Arslan Senki – 25 (End) and Series Review

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Memo to Manglobe: Was that so damn hard?

It’s finale weekend in anime (a few frontrunners beat the rush last week, but you get my point), and it’s been possibly the strangest I can remember.  Working gave us an ending that wasn’t an ending and made us ecstatic about it, Gangsta gave us an ending that wasn’t- well, anything – and pissed us the fuck off.  It fell to Arslan Senki to be the first LiA show of the weekend to give us something that felt like an actual ending, and do it damn well at that.

We all knew that like Gangsta, Arslan was going to have to end an ongoing story.  But hard as that is to do it’s certainly not impossible to do well, and by God, a studio (in my view) has a responsibility to at least try to give a show some kind of closure.  Even if you can’t resolve a story narratively you can give it a sense of resolution, a benedictory quality, and leave the characters in a place that feels like a natural stopping point.  Most of the time studios at least try, and sometimes they do quite a neat job of it.  Manglobe did neither, and Lidenfilms did both.

Arslan Senki is a series that can be a bit clunky in both its storytelling and animation sometimes, something that no doubt fuels some of the barrage of criticism it receives from fans of the original novels.  But there’s an honesty about it, and old-school anime directness that I find very appealing.  And underneath that sometimes heavy touch is a real subtlety and sense of history (again, things the novel readers love about this series) which I think survives and thrives in the anime.  And it’s that which drives the finale, despite the occasional off-key note.

Etoile (I will – as does Arslan – continue to call her that, as she wishes) certainly represents the human face of religious extremism, cross and all.  For all that one might wish to deny the fact, there can be no question that the Lusitanians represent the Christians of the Middle Ages and their crusades (seriously – adding another horizontal axis to the cross isn’t even trying to hide it).  I don’t find this especially controversial, because the Crusades were a dark time in Christian and European history and in my view, not one that should be celebrated.  But Etoile’s role here is to explore the idea of how a fundamentally good person can buy into a fundamentally evil belief system and still retain a semblance of themselves.  As such, she can be argued to be the second-most important character in the narrative, and it’s no coincidence that the anime chose to showcase her story both in its first and last episodes.

Tanaka – and Arakawa – play no favorites with history here.  Slaves were in fact traded in Persia until the beginning of the 19th Century, and it’s the lingering stain on the Parsian nation of this story.  The difference of course is that Arslan has transcended the orthodoxy of his people, and Etoile has not – but that I chalk up more to the characters themselves, not any hidden racism on the part of the authors.  Arslan is the protagonist, the hero – and furthermore, it’s fundamental to his character that he’s kind and open-minded to a fault (literally – to a fault).

Arslan’s decision to spare Etoile can surely come as no surprise to any viewer of the series – it’s just who he is.  It does irritate me that he continues to recklessly put himself in harm’s way by trusting those who haven’t earned his trust (like Etoile) but he’s not going to change – that’s who he is.  Just as he’s inspired the loyalty of those of his own nation by sheer force of decency, perhaps a smattering of Lusitanian survivors and one on cross-dressing Knight might slowly begin to have their perception of Pars changed by witnessing Arslan’s mercy close-up over time.  He offers them a prayer for their dead for one of their own kind.  He gives them precious food and water, and medical attention, and carries them with him to Ectabana despite having little manpower to spare in guarding them.  Clearly, this is a boy who’s decided that succeed or fail, live or die he’s going to try to succeed by making the first move – even if he has to put himself at risk in the process.

The game of thrones to come has just gotten more complicated for Arslan.  I think things being out in the open between Hilmes and Guiscard makes them much more dangerous than the dance of deception they’ve been engaged in up till now.  They share a common goal – to depose the monarch of their own kingdom – and Guiscard is unsurprisingly willing to let Hilmes have Pars (which Guiscard never really seemed to want anyway) in exchange.  There’s much we don’t know about the royal puzzle of Pars – who Arslan’s real parents are, for starters – and it seems Gieve has been dispatched to discover the truth of the situation and return with some sort of proof of Arslan’s claim.

For me , the strongest moment of the final episode, the one where all the clunkiness faded away and the poetry soared, was when Falangies explained to Etoile why so many exceptional people follow the “pampered boy” – the one who refuses to act high and mighty as a prince should – of their own will.  “The throne has no will of its own” is as elegant a summation of this story as one could ever hope for in a single sentence.  Power is only as great or small as the person that wields it, and Arslan’s greatness is that he never stops trying to be better.  Guiscard, Hilmes, Andragoras – all have their own reasons to seek and hold power.  But Arslan in the one who embraces the responsibility of power, the onus it places to always seek something nobler and more compassionate for themselves and for the world.  In this way Arslan represents both abject humility and an understanding of his own importance – a very rare combination in a ruler.  And flaws and all, that’s someone that’s worth following.

Arslan Senki, too, is well worth following – flaws and all.  This is a story of genuinely complex and interesting characters and ideas, a literate and savvy piece of fiction that has a sense of history and of the human psyche.  In terms of production and execution it’s not especially slick or marketing savvy, but it’s one of the more honest stories to come to anime in a good while.  Arslan Senki is timeless in a good way, a product of age-old storytelling and not the fashions of the day, and I think that’s why it’s found an audience.  The manga is a monster seller, the anime a remarkably decent one for the sort of series it is.  Is all that enough to get us another season?  I think that’s as tough a call as there is in this business, because the circumstances surrounding the franchise are so unusual.  But I’d bet that as Arakawa-sensei (who finally gets the end card this week) progresses far enough with the manga, we will get more anime – though that’s probably going to be a good while yet.  The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned – anime needs as many series like Arslan Senki as it can get.

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ED Sequence:

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End Card by Arakawa Hiromu:

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  1. M

    I am not sure if I will give it my vote for "Anime of the Year", but I am sure that I will give my vote and money for another season. I will have to buy the videogame coming next year, and I hope they make a 1/7 Faranguis figure.

  2. I

    Well, if not Arslan, which then?

  3. F

    Prison School comes to mind (for pure entertainment purposes and ability to make me want to watch more after every episode without fail).

  4. G

    I remember when anime's had an actual ending. Lately (last few years) we are getting more and more open endings in case the series gets another season or more. This is similar to American TV shows that just go on and on and on. A series like this one I don't mind too much because its obvious that there will be more seasons (depending on DVD sales) but some series are very fustrating because they should have an ending and yet they don't. This is especially true of harem animes like Jitsu Wa. I'm kinda peeved at the ending to that series.

  5. I

    I am unable to see so much fault in this anime. Perhaps I am a rabid fan of it. 😛

    It's a pity that Guardian Enzo concentrated the most of the review in the ending of the series, instead of the episode.

    I loved this last episode and, overall, the scenes with Etoile:
    – I was laughing with the 'eat this because you are hurting your enemy' scene and when Etoile shouted Arslan so loudly that his hair is pushed back.
    – I don't know if they are going to be paired, but when Arslan told to Etoile that it was a pity, I thought that he meaned that it was a pity because he liked her.
    – The birth scene with Etoile and Alfreed (I have ever been asking myself: Is Alfreed a girl's name? Oh, well) discussing if the kid is going to be a bandit or a king, is priceless too.

    Anyway, the end is perfect for a sequel (and other, and other, and other, and …)


  6. k

    Did anyone else think 'Family Portrait' for that end card?

  7. Y

    Dat FMA reference ;P

  8. M

    Quite a good ending in my opinion. I really enjoyed the focus on Etoile and I'm glad they kept her rigid faith in tact this season. Assuming more seasons one day I think I look forward to her growth more than any other character. Also I like how they showed that Arslan was definitely interested in her without any character saying it directly. Arslan is 15 afterall. I think you can tell Team Arsalan notices it as well.

    I also really liked that they showed that Gieve was gone, but not forgotten. His mission to find out the truth of Arslan's lineage is probably the most interesting part of the story in my opinion. I'm really curious about how Arslan became crown prince.

    The one aspect I hope improves if the show gets another season (seasons?) is Narsus. While I like him as a character he is simply too damn good of a strategist. He's like Daryun is with combat, but without a foil. Daryun was super good, but at least there was Silver Mask to match up against him. Only Etoile ever came close to really hindering Narsus' plans (when she found the real base camp), but otherwise Narsus simply crushed it. My hope is Guiscard maybe can step up as a counter to Narsus, but honestly he didn't seem on Narsus' level this season. Basically I hope for maybe a bit more tension next season. It was lacking sometimes with how great Narsus is.

  9. m

    Looking forward to a second season. Been thinking for a while, is Hermes' inhuman power fueled by dark magic? Of course, he is skilled in swordsmanship, but it didn't look like he has greater physical strength than Daryun, and it seems like he overpowered him in that area.

  10. m

    Looking forward to a second season. Been thinking for a while, is Hermes' inhuman power fueled by dark magic? Of course, he is skilled in swordsmanship, but it didn't look like he has greater physical strength than Daryun, and it seems like he overpowered him in that area.

  11. C

    Once again, so many things to say:

    – It was a very satisfying ending, it felt like so many things happened when really they just left St. Emmanuel and went on their way to the capital. I'm genuinely surprised and happy, when I'm usually very critical.
    – Focusing on Etoile was great, I loved how she interacted with lots of the main cast, not just our perfect boy king Arslan. She's good when she doesn't completely misunderstand who he is or what he's done.
    – For the first time ever Alfreed was a decent side-character and not just a mindless "MUH NARSUS MUH NARSUS!" parakeet.
    – No surprise that Mr. "wine and women" would have a little chat with Farangis, that was cool.
    – Jaswant talking to Daryun was nice, that's one thing I would have liked to have happened more often, the characters talking with OTHER characters they never speak to, like Farangis who usually only spoke with Gieve.
    – When Etoile cried, it was because a part of her resents that she decided to live as a man and thus she will never know motherhood? Not sure, but that's how I interpreted the moment.
    – Silver Mask and Guiscad's new keikkaku and agenda was a nice setup for the next cours.
    – Our boy Gieve gave a fantastic sendoff. I miss him.
    – I agree with Enzo that it's very irritating for Arslan to have little regard for his safety around people who want to kill him, and them presenting the Lusitanian banner when Etoile prayed was a bit too much. Like, I have a hard time believing any army would do that.

    – I also respectfully disagree with Enzo about the Crusades being some kind of blemish on the history of Europe and Christianity, but I don't blame him given that to these days our understanding of history is still very much influenced by the Enlightenment, in which anything from the Medieval period was immediately dismissed as backwards and irrational. Let it be known that a huge catalyst for the Crusades was that Christians were coming under attack by Muslims. In fact, one of the reasons for the first Crusade was that pilgrims were being regularly killed. Islamic aggression started in the 600's and was only responded to by a united Christian army in 1091. Prior to that, they had invaded tons of territory inhabited by Christians, and had been carrying out attacks and invasions into Europe. I'll just leave it at that.

  12. S

    Sorry for acting like such a know-it-all in my first comment here, but I have to disagree with the statement made above. While the first crusade did start out officially at the request of the Byzantine Emperor (who asked the Pope for help against the Turks), that was little more than a pretense, at least for most 'Christian' leaders involved.. The campaign went hand in hand with a lot of violence directed against Orthodox Christians and especially Jews. The later crusades (those of the 12th century especially) were largely funded by Venice and fuelled by the Venetian desire for a trade monopoly in the mediterranean, The Ottoman invasions in Eastern Europe did not occur until much later (15th-16th century).

    On another note entirely, Enzo thank you for all your reviews. I always enjoy them, regardless of whether I am actually watching the series you're reviewing.

  13. C

    The crusaders of the 4th made an agreement to retake Constantinople for the son of the former ruler, in order to get financial and military support, but the son was a fuckup, lost all control, and couldn't pay his debts, so the crusaders (known for not being the regular type, but instead being mostly veterans and mercs) basically went AWOL and took it for themselves. The pope condemned them for their actions. But even so I mostly agree with you about the Venetians being dicks because Constantinople was a business competitor.

    As for the Muslim invasions in Europe (and their invasions into formerly-Christian regions) I'll leave this video here which is quite the eye-opener, even if it is inflammatory.

  14. S

    Sorry for this – I couldn't edit my post.

    I actually wanted to amend my previous statements a bit, since there's still much debate among historians about the topic, and I'm hardly an expert. It is true, however, that the main dispute in the 11th-13th centuries was between the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and that the crusaders entered this dispute most likely for a variety of different reasons, but any real threat of a Muslim invasion doesn't seem to have been a factor. As far as I know, during (most of) the Middle Ages only the Iberian Peninsula had a significant Muslim population. They were largely responsible for introducing irrigation techniques that made the land there suitable for agriculture.

    To go slightly back on topic – while Arslan is definitely inspired by history, I would argue that Tanaka simple chose elements from different time periods and put them together as he saw fit. 'Pars' is obviously 'Persia'/Iran, but to me it seems as if it's Persia from a much earlier period – when it was still polytheistic.

  15. C

    If you think there was no threat of an invasion I implore you to watch the video, as the Muslims carried out myriads of raids and skirmishes on Christian lands for over 800 years. Even as late in the 16th century, so many years after the first Crusade we have the Battle of Lepanto.

  16. N

    The popular notion of the Crusades being a blemish on the history of Western Civilization is kind of puzzling unless one is willing to admit that the Islamic conquests fall into the same category.

    I don't really view groups from periods of history that are several centuries removed from the present day with the same type of disdain as, say, ISIS, even though these historical groups may have been just as violent or "backwards." The term backwards, as used in this context, actually illustrates my point, because it exists to criticize outdated ideologies that society has collectively rejected for moral reasons. There was nothing backwards about waging wars of conquest, or wars of zealous piety (the crusades falling into both categories) in the 11th and 12th centuries. If anything, it was in vogue.

    Of course, if we want to take a utilitarian view of history, the Crusades were quite a boon to Europe's advancement and climb out of the dark ages. The Crusaders brought back with them nearly-lost knowledge from classical antiquity, as well as the newly accumulated knowledge that had been built up by the Islamic philosophers and proto-scientists in Baghdad and other hubs of medieval learning. This inflow of information and ideas is the reason that some have proposed the Crusades as one of the major catalysts for the Renaissance. Which is ironic in a way because, as Chrysostomus pointed out, modern Crusader-phobia seems to be partially influenced by Renaissance ideals.

    A bloodier precedent set by the Crusades was the re-awakening of expansionist colonial ambitions for much of Western Europe (which had largely fallen into dormancy since the time of Republican Rome). To my eyes (and ears and brain), it's easy to connect the dots between the Reconquista – > the Crusades – > the European Colonial Era. In that light, one might consider that Islamic incursions into the Iberian Peninsula (as well as Sicily, Southern Italy, etc) were in fact an indirect trigger for the Crusades, though I don't strictly ascribe to the camp that thinks of the Crusades as "retribution" against Islam by Christianity – if this were true, the concepts of Crusaders allying with Islamic leaders would seem an oxymoron, and yet Crusaders did ally with local Islamic leaders if their interests were aligned against a common opponent.

  17. R

    This anime covered even less than the OVA. Has the story not progressed since that time?

  18. A

    There's 14 volumes, this anime covered up to the last chapter of volume 4, and the OVAs blitzed their way through volume 5.

  19. S

    Just a quick note: the cross shape is not a concealing move. It actually exists as you can see here
    It is the cross of Lorraine.

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