Kouen as King: Trees for the Forest

Kouen is a scholar, a general, a noble prince, and a King Candidate. A rather impressive one, to most eyes, with three Djinn and an army of over 100,000 behind him.

(Let me pause here and argh. Because numbers. No country in the world has been able to keep more than 10% of their population in a standing army, max. In medieval-level agricultural cultures as seen in Magi, you’re talking more in the 3-5% range, and that’s it. So we’re supposed to believe the Kou Empire has over 2 million people in it and committed all of that army to attack Magnostadt? Or that they’re big enough that’s only a piece of their army? Not to mention the logistics of feeding an army that size….)

Ahem. Back on point. Kouen is, on the surface, an impressive king, determined to aggressively protect his people.

He’s also a guy who would fail the starfish test.

Short recap for anyone who hasn’t heard it: Man walks down to the seashore, littered with starfish washed in by a storm. Sees one boy throwing starfish back into the ocean. Asks kid what the heck he thinks he’s doing, he can’t possibly make a difference to all this.

Kid picks up another starfish. Throws. “I sure made a difference to that one!”

That, IMHO, is Kouen’s problem. He thinks in absolutes. He found evidence that Alma Torran had separate languages and cultures, decided that’s why the old world died, and determined that he would save the world from itself by making one Empire, one culture, over the entire planet.

By, of course, wiping out every culture and person who resists.

I’ll try not to sputter too much about the utter logic fail and ignorance of basic human nature this shows. Much less the horrible ignorance of agriculture: if you insist everyone grow rice, for example, anyone north of a certain area is going to starve. We know Arba and Al-Thamen were all over that family like ants on a picnic. Plenty of time to warp worldviews.

But Kouen’s biggest, most crippling problem is that he thinks in absolutes, and he thinks power is an absolute. No one has the power to successfully stand against the Kou Empire, so of course no one should try.

Kouen the scholar-general, in short, is most likely to die stabbed in the heart by a desperate librarian who’s seen the Empire steal or destroy the books just down the road – and knows they’re coming for hers next.

And he would never see it coming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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56 thoughts on “Kouen as King: Trees for the Forest

  1. Of course it would be the librarian who does him in. Because librarians are awesome like that.

    Oh. Great. Now my sinus infection rattled brain is presenting a The Librarian/Magi crossover bunny. Cue facepalms and groans.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s the kind of movie series that would make Dr. Jackson weep. In joy or frustration, I’m not historically knowledgeable enough to say.

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  2. So what this post is about is that Kouen is a sith? I don’t feel that comparison is 100% applicable because his goal sounds like misguided, overly controlling Jedi (who mind control people!) than proper unfettered sith. Though my knowledge of Star Wars is very low so I might be wrong on this.

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    1. Um, no. It’s more that Kouen is a theorist, who can’t see that people are not an abstract, faceless mass. He’s all wrapped up in “I will do what is best for The World” without ever stopping to consider the consequences to the individual people who have to live with his decisions.

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      1. I kind of suspect that Kouen, despite running an empire, engages in a lot of tribalism. If none of those people he’s grinding under foot and whose culture he is wiping out are PEOPLE to him, if they only BECOME people once they’ve been assimilated into the Kou…

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      2. I have a feeling that a large part of his problem is that he doesn’t really interact with his citizens, so to him they are a faceless mass he’s been entrusted with. It’s a problem with institutionalism (I’ve been learning about it in the context of emergency management). Those in charge get so entrenched in the mindset that the people they’ve been entrusted with are helpless to help themselves and need everything done for them that they need a hard wake-up call to knock them out of that mindset. Based on what we saw when Kou took over Balbadd, where everything from food to jobs was being provided to the citizenry, the Kou royalty are probably pretty deep in that mindset. The exception might be Kouha, with his empowerment of the country’s outcasts.

        IMHO, Kouen could stand to take a few lessons from Soo-Won of Akatsuki no Yona. Royalty sneaking out and talking to everyone since he was, what, eight? That guy is brilliant at seeing the trees and the forest.

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      3. My bunnies of that flavor tell me that Yona is a prequel to Magi, and the Saiyuki happens before Yona. That part of the world developed very toxic intellectual waters before Al Thamen caused a technical collapse with Dark Rukh. Il, Soo-Won and Koumei took in a lot of poison with their reading. Al Thamen didn’t have the wisdom to make that poison on purpose, but they were fomenting instability in all the petty kingdoms. They noticed the reading material of the rulers who produced the most misery. (Which of course sold itself as virtuously helping people.) They picked the Kou royal family to build the super state around because they wanted the leadership culture with the fewest antibodies.

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    2. ‘absolutes’ is not a star wars reference here. A lot of recent political thinking includes map-is-the-territory type magical thinking. An example of that type is trying to cross a river by drawing a bridge on the map. There is a lot of theory that holds that government decrees are absolute, and ignores that in practice people are complicated.

      I am having trouble with concrete examples, as I don’t know the politics of my audience, and which ones would be too risible.

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      1. One of the reasons the Kou Empire is so appealing for me as a storyteller is that it has such an orientation for death and misery, without being a carbon copy of a recent death and misery political entity.

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      2. That flavor of evil madness tends to converge on similar results. But people often judge by cosmetic features. They don’t want to hear that their favorite idol and their favorite scapegoat have similar essential qualities. Kou’s superficial qualities lend themselves to being seen as different from western idols of the day.

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  3. I figure he might’ve got the crazy thinking out of book, and think the story of how that book got made might be interesting. Because there are strong parallels with some of the intellectual fads popular in the twentieth century that partly are sourced in the nineteenth.

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  4. Because numbers.

    I know . . . why do can’t so many writers take into account the fact that they suck at math and have someone double-check their numbers . . . and dates . . .

    Also I wish they would learn about this thing called Google and these things called reference books and DO THEIR DARN RESEARCH!

    *deep breath* Okay, calming down now . . .

    Totally agree that absolutist thinking is Kouen’s fatal flaw – with a heavy dash of hubris thrown in there as well – and besides the logic fails and other assorted issues with his thinking is that he isn’t flexible.

    Oh, I’m sure he can react quickly and decisively in a fight but in anything else that requires thinking on your feet, reacting to changing conditions, etc – I bet he fails utterly. Alibaba might flail a little when startled but he can still react and change his plans on the fly.

    This inflexibility hasn’t been too much of a problem for Koeun personally I think simply because he is that powerful. Which if I were writing this series would mean he would definitely have a Break the Haughty journey in his future.

    Because to see the flaw in his worldview, Kouen desperately needs to fail utterly at something and have his power, brains, battle prowess, etc be fore once simply not enough. Or it is something he cannot fix with power, etc. Not trying to be cruel or anything but I doubt Koeun really knows what it is like to be helpless or powerless and the experience might do him some good.

    Kouen’s logic fail – the stupid in that burns like hydrogen. Every time I hear it, it automatically lowers my estimate of his intelligence. Along with anyone else who thinks it is a good idea.

    I also propose the theory that the history of Alma Torran Koeun got was heavily slated – because he probably got it from Al-Thamen.

    At the very least it seems to have utterly omitted the lunatics who decided it was a great idea to intentionally and with full knowledge of the consequences of their actions destroy the planet they were living on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. *Wry G* Reference books are expensive. You should see my Amazon bills sometime…. There’s one book I’m lusting after about Rome’s trade with Asia and the Middle East, $40, eep….

      As for dates – I haven’t seen FMA yet, but I’ve heard their Humongous Catastrophe happened… 400 years ago. My reaction: “Yes! Someone who doesn’t tack on extra zeroes to make it look Special! A timeframe that actually makes it plausible that written records are still relatively easy to find!”

      Ahem.

      Kouen is a great battle strategist but utterly awful at ruling. Which requires not just knowing when to give orders, but when you absolutely must not, because people need to handle some of their own problems or there’s hell to pay later.

      And yes, totally agree that Al-Thamen probably tinkered with what he had access to. Someone had to teach him to read Tran!

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      1. Kouen is a great battle strategist but utterly awful at ruling.

        *nods* Totally agree. Military environment is his jam. In other words, a structure where generally everyone is expected to do as they are told, dress in prescribed manner . . . and sounding awful lot like his idea of what peace is.

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      2. Yeah. Brr. The whole idea of “civil disobedience” aka “Irish democracy” would probably make his head spin. And then he’d send in the decimation squads…

        I found this quote that fits, supposedly from James Scott’s Two Cheers For Anarchism. “One need not have an actual conspiracy to achieve the practical effects of a conspiracy. More regimes have been brought, piecemeal, to their knees by what was once called ‘Irish Democracy,’ the silent, dogged resistance, withdrawal, and truculence of millions of ordinary people, than by revolutionary vanguards or rioting mobs.”

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      3. And then he’d send in the decimation squads…

        Shiver. Yeah.

        Also he doesn’t realize that after a certain point, it doesn’t matter how many people you kill for resisting you. They will keep doing it because they literally have nothing to lose by fighting and everything to gain. Threatening to kill them is received with a shrug and you were probably going to kill me anyway.

        Tyrants have to be careful with how much fear they use to control the population. And remember how many of them have died at the hands of someone who had finally had enough.

        Just saying that I think even without Al-Thamen trying to destroy the world, Kouen is on the road for a rather short lifespan.

        . . . the silent, dogged resistance, withdrawal, and truculence of millions of ordinary people . . .

        True that.

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    2. Much as I like the thought that someone like Kouen need to fail utterly, or otherwise face a problem where his power, etc. isn’t enough to fix and that it would get across what powerlessness feels like, the world would be just as likely to get Avatar Kyoshi and her vengeance on the pirates who killed her (grown) child (as told in EMBERS, I haven’t seen the show.). I think that sort of failure has to be faced young enough that the power isn’t there for catastrophic damage to bystanders. Or where someone else has enough authority to sit the person down and make them see ‘this isn’t going to help.’ my 2 cents FWIW.

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      1. Re: Rens and Fanalis

        That would make perfect senses. They are big, red-furred bloodthirsty cats . . .

        And as anyone who has ever been owned by a cat can testify, the only thing harder than getting an idea into their heads is getting one out.

        Ever try to get a cat do not sit on something? It’s not happening. You take them off of it and they are immediately right back on it.

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  5. In medieval-level agricultural cultures as seen in Magi, you’re talking more in the 3-5% range, and that’s it.

    Because most of the population is spending most of their time making food. Like 90% should be involved in agriculture if I’m remembering the figures correctly.

    I think people nowadays underestimate just how much work farming is in an pre-industrial society.

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    1. An exhausting, incredible amount of work, yes.

      If you want an interesting look at breakdowns of who’s doing what in a society that’s trying to break out of medieval methods, try Conrad Totman’s “Early Modern Japan”. That was a society in which about 10% of people were carrying arms, yes – but a lot of the poorer samurai were also making umbrellas and paper, trying to make ends meet!

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      1. cloth, too. Spinning, weaving/knitting take TIME, and that’s after you’ve gotten the fiber off the sheep, out of the flax (more time – 8 steps to process that stuff), or off the boll. Leather needs tanning. Those peasant level characters shouldn’t be so blase about damage to clothes – they were harder to get and comparatively more expensive than we’re used to. Not to mention slower to make, unless you’ve got really skilled workers.

        I had a book I’ve since passed on to someone else about the medieval & early Renaissance economy and trade, including the beginnings of banks and insurance. it was dry but fascinating: how much is involved, how little precious metal was really around, and so on. And all those trades are still going on today, but with much more stuff layered over them. We really do live in a wealthy world Strikes me it might be up your alley: Gold & Spices by Favier (a Frenchman, it was translated into English in 1998. ) About $40 new, but used copies are floating around according to Amazon.

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    2. In fairness, magic might have agricultural applications in Magi.

      Wen Spencer’s Tinker books might be an example of getting that stuff done right. (I just reread the first three books. Agriculture is major subtext.)

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    3. In the Ring of Fire series, there’s at least one instance where an Uptimer spends all day trying to fix a mechanical tractor while his Downtime wife and one other woman are removing the rocks from a field. It takes them half a day to do a small patch. The Uptimer fixes his tractor, and busts out a few acres in an hour. Don’t remember the details clearly, my dad is the one really into the series.

      But, at least in the US? School ended in spring and started in September so that the kids could help on the family farms, which is also why we have Daylight Savings Time. And it’s also part of why people had a lot of kids, more hands to work the land.

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      1. *Nod* Ring of Fire is a great series – not least because people get into bits of history like that.

        Mechanization of agriculture has saved lives – and a great deal of the environment. Modern techniques mean we don’t have to cultivate marginal land, and we can cultivate a lot less land to feed the same number of people. One estimation is that if we were forced back to even 1700s agriculture, we’d have to bust up every national park in the U.S. to feed people.

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  6. I really like reading your musings on the Magi universe and its characters–they make me revisit my headcanons of them, especially since I disagree sometimes on characterisation. It’s really food for thought!

    To me Kouen is a man full of contradictions; he was all “you shall be assimilated, resistance is futile”, and then he told Alibaba that you can’t eradicate everything you dislike, and that you have to learn to live with it?

    I think that Kouen was under a lot of pressure. He knows that Gyokuen killed his beloved uncle and cousins, that he has family to protect, and that he’s too weak to take revenge. IMO that might be why he’s always thinking of a future where things will be better, rather than admit that Al Tharman has him and his family under their thumb. It’s easy to lose hope when you feel that powerless in the face of a monstrous organisation that has taken over your country. Better to be believe that you can change the future, and bring peace to the world (which his cousins wanted–see: unhealthy hero worship lol), rather than dwell on that fact that you’re too powerless to avenge those you loved and reclaim back your country. It also explains why he’s so protective over his family (and strangely, Alibaba, once Alibaba came under his “command”–I find their relationship hilarious and that Alibaba somehow grounds him, their reunion after those 3 years was really lol worthy), that he was willing to just give up and surrender his life in order to protect them.

    I agree with you that Kouen’s only good as a military king! He even said that he never wanted to be king, and that he’d rather Koumei be king because he’s not as suited for it.

    Hm, also, hanging around Al Tharman for such extended periods of time can’t be good for your mental health, no wonder the Kous are all sorta bonkers lol. Well but then, as they say, “cool motive, still murder”!

    So anyway, I’d just like to thank you for showing the fandom your thoughts and your works. I find them really inspiring!

    Oh btw have you seen that omake where Kouen decides to grow his terrible goatee so that he can look more respectable, it’s great.

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    1. I think you are forgetting that it was Koumei who actually came up with the plan to unite to world by erasing all the different cultures.

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  7. Nope, not forgetting it at all. Kouen’s the one carrying it out, though. And the fact he doesn’t stop and think it through… great general yes, great king material no.

    Yep . . . and being the one to come up with train-wreck-pretending-to-be-a-plan to me makes Koumei an equally terrible king material for much the same reasons as Kouen. Too much thinking of people as things instead beings with thoughts, feelings, and such of their own.

    It says something about either the Kou Empire in general or how messed up Al-Thamen has made them that the Blood Knight is looking like one of the best possible persons to be ruler. Because he might be covered in gore but he actually gives a hoot about his people. And thinks of people as people. Sometimes people he wants to dice into bitty pieces but people. (And he is hardly alone in that aspect.)

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    1. Yeah. Kouha being the most empathic of the bunch, if not the sanest, is a real clue that things are deeply wrong.

      …Honestly I wish Alibaba had gotten the chance to kidnap half of them until Kouen and Koumei saw sense….

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      1. There is still time . . . in AU land anyway.

        Through taking off with another country’s royalty will probably up the comparisons to Sinbad . . . in a horrified “Oh spirits, there are two of them now . . .”

        But it might some people significantly less crazy pants . . . (which Belial would probably appreciate).

        And doing so might require either the people in question stomping on Alibaba’s protect buttons hard or he somehow acquired a dash of Sinbad’s heavy-handedness (because that is kinda of what Sinbad did to him in the series).

        Or he pulled one of his biggest demonstrations of why you never let kings talk and talked them into going with him of their own free will. Which would probably throw Kouen and Koumei more for a loop than anything else.

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  8. So the fact that it is a librarian made me laugh. Of course you chose a librarian. because books, Knowledge, and above all SCIENCE! I’m not saying it wouldn’t or couldn’t happen. In fact it would surprise me if some of those monks didn’t try the same thing with the vikings(I’m guessing Geek is not a new phenomenon just a new word).

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    1. Also because of the irony. Kouen considers himself a scholar, and is apparently very well-read… and is destroying every unique bit of other cultures under the empire. Which means if the books don’t end up in his personal library, they’re destroyed. Some scholar.

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  9. Hence librarian slice-age. Good lord, if he ever met Giles….

    Eeep . . . He might learn why that man is called Ripper sometimes.

    Buffy watches and takes notes.

    Through I don’t know how those characters would meet anyone from the Magi universe unless there is even more weirdness in one of your AUs than we currently know . . . or there is another Halloween-remix coming in the future.

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      1. Indeed.

        Of course, sometimes they bid their time while you have so many things in the hooper and hit you with it when you think you might get done to one or two . . .

        And other times they insisted that at least notes be taken and saved until they will leave you alone about their newest crazy idea . . .

        Or you are writing your normal installment of X and there it is in the middle of the page . . . “What is this? What in the heck are you up to now? Wait, I don’t want to know . . . And I should probably just figure out how to make this work, shouldn’t I? Because I like my limbs and my insides on the inside and those are some very big teeth . . .”

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    1. We know from Angel that there are other worlds inhabited by demons, with the demons living more or less as humans do. (Or at least that is my memory of the homeland of the singer with green skin and red horns. Was his name Lorne?) The world of Magi could easily be one of those. Just tweak the humans of Alma Torren some. You don’t need the breach to happen at Halloween, you could have it happen before Halloween, and put the cast of Magi in costumes. Or not bother with the Halloween episode at all.

      Says the one who then notes that Columbus (where Parson Gotti was summoned to Erfworld) and Cleveland are in the same state. Suppose the Mayor was older, got to the future site of Cleveland first, and set up shop there. That’d be a viable Buffy AU.

      Probably too good to waste on just having a) access to the world of Magi b) Parson shows up for Halloween c) Dungeons are summoned and conquered d) Parson goes to Erfworld with a metal vessel.

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