Heroic Legend of Arslan
by Rose Bridges,
The Heroic Legend of Arslan spends most of this episode on the battlefield, just like it did last week. It looks like the kind of epic medieval fantasy series that will be decided there, through scenes full of blood and conquest, but appearances can be deceiving. All the important stuff this week was revealed in conversation, not through action. Sure, some important people went down, but what mattered was how Kharlan exacted his betrayal and made it count—and that required paying close attention to the dialogue.
Andragoras III finally realizes (with the help of his advisers) that the smartest thing to do now is to retreat. He needs to protect the Parsian capital from being taken by the ruthless Lusitanians, who will stop at nothing when it comes to conquering. As we find out later, they kill even children and babies if their people don't adopt their religion. That means the queen and the rest of his court too, so naturally he must protect them. Of course, he doesn't make it in time, because Lusitania knows about his decision. This is all part of Kharlan's gambit. The king will retreat, but before he can spread the order too far, Kharlan will spread the false message that Andragoras has abandoned his troops. This destroys morale and hands Lusitania an easy victory.
Kharlan explains his betrayal to Daryun; he doesn't trust Andragoras's leadership as king. He also doesn't think Daryun is a good adviser, though that's hard to understand, considering he praises Daryun as both a warrior and for his intelligence. It probably doesn't matter, since I'm not really buying Kharlan's explanation here. He's aligning himself with people who will destroy every Parsian they come across if they take the capitol—which he's setting them up to do. So I can't believe he's really doing this for the good of the country. There's probably a more sinister explanation behind it.
We don't get to find out the truth this week though, because all their protectors dying means Arslan and Daryun have to get out of there. It isn't looking good for them in Pars, but it is looking good the viewers, in terms of a richer plot. This is exactly the kind of meaty conflict the previous episode lacked. I don't know if it's as rich as what the first episode promised, but it's something.
The story swings back to some of its earlier ideas in one important, but easily overlooked scene. The Lusitanian soldiers are reflecting on their win when two of them start discussing their religious ideals. One remarks how easy it is to get soldiers to fall in battle when they believe they're doing it for God and going to heaven. The other says he finds it hard to kill innocent children, even if they're "worthless heathens." He can't believe that God would really reward them for something so horrific, something that haunts him to this day. These few lines give viewers a lot to chew on about religion's role in war, which makes for powerful writing. Arslan is obviously concerned with bigger ideas than the average fantasy-adventure anime.
This episode is also an improvement on the technical front. There's still some awkward CG, but far less of it. I only remember it being noticeable once, in the horse animation after one of the armies was sent reeling from an attack. The character designs are starting to show more divergence from other Arakawa ones as well. I don't remember seeing any guy in Fullmetal Alchemist as bishie as Narsus. Her unmistakable visual style is still present, but at least every face isn't reminding me of another story. The color work adds a lot to the mood of each scene to distinguish it too, particularly in contrasting the battle scenes with Arslan and Daryun's escape into the forest. I also liked the red-and-grey scheme for shocking blows, something we also saw last week with Daryun's demotion. It came back this week when the Lusitanians killed Andragoras and his adviser. New moods and plots also mean more varied music; I really liked the soundtrack choice when Arslan and Daryun escaped into the forest. It sounded more like an adventure romp than the epic battle music we've heard so far, and signals that things might get better for our heroes next week. That said, on the topic of the music, the OP sounds pathetic and completely unfitting to me. At least the ED makes up for it a little.
There's a lot here that bears similarities to other recent fantasy anime and manga. I'm especially reminded of Yona of the Dawn, since its plot also hinged on a betrayal and the search for new allies. That speaks more to Arslan's popularity and influence, though. The original novels and OVAs predate most of today's well-known fantasy anime, and they're mainstream fiction in Japan. At episode 3, it's already easy to see what's so special about this epic, in its willingness to dig deep into complicated political and religious themes. It could be easy for this adaptation to get bogged-down in that talkiness though, like it did last week. Still, with fresh faces and plotlines this week, things are looking promising again.
Heroic Legend of Arslan is currently streaming on Funimation.
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