And that, folks, is an object lesson in why it’s so frustrating to be an anime fan.
We finally got the Arslan Senki I’ve been waiting for all season, and it was the final episode. It’s been a challenging time watching this series, knowing that time was something in critically short supply even as the series seemed to meander in Gilan for far too long. Given where the producers clearly wanted the story to end up I certainly understand what they were thinking, but that doesn’t mean it worked dramatically. At this point I would have rather seen two or three episodes taken to cover the events of this final one, which at least seemed directly relevant to the larger plot.
The sort of material we saw this week is Arslan Senki‘s strongest terrain – geopolitics, family dynamics, epic military confrontation. Even though it hasn’t been explicitly stated, at this point I think it’s implicit that Arlsan isn’t the child of either the man or woman who are nominally supposed to be his parents. The note which Kishward found – which was destroyed by Arslan’s “parents” before he had a chance to read it – would almost surely have confirmed it, but even Kishaward didn’t seem to need to see proved what he already knew in his heart.
The notion that there’s a “curse” afflicting the royal family (it’s not clear whether Kishward meant it literally or metaphorically, but I don’t think it matters), and that Arslan is actually better off not being bound to it, is an interesting one. As everything barrels headlong towards Ectabana for a conflagration of epic proportions, the question of succession is as interesting as it’s always been in Arslan Senki. By everything we’ve been privileged to see, I think the most compelling case it that it’s Hilmes who’s the most “rightful” ruler of Pars. That’s not because he now holds Rukhnabad – though that he does seems a symbolic acknowledgement of the fact. No, by succession it seems Hilmes should be the king. Andrargoras stole the throne by illicit means, and Arslan isn’t his son anyway.
But what I think Tanaka-sensei is going for here is nothing less than a total repudiation of the monarchical system. Who “should” be the legal ruler of Pars legally is irrelevant to him – the point he’s making is that Arslan should be the ruler because he deserves to be. He’s the one who’s thinking of the people. He’s the one who, rather than being obsessed with what’s rightfully his, is obsessed with right and wrong. He’s the one who’s questioning orthodoxy, declaring that old ways should be set aside because they are in opposition to justice and mercy.
It’s not much of a leap from where Arslan is now to him saying that the entire royal system of government should be set aside, and I think Arslan took some large steps towards that in this episode. “Question everything” is a lesson Narsus has been quietly impressing upon him, and while Narsus’ motives are partly selfish – he wants change himself, and Arslan is the best agent for it – Arslan is also the right vessel (term not used coincidentally) for that change. We’re not talking about a democracy here – for now, that’s a step too far even for Narsus and Arslan – but I think we are talking about a rejection of the status quo in favor of a meritocracy as Arslan’s ultimate goal. If that sounds like Arslan has become a revolutionary, I think that’s because he has.
So where does that leave us in terms of hard practicalities? Well, we have Guiscard preparing to defend Ectabana as Andragoras, Arslan and Hilmes all set to march on it (Arslan knows what’s happening thanks to the intel from Merlaine). I don’t think Guiscard has much of a chance – it’s really just a question of who gets to him first. Andragoras is, as Arslan suggests, likely to be ruthless and kill everyone and everything. Arslan marches in part to prevent that from happening, not just out of loyalty to Etoile (yes, the sparks are unmistakable) but because he sees mercy at this crucial juncture as the only means of possibly preventing the cycle of violence from continuing. As for the followers of Yaldabaoth, Bodin is still out there in Maryam despite being dispossessed of Rukhnabad by Hilmes, but I think neither he or Guiscard are serious players in the near-term. Ectabana will fall, that seems certain.
Hilmes is out there too, of course, and he’s marching on the capital as well. I still don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that he and Arslan may team up against someone who’s surely an enemy of both of them, Andragoras – someone who has a greater troop strength than either of them do alone. Ultimately their goals are incompatible, but I’m not sure either of them can take down Andragoras without the help of the other. That’s a reality I could easily see Arslan acceding to, but it’s harder to imagine that a man like Hilmes could bring himself to ally even temporarily with someone he identifies as his tormentor and mortal enemy.
The problem, of course, is that this was the last damn episode. And while I appreciate the clever symmetry of having Nanatsu no Taizai mangaka Suzuki Nakaba do the end card, we’re still stuck in anime Hell, not knowing if and when Arslan Senki will ever continue. As anime fans we’re used to that with adaptations, of course, but with Arslan Senki it’s more complicated than normal. The anime sold modestly in the first season, but not enough to justify continuation on its own, and it’s already passed up Arakawa-sensei’s manga. There are two continuing series to support, theoretically – the manga and Tanaka’s novels – but novels are not big revenue generators, and Arakawa’s pace with the manga dictates that she won’t even catch up to the anime for a long time.
That’s a double-whammy for non-Japanese speaking fans of course. If that manga were depicting the material not yet adapted by the anime it’s almost a certainty someone would translate it in close to real-time. But it’s not and won’t be for a long time, and while I applaud the fan efforts to translate the novels. they’re far, far behind where the anime is. So if you’re a fan of Arslan Senki and you don’t read Japanese, you’re basically screwed if you want to see where the story goes from here. Which makes the ultra-cliffhanger the anime chose to end on that much more galling.
It’s a credit to Arslan Senki that I care as much about what happens next as I do – mostly to Tanaka, but to Arakawa and the anime as well. With a modest budget and screwy schedule to work with, Abe Noriyuki and LIDENFILMS did well – better than they’ll surely be given credit for. They saved that budget for when they really needed it, propped it up with superb BGM, and where they had two cours to work with in the first season did an excellent job with pacing. A director and studio can only do so much with what they’re given, and I think we saw that with the abbreviated run of Fuujin Ranbu. But as a whole, the Arslan Senki anime was a definite success, and in a medium starved for this sort of epic storytelling and historical awareness, it filled a crucial role – and I suspect it will prove very difficult to replace.
End Card by Suzuki Nakaba: