FB: Taro’s Reign of Unnerving Smiles is going to be great for the emoticon industry, if nothing else.

Ardaic’s performance is lacking because his faith is lacking, and the biggest reason for that by far is the spoiled tyrant he’s now serving. My on-the-job results tended to suffer when I stopped believing in my bosses, too.

Speaking of failures to believe…it’d be dishonest of me to deny that Taro ending up in charge of Gastonia/Iwatania was a bridge too far for some readers. The reaction against it might have been stronger—and we might have written it differently—if it hadn’t coincided with the election of Donald Trump, which, again, upended a lot of assumptions about how politics worked and what kinds of smarts you actually needed to assume power. I don’t entirely disagree that there are some story issues here, but I think some things make more sense if you focus on the personalities involved and ignore how much you, personally, may have wanted to see Taro suffer instant karma.

For instance, “Why doesn’t Ardaic just shank the bastard?” is a question that misunderstands Ardaic. He is far too rule-bound to even consider killing a government figure on his own initiative like that. “Why don’t the other Heads kill or at least stop this kid?” is a little better, but Iwatani has done a great job of removing anybody who might have threatened his family’s ascension. Of the remaining Heads, only Miyamoto has the ambition to fill that vacuum, and Taro is at least sensible enough to take measures against him. Miyamoto can’t get anyone else on his side because he can’t offer a plausible path to victory in the war, and the Iwatanis can, and that’s too pressing an issue for anyone with sense to ignore. Jarvis won’t like Taro at all, but he’s too mono-focused on war issues to bother with the home front. He knows that switching strategies halfway through could actually be worse than following Taro’s continuation of the original strategy, from a strict winning-the-war perspective. Caneghem actively prefers Taro in charge because he wants a weak Iwatania that won’t have any chance of detecting his own plans for withdrawal. Bedard just loves the drama, and Taro in charge is an endless source of drama. And ultimately, Ardaic knows he’s not going to get the other Heads to support him in a proper trial of Taro for killing his family, so here we are.

The weakest link in this whole arc is probably the war plans: we ended up glossing over any details that’d justify how those worked, why they were proprietary, and why they were essential to the war effort. I can easily believe Iwatani’s plans were better than anything Miyamoto would offer—he’d shown more smarts than Miyamoto at every turn—but proving them better than Jarvis’s approach, and unguessable by Jarvis, would take a lot more evidence. Also, Iwatani’s shorthand probably isn’t so indecipherable, so Bandit stealing those plans isn’t just lucky for Taro, it’s lucky for us as writers. If we had it to do over again, we might have established that the Iwatanis had trading partners in far-off lands that were loyal to them and not “Gastonia,” responsible for supplying essential materials…or a mercenary squad supplementing the army, or something like that.

The other weak point is that Taro’s intelligence is honestly a little variable, depending on what the plot requires, what made us laugh, and what points we wanted to make.

But mostly, I still find this coup depressingly plausible. Now, I doubt that Taro’s reign would last a year had the war been won. Probably, Miyamoto would try and fail to seize power, or else Taro would just get him assassinated preemptively. But Jarvis would decide to take over sooner or later, Taro would likely never see that coming, and Ardaic could’ve been persuaded to kill Taro if it were Jarvis giving the order. As it is, other things will catch up with all of them first.