Heroic Legend of Arslan
by Rose Bridges,
The Heroic Legend of Arslan just keeps improving week by week. Episode 5 exceeded my expectations, masterfully tying together the larger battle plot and smaller character moments. We even met a new character with just as much promise as Narsus. This is all due to a noticeable step up in the writing quality, especially in the plot structure.
There's a true artistry to how this episode is organized. I really like this episode's framing device of Narsus' strategy lesson. As he explains his ideas to Prince Arslan, the Parsian and Lusitanian armies demonstrate what he says—or don't. It becomes clear just how much Andragoras III's failed strategies have doomed them completely. There's no way around the capitol's seizure by the Lusitanians. We also get a crystal-clear demonstration of just what they do to the "heathens" they capture—and it is not pretty.
They've captured Shapur, one of the officers we saw the last time the show visited the battlefield in episode 3. He's tied to a pole, soaked with blood, and with the way the Lusitanian archpriest refers to him as a "body," you'd think he was dead. Then Shapur starts talking, asking the Parsians inside the city walls to kill him before the Lusitanians torture him. It's a brutal scene, even if the actual torture is mostly just hitting him with sticks. They talk about cutting off his limbs one by one, at least. It also says a lot that the archpriest—who also serves as executioner—regards Shapur as just a "body" long before he actually dies. The whole scene shows how completely the Lusitanian religion dehumanizes people who aren't believers. It has a lot of disturbing implications for their culture, as they don't only kill people who disagree with their religion, but seem to revel in doing so. They thrill to provoke terror in people of other faiths.
At the same time, we see clearly how Pars' own beliefs backfire on them. Narsus suggests to Arslan near the end of the episode that Lusitania can open the city gates from within. Arslan wonders how, then realizes that Lusitania could have sympathizers on the inside. They're the slaves, who let the invaders in when they promise them freedom in their society that believes in class equality. It's a potent indictment of the problems with slave-based economies. When you don't give anyone any incentive to work for you except fear, it's not hard for someone else to make them a better offer. Anything is better than nothing, right? So Arslan learns more about why slavery doesn't work, and in the meantime, the capitol is sacked. The Heroic Legend of Arslan doesn't let either side off the hook for a minute. Once you think it's trying to make the Lusitanians completely unsympathetic, it reminds you what a poor alternative Pars is too.
In between all of this, we meet our next important character: Gieve, the archer who ended Shapur's misery. He achieved this from an impossible distance, earning the attention of the queen. She invites him to court and finds out that his stock and trade is as a musician, playing the flute and the oud (a Middle-Eastern lute). Is it normal for artists and musicians in this world to also have expert combat skills? Between this guy and Narsus, I'm starting to wonder. Gieve also has a knack with the ladies, or at least with lying to get them into bed and not calling them the next morning. An angry girl insists that he told her he was a visiting prince to talk her into bed. Gieve attempts to placate her with all the suavity of a guy who does this all the time. He could be every bit as fun as Narsus, depending on what the story does with him. I'm happy to see Arslan fleshing its cast out better, and adding more players to the game. Since Gieve appears in the ED, I'm sure he'll become far more pivotal to the story later on. Maybe he'll even lend his expert archery skills to Arslan and Daryun's growing band of heroes.
The writing isn't the only way that The Heroic Legend of Arslan improves. This episode is the most stunning visually so far. I love how it gets you right into Shapur's head at the moment he dies, as the camera emulates his blurring vision. There's also some nice muted lighting during Gieve's concert, adding to its exotic feel. The palace interior includes some exquisite background detail, like sunbursts and other geometric shapes from Islamic art. (I'm pretty sure "Pars" is supposed to be fantasy-world Persia, and the show is nailing the parallels there.) The Heroic Legend of Arslan might not be as innovative in its art style as the old OVAs, but it's doing a lot to make up for that. The sweeping, cinematic flourishes of the musical score don't hurt, either.
The first few episodes of The Heroic Legend of Arslan had promise, but also some serious faults. Not only is it addressing those now, the pluses of the series have climbed higher too. As it grows into its epic adventure story and colorful cast of characters, The Heroic Legend of Arslan shows just why it's worth sticking around for. We're only getting the pieces on the table now. When this story gets fully assembled, it could be something big.
Heroic Legend of Arslan is currently streaming on Funimation.
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