Arslan Senki – 24

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My goodness, Lidenfilms – I didn’t think you had it in you…

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.

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20 comments

  1. k

    Just a word of caution, Enzo:

    "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."

    I'd be wary of trying to draw too close a parallel between what happened in Arslan to what happened in Okinawa and the other southern islands towards the end of World War II. There is still a battle going on between the central Japanese government and Okinawa over how to represent what happened, and I think that Okinawans would very much object to the 'group suicides' being likened to 'dying for one's faith'.

    Sorry for bringing politics in here, but this is something quite close to my heart.

  2. I

    I have been reading a lot of comments about this episode, and almost everybody link the suicide of the nuns with their religion. But I think that there could be another reason. This is supposed to be ancient times and, during these times it was very common that the winner would devote themselves to plunder and rape. From the point of the view of the nuns, they are choosing to kill themselves, instead of being raped and, perhaps, killed or sold as slaves.
    Remember that when Arslan's army has conquered the castle, there is a scene with Kishward saying that more killing ot looting is not allowed and will be punished. Of course, the nuns couldn't know it.
    The only thing that I missed in this episode was that they didn't end the battle in the aqueduct. I suppose that they merely withdrew.
    By the way, Enzo, when you said: Daryun will have to make due with Narsus and the medics; Do you mean: Daryun will have to make due with ELAM and the medics?
    Finally, I want to say that I liked the first scene too. It shows that Arslan is really naive, and that his actions have consecuences. On the other hand, it showed too the development of Elam's character from despise Arslan to protect him with his life.

  3. k

    To be honest, I'm ambivalent about whether the women in Arslan chose to kill themselves because of something their faith said, or if they were indeed afraid that they would be raped of sold as slaves. The Count's words suggest that faith paid a big part in it; but I can see teachings of their faith specifying that women in particular should not allow themselves to be taken prisoner because of what would happen to them in those times.

    But in the case of Japan's southern islands in WWII, the reason most people killed themselves was indeed a fear of what the Americans would do to them. The issues that are being debated include how they came to believe that they were better off dead, and whether or not Japanese soldiers actually ordered them to commit suicide. And let me not go into the variety of ways in which they killed themselves and each other.

    A better parallel for 'dying for the faith' would be the kamikaze pilots, many of whom left behind letters about being glad to die for the emperor/their country (scholars have since characterised this as having come for 'emperor worship' – basically, the emperor was god to them). However, that is also a simplification of what Japanese people were like back then…

    =====

    I think he meant "make do" with Narsus and the medics…

  4. I

    Well, I am not a scholar, but I like history and I know a lil about World War II.
    Yes, there was letters of pilots glad to die for the emperor/country, but there was too letters of pilot that didn't want to die or didn't understand by they have to kill themselves.

    People can be very inventive when they have to kill anothers or themselves, unfortunately. :(

  5. I never suggested that Tanaka was saying those Japanese killed themselves over religion – I think his commentary points more towards the act as a whole, and all the complicated factors (nationalism, bushido, military orders, and many others) that went into it.

    Also – we're not only talking about Okinawa here, either.

  6. k

    "People can be very inventive when they have to kill anothers or themselves, unfortunately. :("

    Well…that's not quite what I meant. The ways they killed themselves weren't inventive…more that they were told how to kill themselves and sometimes given the means to do so by the military. The civilians, that is, not the military who had their own means.

    Enzo, I wasn't just talking about Okinawa either, even if that's what I'm most familiar with. I know that there were civilian suicides on other islands that were under Japanese control. But when I wrote "dying for one's faith," I didn't mean traditional religions but rather 'emperor worship'. It's somewhat different from the three factors you've highlighted, and the historians and peoples/communities who care about it would argue that it's an important difference.

  7. G

    Just some thoughts ! It could be religious that they consider Pars Demons > Could be the rape and plundering which was forbidden by Arslan and then Narsus ! could be both of the above!

    Worse yet they were thinking toture or being made an example of !

    But if you look at the Middlle East today suicide is used as a means of battle as horrifying that is ! Not implying to any religion / beliefs but orea carryover of past history!

    No matter whay is quite sad and dramatic !

  8. C

    I disagree about it ending on a high note. The people who have read the novels have already stated that this is basically anime-original content. Hermes and his posse are not supposed to be anywhere near St. Emmanuel, and their inclusion into this arc is honestly for the worse. It just lends itself to silly cliches and disgusting plot contrivances.

    "Hahaha I have defeated you… but I won't kill you just yet!" Seriously? We're really going there? This is worse than Gilgamesh who just leaves without fighting. These kind of dumb Saturday-morning-cartoon-villain antics are very jarring when they're right next to a mass suicide. And why didn't the earth wizards just kill all of Arslan's generals while they were distracted?

    I don't know how Arakawa is going to handle this part, but hopefully better than the anime. I'm very critical of the show precisely because I like it so much and it could be so, so much more better if they could just stick more closely to the novels and avoid all these trite cliches.

  9. S

    Which cliches are not in the novel, exactly ? Narsus perfect tactics, Daryuun's invincibility, Mr Convenient Deus-Ex-Sandman or Farangis-dono's "It's OK, I have plot armor" decisions in clothing and warfare? The anime is cliche galore, I have a hard time seeing all of it being anime original

    Besides. A fight here with Narsus and without Hermes, Saam and Etoile seems like a yawn fest.

  10. e

    Yeah. This could have been a great historical fiction if it weren't for those magics.
    That Farangis. Now I understand she wear such revealing clothing to battle.
    Behold! I have my Goddess' divine protection, all projectiles are rendered useless before me! Ha ha ha.

    Also, the sandman's ability has gone too far. The guys can simply swim through solid rocks. And is that teleportation? Some dark protal? When they took Hermes away?

    I can swallow simple magic tricks such as throwing fireballs from your palm, but yeah, these have gone too far.

  11. I

    The sandman's ability has gone too far? What is more dificult? Teleportation or change the weather of a large grassland? The problem is that the "sandman" has not been explained a lot in the series.
    And, while Chrysostomus have part of reason, it is clear that everything has been done to have a satisfying anime ending.
    Chrysostomus, if you have watched the OVAs, we know how disapointed that ending would be.
    P.S: Enzo, I hope that you doesn't have any problem with this post, because I am not sure why you delete my post the other week.

  12. C

    Silver Mask not killing Daryun and escaping, Xandes blasting off agaaaaaaainn, the unguarded “secret tunnel”, Silver Mask not doing anything during the battle in spite of being a clever and competent commander, Arslan walking up to his enemies unarmed like an idiot, etc, etc… Basically almost everything except the mass suicide was anime-original content.

    I think that the narrative, as it stands right now, did not warrant Hermes & his pals in the battle. I think that it would have been nice to devote all that screentime to Etoile, Baracion and the Lusitanian faction as a whole.

  13. There are certainly legitimate reasons to criticize this series. I've often done so myself. Unfortunately, though, there's a bit of a "boy who cried wolf" thing going on here in that there was so much criticism of the series before it even aired that it just became a long droning noise.

  14. S

    I don't especially mind the "not killing Daryun and escaping" part, from the looks of it, none of them were in a condition to do much more fighting. It was an epic fight sequence before and a tactical retreat to make sure he doesn't die as well doesn't sound too stupid.

    But yeah, you're absolutely right. Hermes not doing anything during the battle is absolute horse shit. The way they designed the secret tunnel was also terribad. But now that I think of it, the only reason I wasn't 100% sure of the outcome of this battle beforehand was because Hermes was the commander. Granted, he didn't do anything, but Narsus didn't do anything particularly good either. Hm.

    I still think this cliche filled version was A) not extremely more cliche then anything before it and B) exciting thanks to Hermes & Etoile. I was hoping for a few more deaths, but I'm guessing both Elam and Daryuun recovered.

    P.S. Eternia +1

  15. I

    Delete again, oh well. I supposed that this could happened.

    I don't get the relation between the "boy who cried wolf" and that series.

    I am not so sure if Hermes really wanted to win the battle or only kill more Lusitanians and confront Arslan.

    Well, only one episode to go and no word about a continuation. :(

  16. G

    Another anime that is finishing well !

    The Arslan / Etoile story and Elam getting hurt! The great battle scenes !

    Yes I agree the Daryun / Hermes sword fight was amazing !

    One EP left ! I a hoping for a 2ND season ! Let them write new material!

  17. E

    I find that the direction for this series has generally been overly ambitious, with panning shots and such that don't work well with the bad cgi and poor animation, but wow, this episode really showed what the show can do when Lidenfilms isn't being thrifty with its budget. Really stunning direction and animation, coupled with some brutal twists make this the best episode of the series yet imo.

  18. J

    90% of the budget for one episode (and only one scene within it at that).

    Lindenfilms, are you David Productions in disguise?

  19. I

    I read a lot of bad reviews about the quality of this anime. Personally, I was so interested in the plot that I didn't notice them (On the other hand, it doesn't have SO bad if you didn't notice it. Because if it's REALLY bad, you notice it, yes or yes.).

    I think that the problem is that, for a story as Arslan (with castle, large battles, a lot of locations, …) you would need a really huge budget to have a good animation during the whole series.
    And it isn't the same to animate Dragon Ball, that Arslan. Did anybody see the details in the background of the interiors? All the tiles, tapestry, carpets??
    By the way, I was surprised that they used the tapestry with their original sense, that's to make an insulation layer when you life in a tent.

  20. I

    For the record, after reading comments in other forums, I don't know why, but people think that they have captured Ecbatana. ^^??

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