Things just aren’t getting any easier for Arslan – and as if a new invasion force wasn’t bad enough, now he has to endure a recap episode next week (quality animation like this doesn’t draw itself, you know). On the plus side, there’s the Attack-on-End card, and when the series gets back into the swing of things it’ll be with a new OP – and that can’t come a moment too soon for me. I could barely sit through the current one the first time and haven’t kept my finger off the fast-forward button ever since.
After several feints, the narrative has finally found it’s way to Peshawar, the last outpost of the Pars Empire in more ways than one. It sits on the country’s frontier and protects its border – the reason why its army (20,000 cavalry, 60,000 infantry) is intact. It isn’t smooth sailing to get there – Silver Mask’s forces are harrying Team Arslan at every step, and it’s only with the return of Narsus and the arrival of some unexpected help (yeah, I know Azrael is actually a falcon) that the group (with its new member, who’s presumptuous familiarity with Narsus immediately rubs Elam the wrong way – run with whatever speculation you care to here) finally makes it inside the fortress city.
Awaiting inside is Bahman, who me met a few episodes back reading through a disquieting message from Vahriz, and Kishward (Yasumoto Hiroki). Both appear loyal to the prince, and it seems as if his fortunes are finally turning in a major way, but things aren’t so simple. It’s a recurring theme in Arslan Senki that the biggest problem isn’t so much the opposing army or nation, but the nation one wishes to rule. And that’s especially true when one wants to do what Arslan does, which is to topple the entire social order and rebuild it from scratch. Kishward expresses no personal opposition to Arslan’s stated intention to abolish slavery, but like Narsus he warns the boy that he’ll lose most of his own noble class if he builds his campaign around abolitionism. Still, Arslan perfectly sums up the entire rationale of his quest in his response – “If we don’t make the new kingdom a better place, there’s no point in fighting for it.”
Things are even more complicated with Bahman. It was clear when he was introduced that what was troubling him were questions of Arslan’s parentage, and that’s effectively confirmed here. He professes caution as the reason why he wants to delay marching on Ectabana, but the real reason is that he’s conflicted – not only does he know that Arslan isn’t the legal heir to Pars, but he seems to have a personal connection to Hermes to boot. Just what did Vahriz tell Bahman in his letter – and why? It seems likely Bahman asked his friend to support and protect Arslan – but that he didn’t want to ask it of him without Bahman knowing the truth.
Part of that truth, certainly, is that Hermes is the son of the rightful (by most measures, legal and otherwise) king of Pars. It seems likely that it goes deeper – that Arslan’s parentage is more complicated than what is believed by the masses – though that’s still a matter of conjecture. Really, this confirms the fundamental conflict of the narrative. We have one person who’s the “rightful” heir by legal right, but also another one who should be king simply by righteousness – he’s the better man, and the better potential ruler. For a man like Bahman (and to all those of like mind) – loyal to his country, to his rightful prince, and also to moral and ethical justice as he sees it – this is a bitter and vexing paradox indeed.
When Hermes sneaks into Peshawar to confront an unprotected Arslan, the connection with Bahman is pretty well confirmed – Silver Mask implies that he grew up in the citadel (which implies that Bahman fulfilled the sort of role for him that Vahriz did with Arlsan). It seems reckless to leave Arslan unprotected, but admittedly Peshawar would seem pretty safe – and unprotected Arslan is, and forced to fight to save himself until help arrives. Once again we see a very realistic depiction of Arslan in combat here – brave but terrified, a nimble and well-taught 14 year-old boy thoroughly outclassed by an elite swordsman. Hermes talks too much and kills too little, as villains are wont to do – though I suppose he could be forgiven for wanting something more satisfying than a quick kill after all the rage he’s built up.
Help does arrive of course – first Falangies, then Narsus, Daryun and Kishward – but Hermes manages to escape them long enough to run Arslan through if not for the timely appearance of Bahman. Bahman fulfills his promise to Vahriz and protects Arslan – with his life. But he also pleads with Daryun and the others not to kill Hermes, because in doing so they would be exterminating the last of the true royal bloodline of Pars. Now Arslan and all his party know at least part of the truth, and that complicates matters. And so, certainly, does the news that an army of 20-30,000 soldiers under the banner of Sindhuran has slipped across the border under the leadership of Rajendra (Toriumi Kousuke), keen to take advantage of Pars’ weakened state and claim part of the kingdom for their own. Clearly, Aralan’s struggle here is no sprint but a marathon – and one in its early stages at that.
End Card (Isayama Hajime):