Reviewby Theron Martin,
The Heroic Legend of Arslan
BD+DVD - Season One: Part Two
Finally safely ensconced in the fortress of Peshwar and fresh off a confrontation with his cousin, Arslan contemplates his right to rule even while moving ahead with gathering an army and setting policy. Before he can do that though, he must confront an opportunistic incursion by Rajendra, the second prince of the neighboring kingdom of Shindra. This gets him and his forces embroiled in an internal Shindran struggle over succession to the throne, from which he returns home with even more conflicted feelings on his ultimate goals. An encounter with a familiar face in an unfamiliar form helps reorient him, thus allowing him to face the retaking of the capital and the expulsion of the Lusitanians with determination. Meanwhile, the Lusitanians have their own internal strife to deal with, as General Silver Mask pursues his own agenda.
Although it had its share of intrigue, the first season of this anime adaptation was primarily about two things: a young prince collecting stalwart companions while trying to make his way to safety and a young prince contemplating what it means to be a ruler. With all but one of his companions now gathered and his safety more secure, (even though he still has a bad habit of getting in danger!) the story shifts into a new phase. Contemplations over being a ruler continue, since Arslan is clearly still growing into his role, but the emphasis is now on waging large-scale campaigns rather than small unit actions. Frankly, the story works better this way, which is the main reason why I prefer this second half to the first.
From the beginning, Heroic Legend has clearly aimed for both an epic scope and scale, and the series is commonly at its best when pursuing that angle. This half has considerably more battle sequences, which involve conflicts between tens of thousands of troops on each side. The technical merits of the series impress most in the depiction of these battles. While there's still clearly some CG animation going on in the mass combat scenes, it's a marked step above other efforts like Utawarerumono or Lord Marksman and Vanadis. Some of the series' finest shots are overhead views of battle formations ebbing and flowing as two sides crash into each other, but also impressive are the scenes of elephants and other cavalry bursting through ill-prepared infantry ranks, sometimes literally trampling defenders in their path; no other anime series that I have seen has done a better job than this one at this kind of large-scale battle portrayal. Even when combat descends into one-on-one fights, they still carry a visceral feel and richer animation than such battles normally get.
The story in this half essentially breaks down into two broad arcs: the affair concerning Shindra (episodes 14-18) and the push to take the Keep of Saint Emmanuel, a key Lusitanian fortress on the road to Ecbatana (episodes 21-25). In between are a pair of interlude episodes that focus on what the Lusitanians are up to, with the emphasis on Silver Mask in episode 19 and Etoile in episode 20, particularly Etoile's true identity. Scattered amongst these 12 episodes are various snippets about what some former Parsian commanders are now up to, which can be interesting examinations of how loyalties can shake out and change under circumstances like this. The Shindra arc seems mainly designed to be a reflection on what could happen in Pars, perhaps illustrating a lesson in how to engender loyalty and deal with slippery individuals like Prince Rajenda. It also brings Arslan's newest companion – the Shindran soldier Jaswant – into the fold. The segments with Etoile in episode 20 and on are stronger, as Etoile's interactions with Arslan continue to provide unintentional inspiration as a sounding board for Arslan that he could not get elsewhere, as well as a stark contrast in viewpoint.
A big underlying theme of this series is the question of what makes a ruler worthy. The ultimate conclusion the series presents is that the best ruler is one who remains focused on the welfare of the people with the most strongly-pursued ideals for making that happen. In that regard, the compassionate Arslan definitely has the makings of a king, but there's a glaring continuing weakness in his portrayal; he doesn't project the aura of a leader. Arslan is pretty, but he doesn't have the charisma that a leader should. We know he's a great guy only because other characters constantly tell us that, not because we can see it for ourselves. He gets a bit better toward the end with some grand declarations to his army, but his “nice guy” persona, the way he seems largely unaffected by what happens around him, and benign character design still get in the way. By comparison, most of the other cast members have decidedly stronger presences (albeit sometimes broader characterizations), although I wasn't disappointed to see Gieve eventually take off on his own mission; the series doesn't do an especially good job of portraying him as the playboy he's supposed to be, so his antics get tiresome after a while.
Aside from what has previously been mentioned, production merits at least maintain the level seen in the first half. Distinctive character designs and gorgeously lavish background art are still the other big visual plusses, with Farangis's impractical but eye-popping outfit continuing to be the series' sole source of fanservice. Graphic violence is also at least as strong as what was seen in the first half. Meanwhile, the musical score leans more towards the dramatic orchestral sound due to the greater number of major battle scenes, which may be more effective anyway. New opener “Uzu to Uzu” is nothing special by anime standards, but the soaring sound of new closer “One Light” by Kalafina suits the grandiose tone of the series quite well.
The English dub for this half carries over everyone from the first half, with the quality of the performances unchanged. New roles – mostly characters from Shindra – are suitably cast and performed as well. Possibly the most interesting casting choice (which didn't seem so interesting until we learned more about the character's true nature in episode 20) is Ryan Reynolds as Etoile. This is also talked about a little in the included audio commentary for episode 24, since another voice actor had originally been chosen for the role. Funimation's release also offers an audio commentary for episode 16, clean opener and closer, and some series trailers, all in a standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack which comes in a single case with a slipcover.
Overall, the second half of the series is stronger than the first, even if it is a bit more straightforward. It doesn't come even remotely close to resolving the larger story, but at least we have the third season Dust Storm Dance, which Funimation will presumably be releasing in 2017.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Impressive battle setpieces, generally well-animated fight scenes, more epic feel than before
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