When Prince Arslan asks a retainer why they remain loyal to a Lord despite not being a slave, his words aren’t masked with the same mockery expected of his peers – but rather, an innocent, child-like naivete, marking the first step in his journey to becoming a true king.
The brutality behind stories of battlefield valour, the painful sting of betrayal and the courage to rise up for your people are all lessons taught to the sheltered prince in his maiden battle; a relentless invasion that saw his Kingdom of Pars conquered by Lusitania, his father King Andragoras III displaced and an order for his head. Every noble tale has a humble beginning and for The Heroic Legend Of Arslan, this first chapter is an engrossing coming of age story.
The atmosphere of Arslan’s maiden battle at Atropatene is wonderfully crafted, conjuring up a real sense of the dread and futility felt by the overwhelmed Pars soldiers through the clever narrative and illustrative use of fog, managing to isolate characters on a battlefield with tens-of-thousands. The choreography of action sequences make them a delight to watch, which is especially notable considering the additional challenges of depicting so many battles on horseback. A visual treat with a consistent high level of quality from animation studios Liden Films (Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches) and Sanzigen (009 Re:Cyborg), even my usual cynicism towards the blending of 2D and 3D animation is comfortably put to bed with a quality that would make even cinematic endeavours jealous; I don’t blame a lot of studios for wanting to depict more ambitious scenes digitally, but so few execute it as seamlessly as The Heroic Legend of Arslan and its armies (I’m looking at you Love Live!). Although the original novel series is being written by Yoshiki Tanaka, this series draws inspiration from a manga adaptation by Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist) and as such, features her familiar visual style, with the character designs touched up by Kazuo Watanabe (The Place Promised In Our Early Days) each having their own individual flare, as opposed to Arakawa’s Silver Spoon, where some designs sat a little too close to her previous series. The stark contrast in the meek, almost feminine design of Prince Arslan and the intimidating stature given to King Andragoras III stick out to me in particular, as they could serve as a strong visual symbol of the priorities they place in their respective ruling philosophies.
With this release telling the start of Arslan’s story as he gathers loyal companions and learns more about the predicament his nation faces, the pacing of the narrative is a slow as more attention is paid to world-building and introducing the cast, but while this set concludes with little advances in the overarching narrative, it delights in the development of its characters, with our titular prince receiving a lot of attention in particular.
As mentioned in my opening paragraph, the topic of slavery comes up a lot in these opening episodes and perhaps best represents the evolution of Arslan’s character; with the crown prince starting off by genuinely asking a Lusitanian captive why they don’t accept the perceived benefits of becoming a slave, to calling for its abolition after meeting the strategist Narsus. I was really impressed with how the series approached the ordinarily black-and-white topic, giving it an intelligent grey-hues. The sentiments held by slaves are successfully used as key components in military strategies by both Pars and Lusitania and an unexpected reaction to their master’s death casts a cloud over ours – and Arslan’s – perceptions of the practice. I should add that the series never tries to condone slavery but rather, just illustrates how complicated something people see as simple can really be.
In comparison to the healthy development of Arslan however, the supporting cast assisting the prince in his journey do unfortunately come across as being more one-dimensional, not really straying beyond the personalities and traits established in their introductions. For example, Daryun isn’t really developed beyond his initial appearance as a fiercely loyal soldier who can make enemies flee at a mere mention of his name. The series clearly hasn’t finished introducing travelling companions however, with Arslan welcoming a new addition just as this set comes to a close, so hopefully there will be more time spent developing the expanded cast in the next half. Admist the world-building and exploration of the Lusitanian Empire however, I have found my interest piqued by the internal struggle with the Faith of Yaldabooth, whose extreme actions and beliefs portray the stronghold and influence religious organisations can have, as well as being a coincidental echo of a current global conflict.
Although NBC Universal are still new to the anime scene in the United Kingdom, I was blown away by the superb quality of their Seraph Of The End debut release and I am delighted to say that the distributor has somehow managed to exceed my already high expectations with the quality of this release. Presented in a sturdy box, alongside the discs in a digi-book featuring art of the series, this Limited Edition release includes a beautiful presented guidebook with a wealth of information and artwork relating to the series, Top Trumps-style cards in the same style as those released with Seraph of the End and so many art cards! The physical bonus that has impressed me the most though, has to be the double-sided poster that doubles as a shogi board – complete with pieces! Although the series contains brilliant and brutal action sequences, greater emphasis is placed on the importance of delicate strategy, so the inclusion of a Japanese chess set feels like the perfect marriage with a series like Arslan and wonderfully showcases the care and understanding Universal have for the franchise.
Hoping things are fleshed out in more detail during the second half is perhaps the only thing really stopping me from falling in love with this set, which is unfortunately an unavoidable outcome of a series being released in multiple parts, but The Heroic Legend Of Arslan Season 1 Part 1 does a fantastic job of setting the stage and giving just enough to leave me in eager anticipation of what’s to come.
Disclosure: A copy of “The Heroic Legend Of Arslan” Season 1 Part 1 was supplied by Universal, the publisher, for the purposes of this review.
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