Suetsugu-sensei, I never knew you had it in you.
That’s two out of three really top-shelf episodes for Arslan Senki this season, as the story begins to take form in a way that makes one curse the 8-episode length of that season all the more. I don’t think there’s any question that this series is most effective when it paints in subtle shadings rather than primary colors – the complexity and subtlety of the story and the difficult ethical and moral questions it asks are certainly Arslan Senki‘s greatest strength.
I’ve been feeling for a while that things with Hilmes were starting to shift, and I think we’re seeing the plot start to reflect that. When you reflect on what actually happened in Pars, Hilmes isn’t really the villain here so much as a victim. Andragoras is the one who murdered his brother and tried to murder his nephew to grab the throne. He may have had what he felt were valid reasons (just as Soo-won did), and Hilmes almost literally sold his soul to the devil in order to chase his revenge. He conspired with invaders to sack his own capital, too, so it’s not as if Hilmes has covered himself in glory. But in the bigger picture, just who is the real bad guy here?
Showing us Hilmes’ youthful life in exile and his meeting with the beautiful and blind Lady Irina (Kayano Ai) is no doubt in part an attempt to humanize him, and in that it works quite well. But it could also be read as a way to make the moment of his inevitable downfall more impactful. Hilmes has been betrayed over and over, of that there can be no doubt, and he’s being used by dark and mysterious forces to try and wreak chaos on the world. But there is a hunger for justice at the core of what he does, which is certainly relatable. At this moment he and Arslan have a common enemy, and it’s not impossible each of them could see Andragoras as both a bigger villain and a bigger threat than each other. But ultimately Arslan and Hilmes’ aims run counter to other, too much so for them to ever find long-term peace. Hilmes seems to have the better legal claim on the throne, but Arslan the greater moral right to it.
Meanwhile, things in Peshawar have gone over rather tragic and morose. Arslan has effectively been exiled, and I think it’s very telling that his (supposed) mother has never even popped her head out to say hello before her “son” departed the fortress. And Andragoras – quite correctly seeing Arslan at the head of his current forces as both a political and military threat – refuses to even let Narsus and Daryun accompany him. Gieve and Falangies owe no loyalty to Andragoras and they were always destined to follow Arslan, but for Daryun and Narsus (and by extension Elam and Alfreed) this is a very difficult and tense situation.
However, Narsus being Narsus, of course he has a plan, and the two teens causing a distraction by setting fire to the stables is a big part of it. Escape still isn’t easy, especially with the straight-laced Kishward compelled to stand in Daryun’s way, but eventually all
seven eight of Arslan’s inner circle do manage to escape. Where does that leave them with Andragoras, though? Are they even nominally still on a mission to raise an army of 50,000 for him, or does an escape via combat now place them in open revolt? For now it seems to be the former, and perhaps Andragoras will allow them to leave unmolested from this point, but the facade of loyalty at this stage is as thin as the skin on a custard.
With Arslan Senki, two things you never want to skip are the preview and the end card. Though if you detest spoilers that might not be the case for the preview (or this paragraph). The identity of that man in the OP is revealed, and it’s Shagard – who seems to be a cousin of Narsus (as the narrator informs us in exacting detail). It’s clear that he’s going to be a major player going forward. As for the end card, well – it’s from Suetsugu Yuki, who delivers with a portrait of Falangies that will decidedly not put you in mind of her Chihayafuru stylings…