The hate I’ve seen directed towards this adaptation of “The Heroic Legend of Arslan” is almost as epic in proportion as Tanaka Yoshiki’s novel series. That’s pretty common with anime adaptations of really well-liked source material, but this is unusual in that the haters didn’t even need to wait for the anime to premiere to trash it – they got a head start because this anime is based most directly on mangaka Arakawa Hiromu’s manga adaptation (which they already hate, conveniently, though Tanaka likes it just fine). It’s even extended into a sort of revisionist history that Arakawa is a talentless hack – never mind that she wrote arguably one of the best shounen series ever in Fullmetal Alchemist, and the marvelous and genre-busting Gin no Saji.
Well, I’ve no doubt that nothing this anime was going to do was ever going to convince those people, so I’m steeled to the weekly routine of being told why those of us who enjoy it didn’t actually enjoy it. One early meme I’m hearing parroted is that the premiere looks old and dated – which tells me they’re already having to dig pretty deep. The visuals from LIDENFILMS and CGI house SANZIGEN aren’t reinventing any wheels, but the CGI is perfectly fine by CGI standards and not overly relied upon. LIDENFILMS have clearly gone for a retro look that matches the material (and Arakawa’s art style, which – suck on it – is the basis for this series) but there’s a difference between old-school and dated. Arslan Senki looks just fine unless you’re looking through shit-colored glasses.
As for the rest of the production, director Noriyuki Abe is an old hand and he’s clearly at-home here. His work on Kuroshitsuji (only the latest on a long resume) is ample proof that he has a sense of style, and he puts it to very good use here with interesting perspective shots and a nice mix of intimacy and scope. And the soundtrack by Iwashiro Taro is perfectly suited to the material. Putting it all together you get a result that creates just the right atmosphere for Tanaka’s epic yet personal saga.
Anyone familiar with Tanaka’s work – most famously this series and Ginga eiyuu densetsu – knows that Arslan Senki is going to be a very big story indeed. Tanaka is a master at creating sweeping storylines while maintaining a focus on human relationships, but the anime opens with a relatively small story to introduce us to Prince Arslan (Kobayashi Yuusuke, excellent as Soo-Won and excellent here) just as Arakawa did. We meet Arslan as an 11 year-old, the price of the Pars (or Palse, depending on the translation) Kingdom. His father is King Andragoras (Sugou Takayuki) and his mother Queen Tahamine (Tanaka Atsuko) – both stern, steely and tough, and neither seeming to have much use for the other. Arslan himself is clearly not the apple of his parents’ eye (though the local livestock love him) – his nature is kind and gentle, and Pars is a kingdom used to a state of perpetual war.
There are elements of the youth of Buddha in Arslan’s story here – a kind but sheltered child whose life changes when he sees that there are perspectives different from the one he’s been taught since birth. The central event of the premiere is return of his father’s triumphant army, with a passel of slave prisoners from the rival kingdom of Lusitania in-tow. One of those prisoners is a young boy of Arslan’s age, and when three careless local imps allow him to escape his cage while Arslan is visiting the slaves hoping to speak with them, the boy ends up taking Arslan hostage and taking him on a helter-skelter chase through the alleys of the capital Ecbatana – one which finds the boys engaging in a little political discourse while Arslan is being dragged about by the hair.
What transpires between the two boys isn’t subtle, but it’s being used to set up what will come later. Arslan can’t understand why the boy won’t happily accept being a slave and enjoy all the benefits of slave life in Pars – his abductor doesn’t understand why everyone won’t simply accept the Lusitanian God so they won’t have to go to the trouble of being killed as heathens. There are several faces introduced along the way, including Daryun (Hosoya Yoshimasa), the master of cavalry and a friend to the young Arslan whose arrow would likely have found the fleeing Lusitanian boy’s neck if it hadn’t been for Arslan’s intervention (which makes it twice in this episode when Arslan saves his life).
This is just the merest hint of whats to come in Arslan Senki – it’s an old-school epic in the true sense (with roots in medieval Middle Eastern history), a tale of events both great and small with a huge cast and many settings. One of the great unknowns in this adaptation is how far the anime will take the story – it’s already been adapted in anime form with two films and an OVA with no ending, and in an earlier manga which did receive an original ending – all of this about 20 years ago. Arakawa’s manga is nowhere near caught up with Tanaka’s novels, which itself is still ongoing after all this time. It’s complicated to say the least, but however far the anime follows the story it should be one of the best series of the season if the premiere is anything to go by – which is not remotely surprising. You’re likely going to hear a lot about this series whether you want to or not, but the best course of action is to watch it for yourself and make up your own mind. And if you’re a fan of the source material, hopefully it’s an open one.
OP: “Boku no Kotoba de wa Nai Kore wa Boku-tachi no Kotoba” (僕の言葉ではない これは僕達の言葉;These Aren’t My Words. These Are Our Words) by UVERworld