In many ways, Arslan Senki has a lot in common with Baby Steps, and it makes a fine companion piece for these Saturdays that are disproportionately the home of good anime this season. This is a series that really is all about the baby steps of winning back a lost kingdom – the dirty work, the logistics, the coalition building, the personal growth. And like Baby Steps, it never short-changes the buildup to focus too heavily on the big battles (except maybe in terms of budget).
One of the realities facing Arslan now is that the more allies gathered from afar to support you, the harder is gets to keep the peace. And the nature of the inner circle surrounding the boy is hardly a who’s who of respectable Parsian society – a disgraced lord in exile, a minstrel, a priestess, an ex-slave and a wild girl from the provinces, a foreign devil. To the establishment types now rallying to Arslan’s banner this lot surely looks disgraceful and untrustworthy. But on the flipside, to those who protected Arslan when no one else would, these newcomers are front-runners and opportunists. To say it’s an incendiary situation is not remotely inaccurate.
Gieve makes a good symbol for this brewing conflict because he’s about as much of a square peg as you’ll find serving at a prince’s side. Not only does he represent what the newcomers despise, he’s not one to keep his mouth shut about it (or anything else). I knew pretty much from the moment it started that the dust-up between he and Daryun was staged – it had Narsus’ fingerprints all over it – but that doesn’t mean losing a trusted and capable ally with a unique skill set isn’t a blow to Arslan, a serious concession to reality.
I hate to see Gieve go, even temporarily, because he adds a pleasingly dry and acerbic tone to the dynamic. But he’s got a job to do – find someone who may be important to Arslan’s quest. I can only assume that someone is Kubard, who’s something of an iconoclast himself and seems to have decided that whatever respect he feels for Saam, there’s no way he can throw in with Hilmes and his lot. Kubard also seems to be a beast on Daryun’s level, and I suspect he’s got a folk hero’s following among the common people of Pars – as valuable as he may be on the battlefield, my money is on his greatest value being as a symbol to rouse Arslan’s supporters’ spirits and strike fear into the hearts of his enemies.
Gieve has one more role to play in this ep, too. Three idiot generals from Oxus have shown up, picking fights with Gieve and Jaswant for no good reason and demanding they be allowed to find glory in the vanguard. And when Team Arslan marches to take the strategically important Lusitanian castle of St. Emmanuel on the road to Ectabana (guarded by a librarian, no less) they promptly race ahead of the main army and get themselves isolated and forced to retreat into the mountains. Not even Elam and Alfreed can find them, but Gieve has stuck close long enough to lead Arslan’s army to their trapped allies and save their bacon.
The larger question here, though, is whether Arslan should have saved them at all. There was never any doubt he would – it’s fundamental to who he is. But these men’s own stupidity got them into trouble, and it was a risk to go after them. Frankly, it would have made more sense to thank the Gods that Esfanm Zaravant and Tus (he’s actually blameless here) managed to make their stupidity useful to Arslan by springing the trap and leave them behind. And it’s worrisome that Arslan doesn’t even harshly scold the men for disobeying orders, much less severely punish them.
This is the elephant in the room, though Arslan Senki does sometimes acknowledge its presence – is Arslan too nice to win a war, or to serve as king? Kindness is indeed a virtue, never more than in a ruler. But what we’ve yet to see from the boy is that iron fist inside the velvet glove, the hardened steel necessary to do the truly unpleasant when there’s no other choice. It’s Arslan’s nature than draws others to him, inspires their loyalty – if he can get Gieve to believe in something he can get just about anyone to – and to alter his nature would be to undermine his own claim to power. But I think there has to more sooner or later, another side to Arslan that shows he’s ready to do what must be done. Whether we ever see it in anime form is anyone’s guess, but if indeed he is the boy who will become king, we will see it sooner or later.