Arslan Senki – 13

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It’s tough out there for a prince.

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.

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End Card (Isayama Hajime):

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  1. F

    Personally I really liked this ep – and the most interesting character in this one was without a doubt Bahram. Excellent and thought provoking … as usual.

    Oh yes, for my part I totally agree with you regarding OP1 … not my cup of tea at all (although I know some are very fond of it). Hopefully the second one will be more to my liking?

  2. Y

    I feel like Kaji Yuuki deserves to be given credit for his performance as Hermes; I just finished watching the last of the OVAs, and I have to say, his portrayal of Silver Mask (especially the constant trembling of his voice) seems far more faithful to the novels than Shuichi Ikeda's. Really liked his scenes in this episode. I also enjoyed Arslan's interactions with Kishward and Azrael, as well as his inner monologue on the castle wall; there's something oddly satisfying in watching him demonstrate his precocious prudence and obvious vulnerability at the same time. Another little moment that caught my attention was Farangies tending to her arrows while she was conversing with Alfreed — it just felt nice to have her do something she is good at (and evidently quite used to) rather than simply sit on her arse and talk. Also, props to Bahman for, well, pretty much everything. That old lad deserved better…

  3. I haven't watched the OVA, so I have no basis for comparison there. I can only say for me, Kaji seems badly miscast here. Not his fault – I just think his voice is way wrong for Hermes.

    I kind of think Falangies has been depicted as thoroughly competent all along, so I'm not sure where your gripe is. She's certainly proven herself borderline superhuman in battle.

  4. Y

    Well, according to the novel, Silver Mask is supposed to have "a shrill voice, always trembling and heaving with barely suppressed fury and nigh-childish anticipation", which I think Kaji accomplishes quite well. I'm not trying to say his voice is "good" or even remotely pleasant — it isn't, but that's precisely the way it's intended to be — he's meant to sound "like a madman", but also "surprsingly young". Kaji may not be a good actor, but I dare say he is adequately cast here (keep in mind that I am in no way an expert when it comes to voice acting: this is only my personal opinion).

    Oh, that's not what I was getting at at all! I must have phrased my thoughts awkwardly for such a misunderstanding to happen; English is not my native language, even though I have been using it for a long time now, so do forgive me. I like Farangies, and I know she is a decent and perfectly capable person and warrior, that was never a question. What I meant was that, generally, when there is a scene of two (or more) characters conversing, they usually just stand there and talk, and nothing else. But here we see Farangies fletching and trimming her arrows as a kind of "background action" to the talk she is holding with Alfreed, and for some odd reason I thought that was a small, albeit really nice touch (we know she's a great archer, so it would make perfect sense for her to be doing something of this sort). It was just something I noticed — perhaps it was silly of me to mention it? I have no gripes with her at all. (except maybe when it comes to her fanservice-y choice of attire…)

  5. Well I confess, having seen that description that does make Kaji's voice seem a better fit. It's not how I envisioned Hermes sounding but I haven't read much of the novels.

    Indeed I did misunderstand, but your English is fine – it's just me being dense!

  6. Y

    I may have never met you, but "dense" is hardly the word I'd use to describe you — you're one of the few (and I mean VERY few…) reviewers out there who happen to possess a semi-objective sense of judgement, as well as a vocabulary that goes beyond the extensive use of "cool" swear words and Internet slang. You clearly put effort into framing your thoughts and ideas, and it shows in the structure and content of your reviews, which I think is great (sometimes they sound almost poetic!). In fact, even though I've been following your blog for about a year now, I don't believe I've taken the time to tell you how much I like your reviews and how they've impacted and epxanded my view and appreciation of anime. It was thanks to you that I started watching Hunter x Hunter, Yona, Baby Steps and Arslan Senki — and for that, I cannot thank you enough.

  7. If you only knew me better… ;-P

    In all seriousness, thanks for that – very kind of you. I don't set out with the specific goal of "converting" people to specific shows but if that happens as an offshoot of something I write, it's always rewarding to hear.

  8. C

    Oh no, the not-Hindus are attacking!

    According to the novel-readers, he was supposed to lead the attack with elephants… Thanks, Liden.

  9. M

    A new OP? Thank god. I think this might be my least favorite OP in quite some time. Also I hope this recap helps them improve their production quality, even if just a little. It deserves better.

  10. T

    I don't know, I mean if you are saying that Arslan is the rightful King through righteousness than surely you need a better comparison sample than his father, a cruel and wicked King and his cousin, a man who was nearly burnt alive by Andragoras and seems to have sold his soul to the devil for revenge. I think you can only judge him as the most righteous by comparing him to those of non royal descent as well.

    In fact if you are going by greatest claim to throne through righteousness than surely Etoille has the greatest claim. Genuinely empathetic and well principled.

  11. I don't buy that, because in order to be a candidate to be king one has to actually be a candidate. A commoner or a foreigner is not realistically a candidate – the son of the current king most certainly is.

  12. Y

    Plus, isn't Etoille kind of… well, religiously bigoted? Not to say she's an innately bad person or anything, but she does seem a little too narrow-minded when it comes to her faith, to me at least.

  13. h

    She?!.Etoille is a boy!!!.

  14. Y

    No, she isn't. At least, not in the novels. I don't know if this adaptation plans to take on a different approach to her situation, though. The previous one sure didn't…

  15. T

    Well that's probably why Kings/Queens who wield any real power are almost non existent. It's a contradiction to select a King based on righteousness or merit if you have limited choice based purely on bloodlines.

    Additionally who gets to decide how much weight should be placed on merit and how much on bloodlines?

    True Etoille religiously believes all men/women are born equal and it's their actions that determine their merit. I certainly wouldn't mind being led by someone who was bigoted with that belief.

  16. E

    Firstly I don't think Etoille wants to be king in the first place, having the discussion about whether she should be king is kind of moot as she hasn't had the chance to display any ability at all in that area without any real followers.

    Arslan's world is nowhere near advanced enough to decide kings based on merit and therefore you have that merit/bloodline contradiction. The fun will probably be in how Arslan manages to convert others from that way of thinking in order to join his side.

  17. E

    And who gets to decide how much weight should be put on bloodlines and merit? People with skill like Narsus assuming the king bothers to listen, or generally people with power and great influence on armies such as Bahman. The common people hardly get any say, they can only riot if something really upsets them.

  18. You're talking about theoreticals, Truman. I'm talking about the specific situation that exists in the story. There are two feasible candidates to be the next king. One has a better legal claim, but the other seems to be a more worthy man.

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