The epic pedigree is certainly strong here. Obviously guys like Tanaka, Martin and Tolkien read the same books as kids – and a lot of them were history books. Sometimes no fiction can be as riveting as reality, and nothing more successful at stirring the imagination. And if authors like Martin and Tanaka had their imagination stirred even more by somebody who put his own spin on history like Tolkien, so much the better.
As much as I’m enjoying Arslan Senki, there is a bit of repetition beginning to creep into the narrative. What I think I’d most like to see is Narsus actually being bested in a battle of wits – it doesn’t have to be Iocaine poisoning or anything final like that, but a legitimate slip-up on his part or a stroke of sheer genius by an opponent would do wonders to inject some unpredictability into the series. Failing that, a shift back to more personal drama would be good – or at least a narrowing in focus of the military drama.
It looks like we’re going to get the latter at least, so that’s a start. But for now, Arslan Senki goes big – in more ways than one. We’re faced with a familiar scenario on the battlefield – Narsus faced with an overwhelming numerical disadvantage, and not at all nonplussed by it. Gadevi has 150,000 men, and an indeterminate number of drug-crazed elephants (it looks to be more than Hannibal’s 38, anyway). Rajendra has 50,000, and Pars only 10,000 – which makes the fact that the Pars and Rajendra forces surround Gadevi’s army largely irrelevant.
You can pretty well guess how this is going to play out – Gadevi will do the conventional thing and split his forces, and Narsus will trump him by thinking several steps ahead. He’s already slipped the Parsian forces out of Gujarat, leaving that chunk of Gadevi’s army surrounding an army of dummies and a few decoy archers. Of course he hasn’t told Rajendra about this ploy, which means when the Pars cavalry shows up just as the rebel forces are being routed it’s a surprise to both sides on the battlefield. The battle is actually pretty splendid, with Daryun almost Legolas-like in his mounting one of the war elephants, but of course this is where the shortcomings in the animation really stand out. It’s not Kingdom, but it sure isn’t Seirei no Moribito either.
The personal side of things is at least an interesting as the battle here. The portrait of Gadevi we see is not a flattering one – he’s ready to execute Jaswant before the Vizier steps in, and the latter actually later admits that he’s backed the wrong horse in this race. How much does the personal loyalty that Arslan inspires really count for in a battle for nations? I guess we’ll see, but Jaswant has certainly noted the difference in the way Arslan treats those loyal to him as opposed to Gadevi. And the old king, Karikala, has awoken, and is none too pleased to hear that his sons are sacrificing thousands of lives in their sibling squabble.
Narsus’ stratagems – he’s lured the war elephants into a trap and wiped them out (probably for the best – elephant rehab is a bitch) with poison-tipped spears – have certainly evened the odds out on the battlefield. Daryun comes within a whisker of ending Gadevi, but Jaswant’s heroics (he rides his horse onto Gadevi’s elephant’s back) save him (though Gadevi is as ungrateful for that as it gets). But it’s Karikala who really reshapes things – he orders his sons to to engage in a “duel before the Gods” to decide the succession. It’s not exactly The Mountain vs. The Viper, but it appears we have an interesting prospect on our hands when Rajendra asks Arslan to allow Daryun to fight as his proxy. Knowing that’s allowed I suppose it’s a given both princes will take advantage, and if I were Rajendra I’d certainly want Daryun to be my champion. And painful as it is, I don’t see any way Arslan can really say no here – it’s a chance to accomplish a huge part of his long-term plan in one stroke.