I had a suspicion (espoused in last week’s post) that this turn in the plot might just prove to be a good thing for The Heroic Legend of Arslan, and boy was I ever right. I don’t know if I’m ready to call this the best episode of the series so far, but I’m unable to think of any better – even the animation was about the best we’ve seen. Things were getting entirely too routine and predictable, and a shake-up like this was just what the doctor ordered.
I’m not going to lay all the blame for that rut on Narsus – he’s a good character and I like him – but the fact is, where Narsus is at center stage there isn’t a whole lot of tension. But here with the Duel Before the Gods, Narsus is resolutely not in control for once, and Arslan Senki is much the better for it. As powerful as Daryun is – and as much plot armor as he likely has at this stage of the narrative – there was an air of uncertainty about what was likely to happen for a change.
This had to be a tough thing for Arslan, because fighting a duel for a foreign prince isn’t like taking the battlefield to protect your own country. To order Daryun to fight (which is of course the only way Daryun would do so) means to order him to risk his life fighting for something he swore no oath of loyalty to. Add to that the fact that it would seem to cast Rajendra’s cause in an ill light with his own people (the evidence supports this) to have a foreigner fight the duel for him and you can only see this as a problematic turn of events – though if I were in Rajendra’s shoes I doubt I’d have acted differently.
Of course, when it becomes apparent what Gadevi has chosen to do, I’m not sure the people of Sindhura would look upon him much more favorably. His champion Bahadour is a monster who literally has to be unchained to fight – a gargantuan beast alternately described as a criminal, a shark who feels no pain, and an animal in human guise. I referenced “The Mountain and the Viper” mostly in jest last week, but it was hard not to be put in mind of it more than a little here.
This duel was probably the best action sequence we’ve seen in Arslan Senki, both in terms of choreography and animation. And it was genuinely tense, for while Daryun has proved himself almost as formidable in battle as Narsus is in tactics, we have seem him pushed (by Hilmes) and Bahadour is truly a monster. Happily, Daryun is clever as well as physically formidable, and though one-by-one his weapons and armor are systematically decimated by Bahadour’s brute strength, he has one last trick literally up his sleeve – a short sword he unleashes after pretending to be disarmed. Combined with a little fire (if Bahadour has a younger brother it would have worked even better on him) Daryun uses that sword to put an end to the duel, and theoretically to the battle for succession of the Sindhuran throne.
Arslan’s dismay when he believes Daryun is in dire straits is striking for many reasons. It reminds us just how much a vulnerable youth he still is, and it reminds the old king Karikala (Umezu Hideyuki, who played Rajendra in the OVA) of just what Gadevi is lacking. It’s bad enough that Gadevi should refuse to accept the results of what in his country is a sacred rite – he turns his blade on his own father and king in the process – but to threaten a foreign prince present as his guest is truly an act of treason against his own country, and one capable of causing it huge damage. This is clearly going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Vizier, and for Jaswant – the latter saves Arslan when one of Gadevi’s guard attacks him. But Gadevi turns on his own vizier when he refuses to carry out his orders and urges him to stay his hand, and when Gadevi slays him it’s clear that even his own foot soldiers have seen enough.
When Daryun commands the combatants to throw down their weapons and take up the matter with him if they a problem, the assembled Sindhurans shout “Sher Shenami!” – “Fierce Tiger General” – and it’s hard to argue with them, as this is about as GAR as it gets. This struggle is clearly over, for what it’s worth – Rajendra has won, and Gadevi has lost in every possible way. But there are troubling questions about Rajendra that make it difficult to have much faith in him as an ally going forward. He’s, well – a prince compared to Gadevi, but Rajendra seems to lack a certain gravity and reliability that one might wish for in a future king. Or an ally to help make one out of you…