Arslan Senki – 18

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When will the dog learn – this cat has claws…

The anime competition is pretty fierce at the moment – Ushio and Tora, Working!!!, Baby Steps and Gangsta have put on a masterful display this week of how to execute their genres and demographics pretty much flawlessly.  But let there be no doubt, Arslan Senki has leveled up big-time in the last couple of weeks (and it was already good).  This has almost certainly been the best two-episode run since the very early stages, if not of the entire anime.

This Sindhuran arc has broken up the air of complacency that had dimmed Arslan’s star just a bit, adding a nice dash of unpredictability and taking things to some refreshingly dark places.  It’s not as though Narsus isn’t still several steps ahead of everyone else, but at least he hasn’t been so demonstrably manipulating events to his own ends as he had been.  Not every variable in the Sindhuran capital was within his powers to control  – though he certainly had what would happen after Arslan departed down pretty much pat.

I think to some extent what these early arcs have been about is twofold.  First, it’s an education in the ways of the world for Arslan.  And second, it’s an education of the audience – defining Arslan by contrast with the character of his peers and rivals, starting with his (presumed) father.  Rajendra is rather more subtly layered than some of them, though his treachery here was easy to spot.  He is, as Narsus says, an actor so good that when he’s acting, he can even fool himself.  Is he acting when he promises his dying father that he’ll allow Gadevi to live out his days under house arrest at a temple?  Is he acting when he breaks down in tears at Karikala’s funeral?

The answer, I suspect, contains both yes and no.  He intends to give Gadevi the chance to prove worthy of being spared, fully expecting his brother to fail,  And he truly does grieve his father, but he’s acutely aware that a public display of extravagant grief can build a good deal of capital in the realm of public perception.  And when he trots out Arslan at the banquet “honoring” Gadevi, the latter does indeed fail miserably – moments after groveling for his life, his rage consumes him and he attacks the Parsian prince – only to have the boy’s falcon peck his eye out.  Soon enough, Rajendra makes that injury rather moot, having his brother’s head removed and displayed on the city walls for all to see.

Really, though, the title of this series should never be far from mind, because fundamentally it all comes back to Arslan.  The grief Arslan displays at being part of all this ugliness is unmistakable – he truly hates seeing the brothers feuding, seeing one publicly executed.  He hates the fact that underneath Rajanedra’s big-brotherly friendliness is the betrayal Narsus has told him is coming, and he hates deceiving people to achieve his goals.  I think it’s fair to ask – indeed, I think we’re meant to ask – does this kind, sensitive boy have the stomach to be a medieval king?  Surely he has reserves of strength and resolve – we’ve seen them amply displayed – but can he do the things a man in the position he seeks must do without being truly miserable in his existence?  Daryun dismisses these concerns with a heartfelt “You are you, and you need not change your way of thinking” – but the reality isn’t quite that simple.

When Rajendra’s betrayal comes, Narsus has naturally seen through it.  Rajendra reminds me of a dog that keeps getting his nose swatted bloody by a cat, but continues to stick his nose too close for the cat’s comfort.  He’s just not in Narsus’ weight class, but Rajendra is consumed by delusions of his own genius.  Maybe in his own mind he really does think he’s doing Arslan a favor by educating him as to the cruel ways of war, and he probably does like him, but his scheme is doomed before it starts.  Arslan lets him off rather easily (which is perfectly in-character) with a three-year non-aggression treaty in-pocket, but apart from a likely (though not certain) respite from possible near-term invasion from Sindhuran, it seems to me he rides for Pars not materially stronger than he was when he and Rajendra met.

One more thing Arslan does ride for Pars with, though, is a new ally in Jaswant, who he’s saved yet again by getting him freed from the dungeons.  Jaswant swears he’ll fight for his own country if it ever goes to war with Pars, but Arslan’s overarching strength is his ability to inspire a personal loyalty that transcends borders and factions, and Jaswant seems a pretty formidable guy to have on your side. In this sense Arslan has indeed grown stronger, and as he travels he continues to gather an impressive select band of very smart and capable allies.  It’s not the easiest or flashiest way to rise to power, but it may be the method with the most staying power.

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  1. Y

    One thing that felt off about this episode for me was Rajendra's reason for betraying Arslan. I mean, he says he wants to teach him "the reality of war", and that's all well and good, but it just seemed like such a pathetic excuse at the time. Seriously, what the heck was going on inside his head? Did he honestly think his plan would bring him even a fraction of the "prestige" he apparently needs in order to unify his kingdom? Even his own soldiers appeared flabbergasted at the sujestion of holding Arslan captive. That was just so incredibly stupid, even for Rajendra… It's as you said in your previous review — this guy really doesn't have what it takes to be a decent king, and Sindhura needs one at the moment. Arslan does, too. Going to all that trouble to gain only one ally? Admittedly, it's an ally of great skill and a fine mind, but still! Ah, I'm rambling xD It's just that, I haven't really read much of the novels from Daryun's duel with Bahadur onwards, so now I'm pretty much in the same boat as you. I may have the OVAs to draw on, but their storyline was only very loosely based on the source material, and skipped through a lot of important moments.

    All this aside, I liked that it was actually Jaswant who was the key to thwarting Rajendra's plan instead of Narsus. And I'm really glad we're returning to Hermes next week :)

  2. m

    Actually, my first reaction to his betrayal wasn't of surprise (I kind of expected the alliance to fall sooner or later). It has been shown from the very start that he was introduced that this leader is arrogant and a major show-off (that was during his first attack on Arslan and co), and in his pursuit of grandeur and dramatics, he make some stupid decisions sometimes. Rather than have his country be put in the debt of Arslan and for him to lose in limelight next to Arslan (because he attained the throne due to him), he would always try to fight for the upper hand. That reason he gave, what giving Arslan lessons of war, I call on that for bullshit haha, he just wants to show off in what he thought could be an overwhelming and dramatic victory. As the show mentioned, he is an actor and that is why he thought he could deceive the world.
    Ultimately, his foolish ploy failed, and I wasn't surprised

  3. Y

    I knew he was a show-off, and stupid. What I hadn't accounted for was just HOW stupid (very, apparently) he could get. I guess his lofty position got to his head more quickly than usual this time. Still, Arslan lost a great deal more than he gained, which kind of upsets me. I wish he would have at least asked to keep those 3000 soldiers (those of them who were left alive, at least) Rajendra promsied and sent to his camp. Though I did enjoy watching him and Narsus smile as sweetly as kittens while they fucked over Rajendra's plans for any near-future invasions. Let's hope he's learned his lesson and won't risk any other such major fuck-ups in the years to come.

  4. e

    The guy has seen what happened to his own brother, a leader who fell because he's lost his subjects' trust. Why is he jumping into the same wagon? Who would want to serve a leader who backstabs a boy that genuinely came all this way to help him, for a small price of gaining an ally and a truce.
    It seems too stupid to me. It seems that this guy's betrayal is only for plot's sake.

  5. I think a thorough study of history shows this development to be depressingly realistic.

  6. C

    I think it was his motive that was incredibly unconvincing. "Let me show him how the world works, teach him a harsh lesson" or something like that.

    He could have just said that he wanted to get back at Arslan for his first humiliating defeat and I would have rolled with that.

  7. m

    You know he doesnt really mean that. When Narsus said that he is an actor, it really is accurate. He just says it as if it could deceive anyone else and maybe himself too. His declaration to keep Arslan alive was an unnecessary charity to make himself look good too (since Arslan is too kind to really bite)

  8. E

    Its definitely happened in history, but I think most of us expected Rajendra to be more nuanced… I think its only Arslan's group right now who have any depth at all?

  9. C

    All this episode did was annoy me. Good Lord, why didn't Arslan cut off Rajendra's good arm or something? He betrays and gets beaten two times and they let him get away with it. It's seriously annoying how close Arslan is to becoming "perfect Gary Stu ruler with negligible faults."

    And then there's Jaswant, not that I hate him or anything, he's proven to be loyal and a good soldier too, but that's precisely what the issue is. Sindhura is guaranteed to attack in 3 years time and Jaswant swore that he will fight on their side. So why accept him then? He will eventually become an enemy anyway, it's insane to let him get close to the King and to gather sensitive intel. Don't tell me it's going to be one of those awful cliches where he eventually develops a sense of belonging and loyalty, and then switches side.

  10. S

    To add to that, having Narsus perfectly plan 7 steps ahead was interesting at first and now god damn annoying. There's no suspense in anything anymore, all thanks to Narsus. Fuck that. I'm now officially bored with the show. The only upside is that this arc is over, but I doubt it'll improve as long as Narsus remains godlike.

  11. E

    On the upside, Silver Mask is the one person who has bested Narsus in some way, so maybe there is some hope…

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