The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 5 of
The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance ?
This episode of The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance is mostly a continuation of the previous one. There are hints of future storylines in the conclusion, but it continues Arslan and friends' adventures in the port city of Gilan, dealing with everything from corrupt government to pirates.
The story starts out with Graze, the merchant Arslan's team saved from pirates, offering his help for whatever the young prince and his friends need. In this case, they need to take out the Viceroy of Gilan, Pelagius, who they suspect of shady activity thanks to his refusal to help Arslan. Graze comes to the Viceroy offering rewards from his travels to Serica, a distant East Asian country that Graze calls the "Kingdom of Silk." The "rewards" are a concubine and her attendant, who are really Farangis and Jaswant in disguise. Farangis is usually a woman of few words, but she plays the part of a gregarious consort well and gets Pelagius drunk enough to spill his dislike of Arslan and distrust in his abilities as a monarch. Meanwhile, Gieve uses the distraction to grab some secret documents proving the Viceroy's tax embezzlement, seducing one of his courtiers when she catches him in the act. The Viceroy was already treating her poorly though, so she may have been receptive to Gieve's plan already. This takes up about the first third of the episode. With those secrets out, everyone reveals who they are and Arslan comes in to arrest the Viceroy. This means that Gilan needs a new Viceroy, to be appointed by Arslan. Luckily, he has the whole rest of the episode to figure out who it should be!
As usual, the meatiest stuff this week comes from the conflict between Shagad and Narsus. Their personal issues are a vehicle for broader questions about idealism vs. pragmatism. The Heroic Legend of Arslan has always dealt with these in a pretty predictable fashion—idealism wins out—but it suggested some more complicated ideas than usual this time. Shagad brought up that when they were younger, he was the dreamer, while Narsus was the one who would always try to talk him down to something more realistic. Shagad sees himself now as finally realizing the way the world "really is" and bemoaning that Narsus has become an impractical dreamer himself. However, that's not the fully story of what's happening here.
Narsus has some powerful ideals, like the abolition of slavery, but as we've seen across these 30-odd episodes, he's far from a pure idealist. As the team's strategist, he's often endorsed some less savory methods for dealing with enemies. I think The Heroic Legend of Arslan is suggesting something more complicated and interesting about that "idealism vs. pragmatism" divide. A pragmatic person like Narsus still has room to dream, and those dreams survive longer because he's been more realistic about which ones are possible and to what extent. Pure dreamers, like younger Shagad, will inevitably be let down by the world, and when they find themselves mired in discouragement and hopelessness, that's when someone can sell them on the opposite extreme.
Shagad has gone to the opposite extreme. He seems to believe in money as the pure arbiter of someone's value. That's not "pragmatism," it's just a different value system, every bit as extreme as believing the world runs on virtue and dreams. We've seen it lead him down some shady paths, like owning slaves after previously swearing off the institution. It's been made obvious early on that Shagad is in league with the pirates. Narsus must know something is up, with how he encouraged Arslan to give the viceroy position to Graze, a non-politician, rather than his shrewder friend. I wonder what Shagad's motivation is for deliberately undermining the city he claims to care so much about. Does he just want power? Does he not like the direction the city is heading in and hopes the pirates can change that? He clearly holds a lot of power and influence over them, as his encounter at the end of the episode displays, as they apologize for not checking their plans with him first. This is a meaty storyline, and I'm curious to see where it goes from here.
The last third of the episode is a pirate battle, where Daryun shows off some heroics, but Graze steals the show. He is valiant enough in his defense of the city that Arslan and Narsus decide to appoint him interim viceroy. There is not much to write about this sequence, which mostly feels like a retread of last week's pirate battles, right down to using a lot of the same music. The music does deserve more discussion though. The show has taken a serious step up with its soundtrack, using a lot of new and more interesting styles beyond the generic "epic orchestras" typical of historical fantasy like this. The more interpersonal drama this week used some delightfully suspenseful new tracks. The battle scenes are getting a little over-reliant on the same trumpet-and-violin fanfare, but it's hard to complain when it sounds so cool.
As usual with this show, the more interesting conflicts come from the series' interpersonal interactions. Dust Storm Dance is starting to show us more of who these characters are as people, or at least remind us of how they were established when we first met them. It doesn't completely make up for the series' earlier inconsistencies, but it does suggest that the show can do better in its remaining three episodes and future seasons.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance is currently streaming on Funimation.
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