Heroic Legend of Arslan
by Rose Bridges,
Not much happened this week, but we learned a whole lot. Funny how that works. This may be the best episode of The Heroic Legend of Arslan so far, and the most emotionally rewarding, and all it did was introduce a new player.
We're in the "assembling the team" part of this fantasy formula now, and we get to know our first new member this week: Narsus. His is the most distinctive character design so far, in that he doesn't look at all like somebody from another Hiromu Arakawa work. More importantly, he also gets the most detailed background and personality. Narsus is a former royal advisor to Andragoras III, but something went wrong and he's now little more than a "simple hermit." (He calls himself a "secretary," but his history suggests he once had way more power.) In talking to his good friend Daryun and Prince Arslan, we learn about his strategic genius and strong values. Narsus was a better military mind than anyone, but mostly because he preferred to play mind games rather than war games. That didn't sit well with the bullheaded, attack-oriented Andragoras III, but it's not like his strategy was working well for him anyway. Even Pars' loss to Lusitania doesn't shock Narsus much. He figured the king's tendency to overestimate force and underestimate strategy would catch up with him.
Narsus is my favorite character in this show so far. Within an episode, he's already established as more complex than anyone we've yet seen. He's vain, but also compassionate and righteous. He's best known for his policy of brains over brawn, but he's also an expert swordsman. He claims to love and only need "peace and art," but he's a terrible painter. His presence nails the tonal complexity this show needs, as an easy way to provide quick comic relief without destroying the mood. He can fire off a plate to keep Kharlan's soldiers from escaping, giggle about it, and then go right back to discussing strategy with Daryun and Arslan.
Narsus' most interesting contradiction is the fact that he has very strong values, but gave up on doing anything about them. He was a vocal opponent of slavery in Andragoras III's court. The show implies, but doesn't directly state, that this might have earned him his dismissal. What's strange is that for someone so driven to that goal, he's so insistent on staying in his hut and not returning to court. In fact, he refuses Daryun and Arslan's offer multiple times, only finally relenting when Daryun forces his hand and Arslan offers to appoint him Court Painter. What really happened to make the passionate Narsus give up? I feel like there's way more to the story than what he's told us. I'm hanging on that mystery more than anything else so far.
It's interesting how much the story makes of Narsus' opposition to slavery. He made a point throughout his career of freeing slaves and prisoners of war, and his servant Elam is the son of freed slaves himself. Arslan gives a long speech of how he admires and agree with him, but I found this a little strange. Just a few episodes ago, when Arslan met the slave boy, he was still genuinely struggling with the slavery question. I know it's been a few years in story time, but it would have been nice to actually see his journey there. At the same time, I'm hoping The Heroic Legend of Arslan doesn't become all about something as simplistic as "slavery is bad!" This comes from a writer known for his complex political discussions, and I'd like to see that play out here too.
As far as technical details, the lack of battle scenes meant less awkward CG, so that was nice. Narsus' countryside estate meant lots of gorgeous backgrounds, like when Narsus paints in the morning sun. The show's use of lighting to evoke different times of day and moods is well done. Musically, it continues to rely on big, epic orchestral themes and flourishes. I like it, but I fear it becoming excessive. Even this week, there were a few moments where it felt like the music was more noticeable than anything else happening onscreen. During big revelations and twists, the music should be supporting the events, and I shouldn't feel distracted by the booming soundtrack instead.
This episode represents an enormous step up for The Heroic Legend of Arslan. The show is already a fine slice of epic historical fantasy. Narsus' story shows all the signs of it becoming something more.
Heroic Legend of Arslan is currently streaming on Funimation.
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