Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Heroic Legend of Arslan
The kingdom of Pars is undefeated in battle, at least in part because of its king, Andragoras III. Pars is wealthy, situated on a fictional version of the Silk Road, and it seems as if nothing could ever go wrong or bring the kingdom to its knees. The only fly in the ointment is that Arslan, the young prince, is a gentle soul, and therefore nothing like his great father. This becomes a problem when the fanatically religious kingdom of Lusitania begins a crusade that goes horribly wrong for Pars. Now Arslan must learn to be a strong leader if he ever hopes to reclaim his kingdom.
If you remember the six-part OAV adaptation of Yoshiki Tanaka's original The Heroic Legend of Arslan novels, Hiromu Arakawa's manga version is likely to look a little strange to you. Her distinctive art style is a far cry from Sachiko Kamimura's early-90s designs (themselves adaptations of Yoshitaka Amano's original novel illustrations), and for those familiar with the animated retelling of the story, getting into Kodansha's newly released manga is a bit of a challenge. However, persistence has its rewards, and Arakawa proves to be more than up to the task of adapting Tanaka's fantasy novels and fans of historical or epic fantasy will be quite pleased with the resulting book.
The first chapter functions as a prologue to the main story, introducing us to the story's world and our hero. Ecbatana is the capital city of the wealthy nation of Pars, which is rich not just in resources but also because it is situated along a fictional version of the Silk Road. Pars is also possessed of great military might, and their king, Andragoras III, is an accomplished warrior, constantly off fighting – and winning – battles on behalf of his nation. His only son, Arslan, on the other hand, is a kind, somewhat timid boy, more interested in talking than in fighting. He trains diligently, but we get the distinct feeling that he is worried about being a disappointment to his parents and living up to his father's legacy, although he knows that he won't have to worry about that last for a while. When the story opens, King Andragoras has just returned from fighting the nation of Lusitania, which is fanatically monotheistic and determined to smite all unbelievers. He has brought back captured soldiers to be sold as slaves, and Arslan inadvertently gets involved with one. The encounter makes him think about his country's practice before the story jumps ahead several years. Lusitania is still causing trouble, and this time when the king marches, Arslan accompanies him.
That Pars is based on a middle eastern country (Persia, to be exact) while Lusitania is meant to represent Crusades-era Europe is abundantly evident; even if you are unaware of the fact that Arakawa did research into Persian history and culture or that a Persian epic called “Amir Arsalan-e Namdar” exists, the basic plot about a devout monotheistic religion attempting to remove the so-called heathens is one that is almost instantly recognizable from history class. Arakawa most certainly adds to this with her artwork – the Parsians have a distinct middle eastern flair to their architecture and clothing, while the Lusitanians have a more medieval knight aesthetic, to say nothing of the cross-like emblems on their flags and banners. There are some linguistic differences as well, with the Parsians using special “foreign” words for titles like “head commander” (eran) and “slave” (gholam). While neither word carries its Arslan meaning in reality, both of them can be found as names in India and the middle east, implying that Arakawa wasn't the only one to do some research.
The storyline for this first volume is a strange combination of many things happening and very little happening at all. This is achieved by having the greater part of the book focus on the ill-fated battle between Pars and Lusitania in which Arslan participates. The story does an excellent job of relating the confusion that ensues, with both sides congratulating themselves prematurely, a sense of disconnect between the leader and the troops (which is encouraged by less-than-loyal retainers), and a very real feeling that no one actually knows what is going on. Arslan himself does not play a huge role in this or any other part of the book, but we see enough of him to know that while he does not like to fight, he is quite competent, that he has the ability to really think things through, and that he knows when to listen to someone who has a better grasp of the situation than he does. He clearly suffers from low self-esteem, but the groundwork is laid for his character to become someone greater and more confident, as well as to give us the idea that Arslan just may be a better ruler than his warlike father.
If you enjoy an epic fantasy with plenty of historical detail and battle scenes and don't mind waiting for the story to really get going, The Heroic Legend of Arslan's first volume is worth reading. It has a much more “western” feel to its brand of fantasy – in the included interview, Tanaka says he wasn't aiming to write one since Guin Saga already existed – but doesn't feel at all stale even if you read a lot of that particular genre. Add to that Hiromu Arakawa's deft artistic hand and this really becomes something that bears checking out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Good sense of Arslan and Daryun as people, an air of confusion pervades the battle scene, which is important. Nice details in both text and images.
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