Military epics share a common element with sports anime, and that of course is the setup episode. Every big game has to have a buildup, a time of quiet reflection on what’s to come – and the big battles are no different. It just so happens that this particular battle is the one that’s going to bring the season to a close, so it’s hardly a surprise that it would merit the most contemplative episode of the series so far.
The season? It’s hard not to wonder what the future holds for Arslan Senki, given that the anime is not even a third of the way through the novels, but has already used up the manga it ostensibly exists to promote. Sales of the first two volumes have been pretty good (better than Gin no Saji, by way of one comparison to a big-selling manga by Arakawa-sensei), but I don’t know if it makes financial sense to continue the anime before the manga leapfrogs ahead of it again. My suspicion is that it’s going to be a few years before we see a continuation in anime form.
Even if that’s true, we’re not going to get an original ending – no way. I suspect the series will stop with the story very much in flux. It seems that Arslan and Hilmes’ fates are going to converge at the fortress of St. Emmanuel, fittingly a structure that has already passed through the control of both Lusitania and Pars. Arslan is proceeding towards it with an army of about 60,000 men – Hilmes has marched to the fort with his own force of 100,000. We may see a decisive result in this particular battle or we may not, but I certainly don’t think we’ll see anything decisive in the war.
At least we seem to be dealing with a situation where Narsus has a counterpart who doesn’t meekly play into his hands. Guiscard is no fool – he sees through Narsus’ ploy to get him to underestimate the size of his forces, and realizes he needs a huge army to win the day. The uneasy partnership between Guiscard and Hilmes is definitely an interesting angle to follow here. I don’t think either is blind to the dance they’re engaging in – it’s only a matter of when the betrayal will come, and who will shoot first. Hilmes has returned from his capture of Zabul castle virtually if not totally unscathed, and he persuades Guiscard to allow him to “borrow” 70,000 Lusitanian troops to join his 30,000 in meeting Arslan at St. Emmanuel. For now Arslan represents a common threat to both of them, but each is thinking ahead to when that’s no longer the case.
Hilmes is troubled, and while it’s Andragoras that’s in chains when the two of them speak in the dungeons, the latter clearly comes out ahead in this encounter. The deposed king’s talk of a prophecy obviously unsettles Hilmes, who seems more insecure in his conviction that his victory is inevitable than he ever has. We don’t know exactly what this prophecy is, nor whether or not Hilmes does – but it seems likely he does, because it’s hard to imagine any reason why he’d keep Andragoras alive otherwise.
Meanwhile, Arslan is very much feeling the weight of the moment, the fates of the men he’s leading to battle haunting his thoughts. Arslan being Arslan he tries to do what he can, insisting that the alarmingly green foot soldiers be given some training (why did it fall to him to do that, though?). These scenes are painted in a somewhat humorous light, as we see that Narsus’ skills as a painter have clearly not improved and get an amusing farce with Elam and Alfreed as they try and avoid the suspicion of the local Lusitanian soldiers (get a room, you two). But underneath that is a real sense that Arslan is going to be severely tested here – not so much by the battle itself, but the certain loss of men it will bring with it. This will be death on Arslan’s hands on a scale we haven’t seen, and he’s going to have to show considerable steel to move past it and focus on the crisis at hand.