Arslan is the 14 year-old crown prince of a rich and prosperous nation known as Pars, and on the day of his maiden battle the Parsian army suffers one of its greatest defeats at the hands of the people of Lusitania, a country to the west of Pars. During the immediate fallout of the resounding defeat, Arslan’s father Andragoras III is captured, the few Parsian officers still alive on the battlefield are scattered to the winds, and Arslan flees with Daryun, a loyal albeit recently demoted officer in the Parsian army. The Lusitanians proceed to march on Pars’ capital city Ecbatana and seize it. Life as Arslan knows it is over, but all is not lost for the runaway prince. With Daryun’s help, Arslan starts gathering allies to begin his quest to retake his kingdom. Does The Heroic Legend of Arslan take the crown, or is it just a pretender to the throne?
A Game of Thrones
Far and away the strongest thing The Heroic Legend of Arslan has going for it is its massive game of political musical chairs not that much different from what can be found in a certain massively popular franchise by a guy named George R. R. Martin. Loyalties and alliances are loose, with characters more than willing to backstab when given an opportune chance. That is, except for Arslan.
Arslan is for all intents and purposes our stand in for the Starks. As such, Arslan is the only major political entity in the series (as in someone in a position of power higher than that of officers in an army) that doesn’t play the game by those rules. Perhaps because he’s just too young and good natured to know otherwise, but whatever the case he does things a little differently than others.
Why Let Persian Epics Get in the Way of a Good Crusade Expy?
The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a melting pot of Persian storytelling, with the official line being that it is very loosely based on the 19th century Persian epic, Amir Arsalan. Though it clearly also has some influence from Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran.
Yet, despite that, I can’t help but shake the feeling that it was inspired by the Crusades as well, if just a little bit. This mainly comes from the Lusitanians, who invaded from the west with their banners and tunics bearing a two-barred cross. On top of that, several of the Lusitanians shown have fair hair, and many of the prominent Lusitanian characters have French-sounding names like Etoile, Guiscard, Bodin, and Montferrat. If that wasn’t enough, Bodin commands an elite unit of religious fanatics called the Templars.
The coincidental cherry on top is that the Seljuq Sultan of Rum (more or less the area that now makes up Turkey) during the First Crusade had the name of Kilij Arslan.
Daryun, the GAR in Black
Daryun is one serious badass mofo, and whenever he gets involved in combat, he steals the show. He’s extremely loyal to Arslan as well, and Arslan is in turn massively loyal to Daryun. It is thanks to Arslan caring for Daryun so much that when Daryun was placed into a dangerous situation that he probably shouldn’t have been, Arslan nearly snaps and leads to probably the most badass scene directly involving Arslan.
The Grand Scale of Things
While overall The Heroic Legend of Arslan’s visuals can be...iffy at times, one thing it never fails at is its sense of scale. The scale in Arslan is rather amazing, showing massive armies of troops. Granted, yes it does take some liberties to be able to accomplish this, such as predominantly using CGI animation for the troops or, like in the image above, showing the battle from a great distance, but I think the end result is still worth it. It means that characters aren’t just blowing smoke out their ass when they say they have 60,000 soldiers. You can see 60,000 soldiers, or at least a really damn impressive illusion of 60,000 soldiers.
Fantasy Settings on Low
Believe it or not, The Heroic Legend of Arslan is in fact a fantasy series. There is magic involved, yet it isn’t very prominent. It actually takes quite a few episodes before the first out and out undeniable proof of magic even appears on the screen. Nevertheless, magic in Arslan is real. However, the main magic shown in Arslan is portrayed as being dark arts, as if it is a power that shouldn’t be trifled with by humans. In turn, those practicing the magic are presented as looking like evil mages. But it isn’t just magic that is real, for you see supernatural beings also exist in Arslan. For example, djinn, a common supernatural creature in Arabian and Islamic culture, can be heard by the priestess Farangis in the whispers of the wind.
(Note, this section contains minor spoilers, if you don’t want to be spoiled, move on to the Terrible section)
Took a Trip to Not-India
Smack dab in the middle of the second half of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Arslan manages to get roped into being involved in a civil war in a neighboring country to the east called Sindhura between the princes of Sindhura, Gadevi and Rajendra. Their father is nearing the end of his life and he had yet to name his heir, so as crown princes who don’t want to bow to the other are to do, to go to war against each other.
On the one hand, I really enjoyed the expanded look at the world of Arslan that this little diversion provided, and if it was even just one or two episodes shorter, I would have loved it and moved this up to the Fantastic section, but this went on for just too long and distracted us from the main narrative of the season while not really providing much to the overall story besides some new characters and a look at another country. This little arc was basically just a redux of the main plot with a different coat of paint.
It was Narsus
Narsus is a friend of Daryun’s and is the first major ally to join Arslan after Daryun. He’s a master tactician and a shitty painter. At first having Narsus around to devise strategies was great, because he was showing how much tactics can turn the tide of a seemingly unfavorable battle. But in the middle chunk of the series, more or less bookending their trip to Sindhura, the show goes through a period where Narsus is basically untouchable when it comes to tactics. He routinely outsmarts foes, and it kind of takes the tension out of some of the battles.
The Calm After the Storm
The Heroic Legend of Arslan, like many anime based on ongoing series, doesn’t really wrap up. There are several things left to be done, is what I’m saying. Yet I am unusually ok with the final episode of this season. Going back to how this show reminds me of Game of Thrones, the finale kind of helps with that, as like Game of Thrones’ season finales, it is more of a grounded fallout episode after a big climactic episode that ends on a teasing hook that makes you want to keep watching.
Character Development? Who Needs It?
Relatively speaking, The Heroic Legend of Arslan has a pretty big cast, this is especially true in its second half where the cast is basically doubled in size. Unfortunately, barely anyone gets significant character development. Most of the characters get enough traits unique to themselves to stand out, but other than that they just stay rather stagnant.
Arslan, Our Holy Savior
Look, I’m ok with Arslan being overall good natured, but there were times where my suspension of disbelief was really being tested by how forgiving and goody-goody this kid could be at times. I want to like you Arslan, but sometimes you tread awfully close to that “too idealistic to live” territory that I hate. The worse thing is, he’s often made out to be right, with his blind faith in the goodness of people being rewarded time and again.
Did Narsus Animate This?
As I mentioned earlier, the show has some really iffy animation. As the show goes on, it unfortunately has more time with bad animation than it does good animation. The characters are off model so often and so egregiously that they sometimes only vaguely resemble the great character designs by Hiromu Arakawa. That’s before getting to the janky CGI animation that is unusually stiff considering it is done by the studio that did Arpeggio of Blue Steel. All around, there are many times where The Heroic Legend of Arslan is just an ugly show.
So, you might be wondering why I decided to give The Heroic Legend of Arslan a “Go For It” despite it having several points under the Not Bad and Terrible sections, and that is because the things I listed under the Fantastic section just greatly outweigh any of the negatives I had with this show. Is this show the best of the season? No, not really. I wouldn’t say it is a great show, but it is most certainly, at least in my opinion, a very damn solid, if not good, show that managed to keep me intrigued enough to keep coming back for more.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan can be viewed on the FUNimation and Hulu streaming services. The Heroic Legend of Arslan is based on an ongoing manga by Hiromu Arakawa that is running in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine which is in turn based on an ongoing series of light novels by Yoshiki Tanaka.