I feel your pain.
Another interesting and exciting episode of Arslan Senki this week (and yes, more derpy faces in the background shots so no, you don’t need to point it out constantly). As one would expect from Tanaka-sensei (well, and Arakawa-sensei too), the military aspect of this series is merely the veneer – scrape away that surface layer and you have a story that’s much more about ethics, morality and practical politics. And this ep had plenty of all of the above.
I think the course of things is becoming pretty clear here, with Narsus seeing himself as Arslan’s teacher and Daryun as his protector. Each of these men – friends though they are – want something different from Arslan, and each has a very different view of their responsibilities towards him. For Daryun it’s a matter of personal loyalty, and not because of the promise he made to his uncle – he’s there to have Arslan’s back, right or wrong, whether he’s fit to rule or not. Narsus has a much more practical stake – he’s loyal to Arslan because he believes he has a chance to bring his own ideals to power. And that’s why he’s willing to take a few more chances to see that Arslan learns the lessons he needs to learn – and passes a few tests of his mettle at the same time.
One of those hard lessons Arslan is slowly learning is that, in the long term, it’s his own country of Pars that’s going to prove the bigger obstacle than the conquering Lusitania. Fleeing cavalry pursuit, the splendid six make their way to Kashan Fortress, ruled over by the rotund Lord Hodir (“Hodir!”). Hodir’s men save Arslan’s party from the pursuers and offer them a lavish meal and a bed, but it’s obvious things are going to take a Red Wedding turn when Arslan announces over dinner that he intends to free the slaves of Pars. Hodir has already boasted that his fiefdom holds a larger percentage of slaves than the capital, and while he professes loyalty to Arslan, men in such positions are generally loyal to a bigger principle (amassing a bigger principal).
The Narsus-Daryun dynamic plays out starkly here, as Daryun initially rebels at Hodir’s suggestion that he sleep in a separate room than Arslan. But Narsus overrules him, clearly seeing this as an opportunity to see just how far Hodir is willing to go to protect his interests, and whether there’s any way of salvaging an alliance. He also sees this as a way to once against test Arslan – how will the boy respond to Hodir’s pressure? When Hodir comes to Arslan’s room and demands not only that he abandon his pledge to free the slaves but that he marry Hodir’s daughter, Arslan acts rather deftly – he refuses to commit, and then sneaks into the others’ room to confer via the balconies (though Daryun is less than thrilled about this part).
Still, Narsus is anything but a fool, and he does takes measures to prepare for the confrontation he knows is coming. Elam sabotages the bows of Hodir’s archers, and sniffs out a trap designed to knock the quintet out so they can be easily dispatched. Narsus offers Hodir every chance to back down and defer this fight to another day, but Hodir clearly feels that he’s shown his cards now, and his future is bleak if he lets the prince go. What will happen with Kashan Fortress now that it’s master is dead? Hard to say – I’m kind of surprised Narsus didn’t appoint a new commander and try to bring the surviving soldiers under Arslan’s umbrella.
Narsus has one more harsh lesson to teach Arslan, by letting him free Hodir’s slaves. He knows the result will not be what the boy expects – knows it from hard experience in his own homeland. This is a lesson torn from the pages of history, as the phenomenon we see here has manifested many times in many continents. For the slaves as well as the masters this is a slow and awkward transition, and it isn’t going to be so easy to count them as a prefab army ready to fight and die for the cause of Arslan and freedom. When Arslan questions whether Narsus hadn’t done the right thing and if so, why things should have proven so difficult, Narsus answers with a pithy piece of wisdom – maybe the truth is more like the stars than the sun, many sources of light cancelling each other out.
Arlsan pledges to go next to Peshawar – which is modern-day Pakistan – for reasons that are not made immediately clear. In the postscript we get an idea when we meet Bahman (Taketora – “Bamboo Tiger”, which has be one of the coolest seiyuu names around), a cavalry master who’s been left something of importance by Vahriz. This epilogue and an earlier conversation between Daryun and Narsus suggest that the subject of Arslan’s parentage – an elephant in the room if ever there was one – may finally be ready to command center stage. Also – make sure to stay tuned for the end card, a real stunner by Ooima Yoshitoki, the mangaka behind Koe no Katachi (which you should read, if you haven’t already).