protection. The degree to which the cities governed themselves varied; those in Italy would go on to become functioning republics while others would be subject to royal authority. But there’s no doubt that cities would eventually lay the foundation for an urban industrial society.

I suspect we’re a few centuries away from an East India Company.

Seeing these societal changes take place is what makes Maoyuu Maou Yuusha so fascinating. What we’re witnessing first-hand is the Demon Queen’s attempts to speed the urbanization process along which, in turn, upends institutions that characterized medieval society, such as the evolution of serfs who were bound to their Lord’s land to a peasantry that now had relatively greater mobility (in theory if not completely in practice), and brings about new institutions (like guilds, which popped up around the 12th Century). Just how much will be addressed within the anime’s run-time is anyone’s guess, but I’ll keep my eyes glued on the impact of the Demon Queen’s efforts to change society, even if that means I’ll have to suffer through an awkward romance or two. A small price to pay to watch society transform before my eyes, methinks.

2 Responses to “Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – Maou’s First Steps”

  1. I am watching Maoyu in a similar way, although not through the lens of historical parallelism. I think actually you’re on the right track in that what is really happening is the ideas from historical fiction are being reorganized and put back together in a way that forms an alternative history for a fantasy world. The juice is in that setting and that’s what gets me going.

    What’s admirable about Maoyu is also that the progress of society is dealt with in relatively wide swaths. It’s easy to focus on politics, war or the market but Maoyu doesn’t quite neglect things like slavery or treatment of women and other things that may also change as a result of urban migration, colonization, and trade.

  2. This aspect of cultural / technological change is the most interesting thing about the series to me as well. I just think it is a shame that the characters are so uninteresting.

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