Baby Steps and Arslan Senki have been joined at the hip this season in my mind. They air back-to-back on Sunday evenings so I generally blog them that way, and they make Sunday the best day of the Spring season as far as anime is concerned. Beyond that, there are more similarities between the sports anime and the historical fantasy epic than one might expect. There’s great pleasure to be found in well-executed versions of the form itself for those of us that love it, but the really good ones surprise at at the same time. I don’t think Arslan is as good at the second part (or quite as good generally) as Baby Steps is, but it’s unassailably strong at the first.
Forgive me if I take a backwards approach with this ep, but it’s the way that makes sense to me. This was an episode that put me in mind of Seirei no Moribito – which for me is pretty much the highest praise I can offer any anime. No, this show is not the sublime masterpiece Moribito is, but Arslan as a character very much put me in mind of Chagum this week. Or more pointedly, the reactions of those around him did. One gets the same feeling in watching Arslan that one did in watching Chagum – that this is a boy who has the potential to become both great and good, which is perhaps the rarest combination of qualities possible in any ruler.
I really enjoyed the way this played out in the B-Part this week. First we saw the way Arslan moves people not with eloquence or awesome strength, but the example of his life. Elam seems a relatively easy convert but he was mighty skeptical of Parsian royalty when the boys met, and he had good reason to be. But Gieve is, in effect, the ultimate test – because he’s he ultimate cynic, a self-server available to the highest bidder. His initial reaction to Arslan’s concern over Elam is puzzlement, but when Arslan (unwisely in every conventional sense, it must be said) returns to save Elam after the latter is unhorsed while the trio are fleeing pursuit, even Gieve has to admit that there’s a special quality to Arslan that makes him precious to the world. And being the intelligent man he is, Gieve is now more than anything curious to see just what someone like that might be able to accomplish in positions of real power.
Gieve asks exactly the right question – “Pardon me, Highness, but might you perhaps have spent time outside the palace?” As far as I know this is the first we’ve been told that Arslan did indeed spend much of his early childhood living in a village with a nursemaid, attending a town school, but it explains so much. This is where the comparisons with Chagum really hit home, because while Chagum’s innate goodness was apparent even when he was a small child in the Ninomiya Palace, it wasn’t until he had a chance to see the world – to live in Lower Ougi, to live among the Yakue, to soak in the strength and decency of Balsa and Tanda – that the full potential of his greatness began to be realized. It was that experience that will make Chagum a truly revolutionary Emperor, and one suspects that his childhood will be what makes Arslan a great king. Of course, it must also be said that this revelation raises still more interesting questions about Arslan’s parentage – but those are questions for another day.
Those larger questions still must share the stage with more urgent matters, though, and for both Team Arslan and Ectabana matters are indeed quite urgent. In the capital Kharlan’s son Xandes (Masakazu Morita) has presented himself to Hermes, promising to avenge his father’s death at Daryun’s hands. And the Lusitanian King and his brother are struggling to control their bloodthirsty Chief Priest Bodan (Saitou Shiro), who wants to please his God by sacrificing 10,000 heathens and whose men are systematically butchering the populace. This presents an obvious practical problem for the conquering Lusitania (especially since Bodan has called in his Crusaders to help him with the butchery), but one wonders what Hermes must think about it. Does he wish to see the Kingdom he plans on ruling burned to the ground before he has a chance to rule it?
One can easily see a conflict coming here, one where Arslan’s personal interests and those of his people are at crossed purposes. How long will Arslan listen to Narsus’ counselling that the time to strike is not yet upon them when word of ever-greater atrocities suffered by his people keeps reaching his ears? For the moment Team Arslan is split, with the Prince, Elam and Gieve moving ahead towards Peshawar (thanks to a very clever, though painful, ruse by Gieve using gold pieces) and Daryun, Narsus and Falangies facing off against Xandes. It’s surely significant that Daryun has an opportunity to kill Xandes but spares him, stating that he’s “never struck down a man that’s already been unhorsed”. Daryun does indeed have a soft heart, and he doesn’t try and deny Falangies’ accusation to that effect. That makes him a fitting companion for Arslan, but perhaps both of them may end up paying a price for their kindness before too much longer…