The Heroic Legend of Arslan draws on almost thirty years of writing, granting it a vast world and vibrantly developed plot. Titling the series a “heroic legend” is not an understatement. Arslan is every bit an epic saga in its themes and scope, proving itself unafraid to tackle difficult questions on scales ranging from personal beliefs to the governance of entire societies.
It’s tempting to reduce Arslan to a simple coming-of-age story for the title character. Despite being prince of the Pars nation, Arslan’s parents treat him poorly due to his timid nature. His king-father is the Alexander sort, charging off into battle to uphold his undefeated record til the end. Despite Arslan’s dedication to his parents and his desire to prove himself, he finds himself floundering between the strength his father wishes to instill in him and his own gentle nature.
Arslan’s character comes across as a bit of a Mary Sue. He’s polite, well-liked, and can fight just well enough to win (but of course, doesn’t enjoy a bloody victory). Still, he isn’t without fault. In the pilot episode we hear Arslan defending his nation’s slave-trade as proof of its power and glory. In the prince’s eyes, it’s better to submit to slavery and be well-fed than to die. These beliefs put the Parsians at odds with their neighboring country, Lusitania, which believes in a god who says that all people are equal — and anyone who opposes their doctrine must die.
Even as a child Arslan can see the hypocrisy in killing “heretics” (including burning babies alive) while claiming equality, but he fails to grasp his enemies’ aversion to becoming chattel. As Parsian prince, Arslan’s beliefs count for little and he’s thrust into his father’s war. The scenes we’re presented are impressively accurate. Archer salvos precede infantry charges, cavalry charges to break infantry, horses kick up clouds of dust, weather is used tactically, and troops smash into each other to form globular epicenters to the pitched battles. Minus the ridiculous army sizes, it’s enough to make any historian proud.
The tactics aren’t the only things heavily influencing Arslan’s world. The architecture and scenery are gorgeous. The capital city seems to be a sort of neo-Babylonian dream amidst a scruffy desert planescape. It’s difficult not to feel like you’re watching the Crusades unfold in front of you on a massive scale.
While Arslan is a story of huge proportions, that does make some elements unwieldy. It’s hard to make a commentary on the impacts of slavery, religious zealotry, and the ill effects of a flippant monarchy a wholly fun experience. However, Arslan is first and foremost an adventure. While the ideologies might seem a bit heavy-handed at times, they’re also authentic concerns within the confines of the story. The characters come across much too archetypical despite the work put into the plot. Ultimately, we see Arslan’s quest take place in a Final Fantasy-esque group with the usual token party: the mage, the scoundrel, the swordsman, and the hero. It’s not entirely original, but it beats the standard anime party (glasses, clueless, tsundere, hero).
While Arslan largely lives up to its hype, it’s not perfect. This is a fantasy world, but with very few fantasy elements. There are no dragons or elves, just good old fashioned humans. Magic is present, but used quite rarely. This is an approach not used in fiction as often as it should be, however it’s not clear from the first few episodes that magic is a thing in this world. When it finally does happen, it’s a bit weird rather than mysterious. It’s hard to tell if certain characters are chopping people down one on eight because of their raw machismo or something otherworldly and not having the explanation earlier makes some things seem hokey.
As decent as the animation normally is, it gets lazy when it can’t afford to. No matter how close the airing deadline is, a galloping horse needs more than three stilted frames. The music within the episodes can be redundant measures of the same “epic” fanfare repeated ad nauseum. The intro theme is also nothing to sit through, featuring medicore music and a lot of character stills that are barely animated or not animated at all. Surprisingly, the credit roll has passably good music. It also leads into episode previews that actually tell you something instead of being ridiculously vague or painful attempts at comedy as the trend now seems to be.
Since it’s novel-turned-series, it can also be somewhat difficult to remember who is who, but the cast seems to dwindle quickly enough to allay some initial confusion caused by made-up titles being thrown at everyone with a face. Ultimately, these might seem like nitpicky complaints. They are — the series is solid in most of what it’s attempting to do and it just feels good to watch. While we’re typically all about judging a book by its cover, this is a case where an exception is worth your while. If you weren’t sold by the pilot episode, give it a couple more and see if Arslan can’t win you over.
Recommendation: Watch it!
Title: The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Arslan Senki)
Original Source: Novel Series
Source Writer: Yoshiki Tanaka
Source Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten/Kobunsha
Director: Noriyuki Abe
Writer: Makoto Uezu
Music: Taro Iwashiro
Studio: Liden Films, Sanzigen
Run Start: 04/2015
Review Date: 04/2015
Episodes Reviewed: 01-03