Heroic Legend of Arslan
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 18 of
The Heroic Legend of Arslan ?
If you thought the Sindhura Arc was over last week—as I did—you were sorely mistaken. There's one more chapter in this story, as Rajendra ascends the throne and shows that he's not a much better ruler than his older brother would have been. Still, it's not too disappointing, because The Heroic Legend of Arslan finally remembered how to tell this story.
For starters, the episode simply looks better. There are far fewer animation mistakes this week than usual, or at least less noticeable ones. There's also some superior direction this week. The foreshadowing shots of Azrael (who later rescues Arslan) in strange angles were pretty cool. It had an arty touch I don't usually expect from a straightforward action-fantasy series like this one. Did the studio save their budget for this episode? I'm not sure why this installment would get that—though it is a turning point, it's not nearly as dramatic the ones that came before it. Still, I'm glad that there's finally something distinctive about this show's technical side. The music was used better than usual, too.
More to the point, I learned more about Rajendra this week than in the entire rest of his arc. He's a crafty guy, but he's a performer, not a strategist, (though he tries to be one). He's good at pretending to care about people so they trust him, but he's not so good at the follow-through when he turns around to stab them in the back. This works fine with Gadevi when Rajendra disobeys his father's wishes to keep his brother alive (though you also can't tell if he improvised in the moment once Gadevi tried to kill Arslan). It doesn't work so well with Arslan and his team of advisors.
Even Arslan himself was a little suspicious of Rajendra's attempts to teach him strategy. Normally, I'd say this is more evidence that Arslan Has No Faults, but I think he genuinely learned from what happened to Gadevi this week. This episode was split into two halves that neatly mirrored each other: Rajendra's betrayal of his brother and his betrayal of Arslan. In watching the first, Arslan was appalled by Gadevi's execution, even knowing he was a traitor and being told it was the custom in Sindhura. It's like he knew that wasn't what should have happened, and that Rajendra was being unnecessarily ruthless. He and his team pocketed that knowledge for later, so they could more accurately respond when Rajendra tried to screw them over. That's what Narsus meant about figuring out the "broad strokes" of Rajendra's plan. He didn't know specifically what he was going to do until Jaswant told them, but he knew that Rajendra would stab them in the back. He was too ruthless and too fond of pulling double-crosses. In the end, Rajendra was not so different from Gadevi. He's just better at playing the game than his brother, who wore his heart on his sleeve.
This episode also offers a better argument for Arslan's particular "ruling style" than any other. Recently, it's felt like Arslan just has plot armor, protected by deus ex machinas and his team of bodyguards from situations where his overly trusting nature should fail him. He always gets credit, but it's really Narsus, Daryun and company running the show—and while it's usually true that a ruler is only as good as their advisors, The Heroic Legend of Arslan doesn't seem to be aware of its over-reliance on this assumption. Anyway, this time around, we saw how our Young King really does balance compassion and cleverness in a way unlike any other ruler on the show. He's not like his adoptive father, who'd never forgive Rajendra and vow to make him pay. At the same time, he's not the naïve sweetheart Rajendra pegs him for when he suggested that his betrayal would teach the Young King a lesson. Arslan already knows how to deal with people like Rajendra, and deal he does. He wants to trust Rajendra, but he doesn't actually do it because he knows better.
If we had more episodes like this, I'd be more positive about The Heroic Legend of Arslan. There's so much promise here in all the main characters and their various adversaries. The show is a little too content to treat Arslan and his friends like paragons of virtue and capability, while making the enemies they encounter simple mustache-twirling villains. The show is better than this, and should be all about competing rulers and what political approach serves them best. There's no "good" or "bad" in that kind of struggle. There are just different approaches, and the different, complicated humans behind them. That's how The Heroic Legend of Arslan treated its characters this week, making it much better than usual.
Heroic Legend of Arslan is currently streaming on Funimation.
Rose is a music Ph.D. student who loves overanalyzing anime soundtracks. Follow her on her media blog Rose's Turn.
discuss this in the forum (243 posts) |