The mantle pretty much falls to Arslan Senki for a Sunday anime that actually has a chance to see a real ending. Yeah, we’re already through the manga and into novel material, and even though the novel series is pushing 30 years old it sill isn’t finished. Despite all that I still give Arslan better odds of seeing an anime continuation – and conclusion – than Baby Steps or Gangsta at this point. Being a fan of manga adaptations is suffering.
Happily, Arslan Senki seems to be finishing up very much on a high note. It’s been excellent of late, and I think a very strong case could be made that this was the best episode of the series, everything considered – in fact, that this is the episode the entire series has been building towards. While there are still a few annoying hangups like the random intervention of magic (or the divine) and Kaji Yuuki’s voice, this was full-bore military epic with a personal touch, and quite disturbing as well.
From a fan’s perspective, I think this episode had everything that you could want – consequence, social commentary, heroism, plot and character advancement. And some stunningly good production to boot. It more or less starts where last week’s drama finished, with Etoile ensconced inside Arslan’s headquarters, finally realizing the truth. Arslan’s kindness sometimes lapses into foolhardy naïveté, and I would argue this was one of those instances – approaching an armed enemy being an unwise move for any commander, much less a child prince. And it’s Elam who pays the price.
We haven’t seen a lot of genuine peril for the truly important members of the cast – mostly nicks and scratches here and there – but this feels like something altogether different. It may be in fact that Elam feels a certain responsibility for being followed back to the camp, and I’ve no doubt he would gladly give his life to save Arslan’s if needed. But my suspicion is that Elam will survive, as his personal journey seems quite unfinished. I certainly hope he does – but if not, that’s going to be quite a bitter existential pill for Arslan to swallow.
In the wake of this truma Arslan declares that he must justify this battle by taking part in it himself, and surprisingly Narsus acquiesces rather quickly. Despite his value – the entire cause basically ceases to exist if he dies – I sort of get Arslan’s point here. He’s asking these men to fight and die for him, after all. Fortunately for Arslan Alfreed (at Narsus’ instruction) has followed Etoile and discovered the hidden passage she used to leave St. Emmanuelle’s, which completely changes the nature of the siege. With a strike force opening the gate from the inside, it’s only a matter of time before the Lusitanians crack – especially when Kubard shows up (where are you, Gieve?) to lend his monocular GAR to Team Arslan’s cause.
The fundamental inviability of the opposition’s cause has been asserting itself for weeks, and it really becomes inescapable in this ep. Hilmes is only too happy to stand by and let Guiscard’s army be slaughtered, and even more, it’s clear that he’s driven by a singularly personal thirst for revenge that borders on the pathological. Count Baracacion seems a moderate man, but he’s a helpless bystander in all this – and what’s more, unable or unwilling to buck the fanatical mindset that drives his own people. A combination of religious fanatics and an unhinged commander who loathes them is hardly a recipe for stability.
It’s the last several minutes of the episode that are truly memorable. Arslan’s hapless efforts to convince Baracion to surrender lead up to the truly horrifying sight of the nuns of St. Emmanuelle leaping to their deaths rather than accept defeat or capture (lest anyone accuse Tanaka-sensei of anti-Christian bias here, this is also what happened on many remote Japanese islands during World War II when Allied troops marched in, and rest assured he’s very much pointing an accusing finger inwards as well). This is perhaps the most disturbing moment of the entire series – uncompromising, bleak, and terrible.
Then we have the battle between Daryun and Hilmes, Lidenfilms has (like Pierrot with Baby Steps) obviously saved up budget for a few significant episodes, but they truly outdo themselves here – this is an absolutely first-rate swordfight, one of the best I’ve seen in anime for a very long time. And it ends with the combatants taking a major slice out of the other’s belly, though one again we get a Deus ex Magica moment when the shadowmen show up to save Hilmes (Daryun will have to make do with Narsus and the medics).
Whatever the future may hold, Arslan Senki the anime is ending for now as of next week, so it’s natural to speculate as to how that might play out. There’s one more misunderstanding between Etoile (or should I say Estelle) and Arslan as she fights her way in to find him trying to prevent Baracion from killing himself but assumes he’s actually killing the Count. I’m not sure it would matter – Estelle is still very much trapped in her narrow worldview, and if indeed it’s ever going to change it’s going to take much more from Arslan than what we’ve seen so far. That resolution will have to wait I’m certain, but for now the road – painful “highway of blood and sweat” it may be – to Ectabana seems open. Hilmes is in retreat and much of Guiscard’s force destroyed – indeed, from a purely tactical standpoint Arslan could hardly have hoped for a better result. But the cost has been high – we should perhaps find out just how high next week.