I must admit that my knowledge of Cao Cao before the Romance of the Three Kingdoms era is very low (which means the later period of Eastern Han and its fall). I would probably need some help from nice readers to enlighten me on some issues that I will be discussing here. Obviously, rather than talking about the story, I prefer to highlight how the anime portrays and shapes the Cao Cao in a light that is largely different compared to the stereotypical vicious villain in most drama/anime series. Also, for those who are interested in historical anime, this is a series that you should watch EVEN IF you do not know much about that time period.
Anyway, Episode 3 spoke of Cao Cao’s posting as the captain of the North gate in the city of Luoyang. For those who do not know about Luoyang, Luoyang is considered to be one of the ancient centers for China civilization. In other words, it is the capital where the emperor stays. Cao Cao is still trying his best despite his tender age (he is twenty at this period of his life) to change the corrupt government. What is the next move for this young Cao Cao who would one day be a legend of China history?
This episode started with a conspiracy by an eunuch who was in the alliance with Zhang Ran. He wanted Cao Cao to kill one of the uncles of the king. The plan is to ask the uncle, a supposedly curious man, to go through the North gate and break the rules. It was to make Cao Cao punish and eventually kill the uncle from punishment as to blame him. Cao Cao did exactly as the eunuch expected and ordered to give 200 slaps to the uncle. After 47 slaps, the uncle died from sheer pain. Seizing the opportunity, the eunuch came out to assault his attempt to kill the uncle. However, it turned out that Cao Cao already expected such a thing, and the uncle was actually safe to observe the tyranny of the eunuch.
After the incident, Cao Cao then asked the uncle to send his proposal that contains the tyranny and corruption of the court to the emperor. Through an elaborate festival, Cao Cao captured the emperor’s attention through an exquistie sword dance. They also survived an ambush by Zhang Ran’s man in the procession. Cao Cao managed to give the proposal to the emperor, but also realized that the emperor was a man who only cared for lust and fun. Cao Cao also recognized that the power in the court is strongly controlled by the group of eunuchs led by Zhang Ran. In other words, he knew that his proposal would fall on deaf ears. As expected, he is sent as a “promotion” to Dunqiu County to remove him from power. However, this will pave the way to strengthen Cao Cao, as we already know.
I personally thought that Souten Kouro should be considered the definitive series for anyone who enjoys historical anime. Contrary to belief, I think that this series does not require you to have any knowledge of the Three Kingdoms Era. However, for those who are well acquainted, the series is pretty dedicated to keeping it close to the true history of the era, rather than the romanticized novel version. The chief reason why I like this anime is how it does not pander to an obvious black-white axis toward the characters in this series, but see them as unique men who all have their ideals to unify China. Obviously, rather than sticking with the extremely biased portrayal in general media of Cao Cao as a villain (stupid novel), this provides a more accurate portrayal of Cao Cao as a brilliant ruler. I will probably write more about this when the other main characters appear, so let me focus on the episode at hand.
Before I go on, a brief description of the crisis in the Eastern Wu period when Cao Cao is the captain of Luoyang’s North district is required. One of the key reasons for the downfall of Eastern Han (the period before the Three Kingdoms Era) is the amount of corruption in the capital that resulted in a lot of suffering for the agricultural-based population. Unlike modern times, agriculture is perhaps the most important form of economy, with the majority of the population depending on farming to survive. A government that cannot take care of the well being of farmers is poor governance, and an imperial court that requires a revolution. That is why Cao Cao often talks about changing the world, and it is a recurring theme for the last three episodes about how a man of ambition is still unstained by the powers to be.
Living in such an era, it is amazing how Cao Cao manages to stick to his ideals so strongly without compromising on rules. Rather than vicious, he was a strict superior that cares for his men and is willing to die for them in any situation. Recollecting on episode three, it’s just a show of Cao Cao’s great character when he punished one of his men for insubordination before making the man his assistant as a show of how he is willing to trust someone after they showed clear support for him. You can perhaps interpret this as fear for death, but I rather see it as awe for a man who feared no one but justice and heaven. Despite little insight on how he interacts with his men, it is clear that Cao Cao clearly deserved the saying of “”You would be a capable minister in peaceful times and an unscrupulous hero in chaotic times.”
The appearance of Liu Hong was a clear sign for Cao Cao that the imperial court is in chaos. It is sad that a man of such optimism that justice will be delivered was shown that corruption is prevalent even in the throne. It is said that a good leader can bring a turbulent nation together while a corrupted leader will split a nation apart. Controlled by the eunuchs in the court, the festival showed everything that is wrong of the nation then. The poor is rising, the emperor cared little of the world, assassinations are open to the world without any fear of repercussions while corrupted officials abused their power. Is it little wonder why the ending of the era was waiting for a revolution to begin?
It’s really little wonder why Cao Cao is a rare being that they fear. That’s why he is sent away. Zhang Ran probably knew that it will be hard to bring down Cao Cao through any means that they could currently, so a “promotion” is probably best for them to remove Cao Cao without killing him. Anyway, I have a question for those who knows their history more. Who is that uncle? Is he anyone prominent in the future? Also, what do you feel about the anime’s approach about Cao Cao’s childhood, which is honestly less documented than his persona in the Three Kingdoms Era?