Mixed Feelings in Iran Over The Heroic Legend of Arslan
posted on by Eric Stimson
Although it is an action-fantasy in the epic tradition, the 2015 anime The Heroic Legend of Arslan —adapted from Hiromu Arakawa's manga which is turn based on a novel series by Yoshiki Tanaka— is in part based on the Persian epic Amir Arsalan, and its setting, story and characters reference ancient Persia. The kingdom is called Pars (Persia), with its capital at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan), and the Zoroastrian goddess Mithra is worshiped, for instance. This context has bred a fan-following in Iran.
Although Arslan's popularity is muted — it is only available illegally on file download sites — it is among the most highly recommended of recent anime in Iran, with over 850 comments on one popular anime website. Since downloading a single episode (not to mention 25) takes a great deal of time and bandwidth, many anime fans read the comments sections carefully to determine whether a given series is worth viewing. The comments for The Heroic Legend of Arslan are largely positive: "Thank you Japanese for portraying Iran's history," or "You have brought pride to the country's history and culture."
Many netizens were surprised that Japan would make an animation about Iran. One fan thought that Japan "pitied" Iranian history and that "the world is gradually coming to understand our culture and ancient stories." Many regretted how much ancient Persian history was passed over in Iran in favor of Islamic themes. "Iran only makes movies about Islam and Arabs," the above fan wrote. "Our country has many glories and stories, but it doesn't make movies or dramas about them. There are countless religious movies and dramas, but the settings and characters aren't Iranian," another lamented, going on to compare Arslan's depiction of ancient Persia favorably to Hollywood portrayals like Prince of Persia, 300 and Alexander.
Some commenters went on to wonder why Iran didn't have an active animation industry and why Arslan wasn't made in Iran. "I think the country should make animation about our own history" is a typical remark. "Those who think this anime is worthless, why don't you make a better one? This is a very good anime. If you don't like it, you don't have to watch it," huffed another commenter. An animation student defended Iran's animators and pointed out that one, Rasoul Azadani, had worked on films of the Disney Renaissance, although opportunities to study animation and broadcast it were severely limited.
A few comments took issue with the anime's perceived immorality, especially since the female character Farangis (above right in image) is dressed immodestly. "The Japanese have certainly made a story based on Iranian civilization, but there must be ulterior motives behind this," one poster asserted. "It becomes clear when you look at the women's clothes. It's true that at that time Iranian women did not cover their heads, but they wore clothes that covered their bodies. Before others recreate Iranian history for us, why don't we study our own virtuous history?" Another viewer went further and claimed the anime was a plot to deceive Iranian girls. "The opinion that Farangis is virtuous, even though she doesn't wear a hijab, is ridiculous. There is a direct link between feminine virtue and the hijab... [but] Iranian girls are wise and the enemy is misguided."
Yet anime fans struck back at these comments, either because of the notion that Japanese animators were somehow trying to corrupt Iranians or because of the anachronism of judging pre-Islamic Iran by Islamic standards of morality. "Unfortunately some people in our country think of other countries as against ours, and don't want to think that the expression of thought and speech in newspapers, animation or film is free." Another fan noted that "anime these days is full of [women dressed immodestly]. There are no Zionists or puppeteers behind the scenes. Why do Iranians question others so much?" Others pointed to ancient wall art showing nude women, or recommended the anime for its incorporation of elements from the national epic, the Shahnameh, like the stories of Rostam, Farangis and Siyavash. "You won't be able to say it has nothing to do with Iranian history and culture," a history aficionado asserted.