Arslan Senki – 11

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Sometimes there’s just nothing like a good epic.

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…

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  1. G

    I really love Arslan. If I have 1 complaint its that it does not seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. I can easily see this series running 150-300 anime episodes.

  2. N

    Yeah, the novel is like 14 volume long. Hopefully it will get a second (and third) season, as it's pretty much confirmed that the anime is 25 ep long.

    That said, I have some problem with the anime. They exaggerated the religious lunatic to cartoonish villain level. From what I've read of the novel, they lustanians aren't that stupid and evil. The animation is not so hot either. I also refer the OVA art style.

  3. E

    What do you mean by Arslan being as good in the 'second part'? There are two parts to the novls?

  4. Second part = surprising people.

  5. E

    Ah, that explains things, thanks!

  6. Y

    I sometimes get the feeling that if Arslan and Yona ever met, they'd be great friends…

  7. N

    Bodan is absurd, but Silver Mask has a certain mad intensity that makes him watchable. He's a nuttier version of Reinhard von Lohengram.

    Also, you should totally watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes. There are strands of LoGH DNA inside Arslan Senki. Same studio that did Mushi-shi back in the day.

  8. C

    Oh yeah, I finally watched Moribito last week and what can I say? 9.4/10 Had me on the edge of my seat at the end when the egg is about to hatch, holy crap that was intense.

    Anyway, I don't wanna that guy again but… I really, really like Arslan and this is the first time the rampant QUALITY has hurt my enjoyment of a series so much. Why, Liden, whyyyy?

  9. m

    Hermes reminds me of a mad-hatter esque Zuko

  10. Y

    I really like this series but… Am I the only one who thinks the animation is bad? This week was particularly painful for me, to the point that it distracted me from just enjoying the story…

  11. No, I mean, it's obviously not especially great some of the time. I don't find it objectionable most of the time, just sort of indistinct – though there both very good moments and clunkers.

  12. T

    Anyone else feel that Hermes is the rightful king?

    I mean it's very hard to justify Arslan's claim to the throne considering his father killed the King and then attempted to do the same to the adolescent prince at the time.

    Also, don't know how realistic it is that guards would literally drop everything and chase gold right when the have Arslan at their mercy. Those little details just really annoy me.

    Finally, not sure if Arslan has shown anything that would indicate he would be a great king yet. I don't necessarily think the best leaders are the nicest, but they are the fairest. Also great leaders need vision and be able make hard decisions. Neither of which he has shown to date.

    So Arslan still has a lot to prove.

  13. I think we have insufficient data to say who the rightful king is. Why would you assume everything Hermes says is factually accurate? He's telling the story from his own perspective just like everybody else.

    Also, dismissing Arslan because all he's shown is "niceness" is, to me, a gross oversimplification meant to dismiss him more easily. For rulers (especially in a medieval monarchy) empathy is a hugely important skill, and it's one Arslan has shown in droves. Likewise intellectual curiosity and skepticism.

  14. E

    The gold on the ground was probably worth more than whatever bonus they would get if they caught arslan, plus they wouldn't risk injury.

  15. T

    True, but if what Hermes said is true than he has the greatest claim to the throne. I tend to believe it is the truth, because it was a flashback not a conversation.

    Secondly, I'm not dismissing Arslan, I'm just saying that niceness doesn't correlate with being a good ruler. Often being fair directly contrasts with being nice.

    I guess I'll have to disagree with you regarding him showing empathy. I really look at being empathetic and being nice as too subtle but significantly different things.

    I'd argue the fact that Arslan is not innately empathetic. I've come to this conclusion because even though he had spent a large part of his life out of the palace it wasn't until he met Etoile that the concept of slavery not being fair or right began surfacing in his mind. Surely if he was innately empathetic he wouldn't need someone to point that out to him.

    Not to say he can't develop empathy and become a great ruler, but he still has a lot to prove.

  16. E

    That's why we're at the start of the story, Arslan still has a lot more development to go through. I'd actually argue that Arslan has shown a lot more positive qualities than silver mask, growing to care about slaves and his team is a lot more sympathetic than waging war and harming many innocent lives.

  17. T

    Everything you said is fair. Of course he seems a much better ruler than silver mask, but I'm just talking about whose got greatest claim to the throne, and in my eyes silver mask has got him covered. If they're going to select a king on merit than lineage shouldn't matter at all, but purely on lineage claim Hermes has got him covered if he really is the son of the old king

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