I must say it’s been a great month for Arslan Senki, which has really come into its own over the last few episodes. I was hugely impressed by the fact that the series was subtly setting up the dilemma of “the boy who should be king” so patiently, and then addressed it head-on this week. It takes pretty good writing to establish something as a central theme of a series without flat-out saying it, and the way the series chose to resolve it was outstanding – it was used as a means to show us what the main character is made of.
Arslan needing to “find his resolve” is no small thing, given that Narsus’ entire revolution (and let’s not kid ourselves) is built around this one fragile boy. If I was impressed with the way the series brought this issue to a head, I was no less impressed with Arslan for having self-doubts about his right to the throne. He should have doubts – he’s a smart kid, and a principled one too. He knows his father may have been a usurper, and might not be Arslan’s actual father to boot. If he now claims the throne without having a legal claim to it, is in any better than his father – or even than the Lusitanian invaders who took it by force?
The answer of course is yes, he is – but Arslan has to struggle with it to be true to character. And the time to shit or get off the pot is now, because generals and nobles have been flocking to Peshawar Citadel to rally under Arslan’s banner. That’s causing some unrest among the newly swollen ranks of supporters, and Narsus volunteers for a symbolic demotion in order to try and allay some resentment by ceding the role of Satruyp – effectively Arslan’s vizier – to an older and less controversial figure. That happens to be Lucian (the unmistakable Koyama Rikiya), who gets a rather low-key introduction this week. I’m sure there’s more to the man than meets the eye, but for now his role is mainly as a symbol.
How is the troubled Arslan to find his resolve? Well, every time he’s been mentally shaken he seems to run into Etoile – and she (I think that’s safe to say now) fortuitously turns up again as the head of a squadron sent to spy on Peshawar. Etoile is still passing as a boy to her soldiers, but when she needs to go undercover to see what’s happening in Peshawar she slips convincingly into feminine appearance – though not behavior. After a rather uncomfortable evening fending off the advances of drunken Pars “knights”, the first name encounter is with Alfreed, and while Etoile slips up a couple of times again Alfreed is more interested in bragging about her fictional relationship with Narsus than the nameless town girl in front of her.
It’s inevitable that Etoile and Arslan are going to meet again, and it comes just as she’s physically repelling one of the drunkard soldiers from the banquet hall. Remarkably he doesn’t recognize her, and she has no idea who he really is (why doesn’t either of these kids ever ask the other’s name?). Arslan takes it on himself to help the girl out of trouble (quite hilariously misinterpreted by Gieve), and the ensuing conversation goes as it usually does – Etoile provides a good deal of clarity to Arslan’s thoughts, and he makes her question her blanket hatred of all things “heathen”. I’m not sure where Tanaka-sensei sees their destinies taking them, but it does seem clear these two are linked in a way that transcends the cultural divide between their countries.
In truth, the three meetings between Arslan and Etoile have been a process of continuing education – Arslan moving beyond naïveté and an ignorance of the larger world, and Etoile beyond the prejudice and intransigence born of extremist teachings and personal misfortune. It just so happens that the timing of this rendezvous could hardly have been more crucial for Arslan, because he needed to believe that the rightness of his ideals justified the dubious legitimacy of his quest. “As for taking action for the sake of your country and your people, your parentage has no bearing on that. It is a most noble thing.”
This is the nut of it, really – just what “nobility” really means. Etoile could hardly have chosen words more fitting for this moment in Arslan’s young life, but the point is that those words have an elemental truth that transcends personal circumstances – this is something Etoile and Arslan both believe in spite of the gulf between their experiences. I often think of Seirei no Moribito when it comes to the question of nobility, in the sense that Chagum was truly noble not because he was the son of the emperor, but because of who he was as a person. Arlslan’s birthright is in the end irrelevant – it’s only his character that matters, and that seems to give him a more that passable claim to the throne of Pars.