Reviewby Theron Martin,
Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance
BD + DVD
Arslan's march on Ecbatina is thwarted when he has to return to Peshwar Fortress to stop an attack by the army of opportunistic neighbor Turan. Meanwhile, Gin's effort to prevent Hilmes from gaining a legendary sword takes an unexpected turn, and things continue to spiral out of control when a woman from Hilmes's past appears and events in Ecbatina throw everything into chaos. As a result, Arslan and his closest supporters must travel to the southern port city of Gilan to gather more allies, only to fall into intrigue involving pirates, a corrupt viceroy, an old friend of Narsus, and the leadership of the Zot clan, which complicates things things further when Arslan receives an unexpected visitor with a shocking request.
This Summer 2016 TV season is a direct continuation of The Heroic Legend of Arslan 2015 series, so it's only accessible to those who have seen the entirety of those previous seasons. In most respects, this is more of the same – more big set piece battles, more intrigue, more of our heroes carefully outwitting their opponents, and more big twists and turns – but whereas the first series was relatively straightforward in drawing its battle lines, this series gradually devolves into a mess where Lusitanian and Parsian forces are each split into three factions by the end. The story may actually be better for the changeup, even though this part is the weakest of the three cours overall.
For the most part, this season is powered largely on those twists and turns. Granted, the first series had some big surprises, such as Etoile's gender reveal, the identity of Silver Mask, or the revelation that Andragoras was still alive as a Lusitanian captive in Ecbatina, but some of the reveals in this installment are sharper and more impactful even when they're occasionally more predictable. One of the least important but most entertaining twists is the revelation that Hilmes may actually care about something other than just getting revenge and gaining what he sees as his rightful title as King of Pars; of all the major characters who might have a romance subplot in this story, Hilmes was among the ones I least expected, and one characteristic of his love interest is atypical for these kinds of stories too. Though this aspect of the story is not emphasized heavily, even the potential for a love story turns Hilmes into a much more sympathetic character and a more worthy rival to Arslan, who still hasn't gotten a paramour of his own. (As much as Etoile seems to be primed to fill that role, there are still too many barriers to anything serious developing between them.)
The circumstances that send Arslan to Gilan are another particularly interesting twist. The whole affair with Turan prior to that seems like just a way to kill a couple of episodes with more massive battle scenes and strategic cleverness, as it has no meaningful impact on the overall story, and the couple of episodes focusing on the pirates serve more to reinforce Arslan's position as an ideal ruler rather than have much significant impact on the plot. However, that trip still has a major impact on the overall picture, as it shows the formation of a three-way split between Parsian interests along ideological and loyalty lines. Perhaps most importantly, we see Arslan starting to act more through his own will rather than just reacting to his blood ties or the responsibilities associated with his position. By the end, it becomes more clear to the audience why those who have been traveling with him so far chose to remain loyal when given the option of which master to serve.
Beyond these points, the strengths of the story largely remain the same: plenty of exciting action scenes with occasionally detailed animation, lots of set-piece battles, gorgeous character designs, and satisfying (if also largely static) interactions amongst the cast. This franchise also does a better job than most at convincingly making its champions seem powerful and intimidating without resorting to superpowers or elaborate trick moves, along with portraying the fervor of unchecked religious fanaticism. The series' weaknesses also largely remain the same: conveniently ignoring important practicalities in battles, Arslan's unconvincing appearance as a leader worthy of intense loyalty, and lots of distracting looped animation in the backgrounds of battle scenes. Whether good or bad, the technical merits generally hold true to the standards of the first series, although slips in artistic and animation quality are more frequent in this season.
One thing that has improved a little is the musical score. It adds in some new themes for the pirates' arc while carrying several over from the first series, overall doing a better job of capturing the epic feel of the story; this is particularly evident in the series' later stages. Singer Eir Aoi returns to voice the nicely dramatic opener “Tsubasa,” while Kalafina also returns to bring their signature sound to new closer “blaze.”
Funimation's release comes in their standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack with slipcover case. Extras include clean opener and closer, an English audio commentary for episode 7 featuring four of the English voice actors, and all six installments of the crudely-animated bonus shorts “Corporate Warrior Arslan,” which are a little funny but mostly just dumb. While I'm still not entirely sure how much I like Aaron Dismuke in the title role, other performances and the handful of new casting choices are still solid.
Ultimately the biggest shortcoming of this installment in the franchise is its length. It feels every bit like the mere two-thirds of a season that its episode count reaches, with the story stopping at a major point of dramatic anticipation. Nothing more has been announced about another season yet, which ranks this franchise pretty high on the list of stories cut criminally short if more is never animated.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Strong character designs, major plot twists, generally strong English voice work
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