Arslan Senki had a resolutely discernible strategy for this episode – simplify. There’s been a lot of preamble, politics and permutations building up to this point, but that was pretty much all stripped away this week, and the narrative laid bare in its purest form. Not only was this all about the battle (much as a sports anime episode like Baby Steps was this week), but the battle itself came down to one-on-one matchups. It may not be the most realistic depiction of military history but it makes very good television.
The game Hilmes is playing seems pretty transparent to us in the audience, but one has to wonder what the Lusitanian soldiers placed under his command think when he says stuff like “All things upon this Earth belong to Lusitania”. It’s a fundamental flaw in this alliance that seems as if it has to bite back sooner or later – not only is everyone playing each other for their own gain, but none of them seem to be making much of an effort to hide it. If you were a Lusitanian, would you willingly die for Hilmes? And can an army of soldiers who wouldn’t do so for commander and cause succeed in a battle of this magnitude?
There are showdowns happening everywhere here. On the plains, it’s Xandes and Daryun. Beneath the city in the aqueducts, it’s Saam and Kisward. In the Parsian camp it’s Arslan and Etoile. And the wild card in all this is Kubard, whose arrival on the battlefield I can only assume means Gieve is somewhere close at-hand. Narsus as usual has plotted one step ahead of the enemy, luring Xandes into a false camp after Arslan’s head. But there are events transpiring here that not even Narsus has foreseen – though in his defense, they result from past meetings which he has no idea have taken place.
Xandes has already “died” once, fallen from a cliff. But what I thought was a bit of sloppy writing may in fact have been anything but, as he appears to have importance to the shadow warriors who occasionally pop up in the narrative like an odd smell. I’m not especially thrilled with the way this magical element is used, given that it’s largely ignored for almost the entire story and never gets any explanation. But I do like the fact that Xandes’ survival may have plot importance – and while Daryun seemingly kills him again, I’m going to assume what we saw happen is what happened the first time.
As for Saam and Kishward, it’s a straightforward meeting of old allies who’ve chosen different sides. By definition each is a traitor in the other’s eyes, but there doesn’t seem to be much malice in their fight – the simple matter is, Saam is a major inconvenience for Team Arslan. Indeed he foils Kishward’s notion of taking St Emmanuelle’s via the aqueducts, and his reputation as a staunch defender or walls appears to be well-earned. Their faceoff has to go down as a draw, but it seems likely to reconvene elsewhere before the battle is over.
Finally there’s Etoile, and her confrontation with Arslan is the most interesting of the episode. I picked up a vibe in Etoile’s conversations with the chief librarian that there’s something afoot with her – she appears to be a person of some importance, whom the commander has been ordered to keep out of harm’s way. Might she be a princess of some sort (lots of fascinating potential plot twists there), or a prominent figure in the church? Whatever the case, Etoile insists on taking to the battlefield herself in the glorious cause of extremism that she’s yet to see for the farce it is.
Because Etoile recognizes Elam, she stumbles upon the location of Arslan’s true camp, and make a play for his head after Xandes’ has ended in disaster. Of course a huge surprise awaits her there, and even when presented with the truth it takes her several moments to put the pieces together in her mind. She’s obviously not going to walk out of that tent with Arslan’s head – she may not walk out at all – but I don’t see her dying here. There’s been too much built up on this clash of ideologies, and while Arslan has seen past the hollow nature of his nation’s narrative Etoile has yet to make that leap. Perhaps it’s as Arslan’s prisoner that she’ll be forced to confront the truth of what her belief system is – though as kind-hearted to a fault as Arslan has proved himself to be, I’m not ready to assume anything about how this is going to play out in the final two episodes.