Arslan Senki – 21

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If you gotta be cruel to be kind, our young prince still has a long way to go.

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.

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  1. M

    I am thinking that Arslan may have to learn to be stern the hard way. I would not be surprised if he lets something fester and grow until when it comes to a head he really loses his temper.

  2. Y

    Like he did with Rajendra, you mean? When he learned Daryun's life was in danger?

  3. Unfortunately a heated, in the moment outburst isn't really what I'm looking for. I think it has to be a situation where he has a chance to calmly consider his alternatives and still makes the "unkind" decision.

  4. M

    I meant more that he has to learn that sometimes it is better to be hard at the start then do something he regrets later. It would also be character building as Arslan's only real flaws are being too naive and kindhearted.

  5. C

    Yeah Arslan really needs to stop being "muh perfect denka." He needs to be kind enough to inspire loyalty but know when to dole out punishment and violence, so as to command respect and install order.

  6. J

    That comment brought a smile to my face. I remember when Psycho Pass was airing and you couldn't avert your eyes but for seeing "muh sasayama" all over the place. I don't think we're going to see Arslan minus Narsus in the anime though, I doubt there's enough time to create such a situation. I would assume it has happened in the novels and will in the manga eventually, but frustratingly not yet.

    This was also one of the few times where I sat up and called BS on Arslan's decision. On the other hand it's good to see that his time with the Sindhurans, while important, haven't transformed him into the ideal leader already. It would have been nice to see someone chiding him though – but the most likely person to do so has taken a leave of absence…

  7. M

    Also, Farangis has her summer taunting cloths back on so she gets a bit more screen time.

  8. B

    I hope that by the end of this season (hopefully we get a second season) we see Arslan making a decision that doesn't align with Narsus' expectations. Even in this episode, we saw Arslan make a decision and Narsus was simply grinning saying he already sent Alfreed and Elam to look for the idiot generals (in other words, he predicted what Arslan would say since Arslan is such a kind and sweet boy).

    I really, really want to see Arslan make a decision that surprises Narsus, even if it leads to the conflict between the two. It would be a perfect opportunity to showcase Arslan's growth.

  9. S

    I never truly liked Gieve, so this episode didn't really warm this cold heart. Even if he sometimes cut through the sappy bullshit that Arslan is spewing, he didn't do it often or convincingly enough. And his schtick with Farangis was forever unfunny.

    Speaking of which, what a bland and boring character Farangis became. We know hardly nothing of what drives her, why does she stick around for war and what goes on in her mind? No doubts, no aspirations? She's exploited for her meat bags, but is as interesting as a sack of potatoes.

    Last but not least, Narsus is the perfect weapon to remove all suspense and excitement from the on-screen action, since he can do nothing wrong and always plans 10 episodes ahead.

    Writing this out almost makes me forget how excellent the last episode was. Am I sticking around for Etoile and Arslan? I don't know. If there are other characters than them I care about, I've forgotten them. Hopefully the next episode pulls me back in.

  10. b

    It's unfortunate you haven't commented anything on Esfan, he has one of the most interesting backstories in my opinion. It's terrible the anime made Gieve infodump his past so quickly that no one seemed to pay attention to it (he and Zaravant are around 20 years old btw, the youngest Marzbans of Andragoras, which explains their eagerness in getting accomplishments).

    Esfan's mother was his father's slave, the reason he and his mother got abandoned in the mountains was due to Shapur's mother's jealousy. Like Gieve said, baby Esfan survived because he was adopted by wolves and lived with them until the 16 year old Shapur found him. Shapur was Esfan's brother, his savior, teacher, role model.
    Some people missed the point that Gieve was using a low method, using Shapur to anger Esfan in order to cause a fight and get vanished.

    The OVAs ended in a cliffhanger, this anime seems like it is going to end at the same place.

    I recommend everybody to catch up to the manga. Arakawa hasn't introduced Alfreed, she has been focusing on Lusitania for the last months before going back to Arslan's group and their journey to Peshawar. There's a very important scene between Hermes and the cult following him that people should read because the anime skipped it despite the piece of information revealed.

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