The Heroic Legend of Arslan First Impressions
I think it is safe to assume by this point that I am a huge fan of Hiromu Arakawa. Being responsible for such classics as Fullmetal Alchemist and the well-regarded Silver Spoon, Arakawa has a way of writing compelling likable characters regardless of setting or story. However, given my temperament, a good epic adventure story fits my taste more than a quiet character drama about farming. So, when I heard that Arakawa wrote a manga adapting Yoshiki Tanaka’s acclaimed Heroic Legend of Arslan novel series, I was really excited to read it. Now that it’s an anime, I feel compelled to discuss it.
The story takes place in a fictionalized version of the Middle East during the Crusades in a kingdom called Pars. Our protagonist is the 11-year-old crown prince Arslan, who is being groomed for rule of the prosperous powerful kingdom. His father, King Andragoras, is a brutish, gruff, militaristic king, and his mother, Queen Tamahenaiya, is a reserved, regal, and somewhat distant woman. During the episode, slaves from the recently defeated Lusitanian army are brought to the Pars Kingdom’s capital, Ecbatana, and Arslan goes to see them because he is curious about the outsiders. One of the slaves, a young boy, breaks free and takes Arslan hostage to escape. While there running around the city, the boy explains the Lusitanian god, Yalbalaoth, and how his God wouldn’t allow slaves because all men are equal, and all those who don’t believe in Yalbalaoth aren’t men and can just die (even the anime points out this hypocrisy). After the boy escapes, Arslan is freed by Daryun, one of the general in the Pars army and a close friend to Arslan. Daryun and Arslan discuss slavery and differing opinions about humanity, and Arslan ends the episode by saying he won’t be king for a long time. As long as his father lives, the kingdom will be safe (knock on wood).
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell much about the story critically at this point because it hasn’t started yet. The episode ends with a 3-year time skip and this episode namely serves as a prologue to introduce several of the major characters. Luckily, character writing is Arakawa’s strongest point. Arslan seems to take more after his mother than his father, which might explain why his father is cold to him and why neither of his parents seems to like each other. Arslan himself is at least feels like he’s set up to be an interesting character. True, he’s rather naïve and very outgoing and happy-go-lucky, but for an 11-year old boy raised in a stable situation, that’s a believable starting point. Hopefully, with the right cast of characters around him and the likely harrowing journey ahead, we will see him develop just as well as other Arakawa protagonists. As far as other characters go, the same problem applies. There appears to be interesting character stuff set up for the future here, but it’s too early to tell.
On the visual side of things, the good really outnumbers the bad, but unfortunately the bad is rather noticeable. I suppose this must have been a budget choice, but having the large group fight scenes and groups of foot soldiers be animated with cheap, plastic-looking CG is depressing and more than a little disappointing. Ignoring the original novels, part of the appeal of Arakawa’s manga adaptation is gorgeously detailed war scenes. Luckily, everything else is animated quite well. There is lots of gorgeous design work and based on the chase scene through the city, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that important action scenes will be well-animated and staged. The desert setting and Middle Eastern Islamic designs are fairly uncommon in anime, and it speaks well of it that the animators are bringing out so much detail in the visuals. However, it’s important to remember that this is a fantasy war epic set during the Crusades, and giant, bloody battles are a huge part of such stories. If such a key part of the story is going to be animated so sloppily, then as good as everything else is, I might have to drop this one. Also, before I forget, GIRAFFE!
At this point, I can really only guess whether Heroic Legend of Arslan will be really good or not. Based on the first episode, there appears to be lots of evidence that something really good could come out of this anime, and the pedigree from both the manga and the original novels is solid. However, the problems with animation budgeting suggest that there might be trouble down the road if this series’ direction is not kept on the right course.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan has the potential to be as great as Hiromu Arakawa's other works like Fullmetal Alchemist. It has a great visual design, appealing characters, and the beginnings of an epic story. However, poor CGI for the battle scenes and group soldier shots makes me worried about the show's budget, and because episode 1 is a prequel, predicting story direction is difficult.