Role-Playing Games are at the top of my favorites list for genres so whenever an anime comes out about swords, knights, kingdoms, and war, I’m instantly intrigued, however, I didn’t really expect this series to pull me in the way that it did. Hiromu Arakawa, best known for Fullmetal Alchemist and Gin no Saji, lent her artistic talents for this wonderful piece of work. At long last, I get to dive into Arslan Senki!
Shia LeBouf says DO IT.. so I shall!
Arslan Senki takes place in the country of Pars where there is the city of Ecbatana. Ecbatana plays home to Prince Arslan who trains every day with his master Vahriz in order to learn how to defend himself with a sword. His father, King Andragoras, leads an army into to the fields of Atropane to fight off the country of Lusitania, who look to invade Pars simply for the fact that they don’t believe in their god or their religious ways. This fight is also to be Prince Arslan’s maiden battle.
With Pars being an unstoppable force, many didn’t worry too much about this battle, however, it was that arrogance that lead to Pars’ defeat! Arslan and his protector Daryun must now travel throughout the land and amass an army to take back the city of Ecbatana and have Arslan ascend to the throne. The only problem is there is someone else standing in his way.
The story has a pretty simple premise. Major, unstoppable city falls… the prince must take it back. That’s the entire story, but what captivates us through this is the journey to that end point. It’s a journey that allows you to see Prince Arslan grow from a simple, pampered boy, to someone befitting of becoming the next king.
Of course, Arslan doesn’t do it alone as there are many others who aid Arslan throughout his journey. Arslan learns more and more of this outside world and as he does, his ideologies change. The underlying story here is all about character growth, which I will touch upon in a bit here, but this show is a great example that simplicity is often the best kind of story because you can give a point A and a point B. What happens in between is up to the author and by doing it in such a way, it allows for a lot of creative freedom.
Right away we know the end goal is to drive the Lusitanian soliders out of Ecbatana. How Arslan gets there is the true meat and potatoes of this show and the creators could have gone in a million different directions, but they laid out an enjoyable path that was not only believable, but it also kept you on the edge of your seat. They also gave you a nice balance between episodes featuring action and battles and those which build upon both characters and the overall advancement of the story towards its goal.
My only disappointment was that the show didn’t reach the end goal. There is more source material left for Arslan Senki so the doors are wide open for a second season, although no second season is confirmed at the time of this writing. The show itself seemed like a slow burn and as we neared the end of the season, I just had a feeling that it wasn’t going to get wrapped up. If that’s the way it truly ended then it’s going to leave a very sour taste in my mouth because I feel it would be a huge injustice so such an enjoyable anime, but I guess time will tell.
While Hiromu Arakawa didn’t write this series, it felt like she lent some pointers to Yoshiki Tanaka because the kind of character development that Arslan went through felt like Arakawa had a hand in it. The supporting characters didn’t get much development as it was obvious that the focus was on Arslan, but not every anime needs to have all of their characters fleshed out. Establishing a character as a specific role and building one character with all the supporters as that character’s pillars is a justifiable method and that’s the method Arslan Senki took.
So let’s look at those characters
Our main star of the show, Arslan starts off as a young boy who is blind to the outside world thanks to a sheltered upbringing. All he knows is what his mother and father told him and what he has seen for himself on the streets of Ecbatana. You see Arslan grow when his father returns from battle with Lusitanian prisoners. Among them is a young soldier named Etoile who uses Arslan to help her escape the city so she can return back to her army. It is through this experience that Arslan begins to question what the rest of the world is like.
After the defeat at Atropane, Arslan is forced to take in this new world first-hand. With Daryun’s help, Arslan begins to see the world for what it truly is and feels that the world is wrong on quite a few levels.. such as with the subject of slavery. Its these experiences that Arslan grows from a timid young boy into a young man who is ready and primed to take the reigns of a kingdom and lead it into a new era based around his ideals.
You see… if you’re going to do a passive protagonist, I feel Arslan is the way to go. He is a prime example on how to properly grow a character from someone who is timid and passive into someone who can steel their heart when needed to in order to get the job done. At the end of the series, Arslan becomes pretty fearless and, at times, diplomatic which is very enjoyable to see. Although I’m giving him praise for his wonderful development, he’s not my favorite character from the show… that award would go to…
If you ever want to see what a loyal, honest, and kind-hearted knight would look and act like.. then look no further than Daryun. Vahriz is his uncle and when he ordered Daryun to be Prince Arslan’s personal guardian, Daryun took the job as if that was what his life was meant to be without question. Daryun is, quite possibly, the strongest and most highly skilled knight in the kingdom of Pars and he will do anything to use those skills and strengths to protect Arslan.
Daryun is there to lend Arslan advice and help steer him in the right direction when he needs it, but then Daryun transitions into someone who recognizes Arslan’s growth and simply protects him when the arises. From his personality to his battle skills, Daryun is one hell of an amazing character and is, hands-down, my favorite in the show.
Once the head tactician for King Andragoras, his beliefs on freeing the slaves earned him a banning from Ecbatana. Now he’s a simple hermit in the woods where he spends his days painting abortions of art. Daryun calls upon Narsus to lend his mental prowess to Prince Arslan, but Narsus cannot be swayed… that is until Arslan promises to make Narsus the Court Painter once he ascends to the throne. That was all Narsus needed to hear and he joins Arslan on his journey to take back Ecabatana from the Lusitanians.
I have mixed feelings on Narsus because it seems that they rely on his role way too much. Whenever a situation looks grim and dire, Arslan and company pull through with their reason being that it was Narsus’ strategies that got them through that situation. It almost got to the point where the battles weren’t all that enjoyable because there was no risk to be had. You knew they would pull through because of Narsus and I felt that they could have done more to give the main character some moments of peril and make things a little less predictable.
Which is Male spelled backwards, by the way…
He was once a slave freed by Narsus. Without his parents, Elam has nowhere to go so he serves Narsus in his cabin as gratitude. When Narsus decides to join Arslan, Elam comes along for the ride. He’s very skilled a cooking, housecleaning, and laundry, but don’t take him lightly… otherwise he’ll use his superior skills with a short sword and bow to make you pay for it!
Elam was a bit confusing at first. His facial expressions gave the impression that he would be hard to deal with. Like he was someone who didn’t want or need any help when in reality, he just wants to be the only one who serves Narsus because he owes his life and his freedom to him. He doesn’t push Arslan or anyone else away, but when he gets to know Arslan, Elam kind of acts like an older brother to him. It’s kind of strange to say that Arslan won over Elam’s heart, but a brotherly bond kind of formed between them which is another testament to Arslan’s development and growth as a character.
He is a traveling minstrel who happened to be in Ecbatana when they were attacked by Lusitania. One of Ecbatana’s generals, Shapur, was captured and was being tortured right in front of the gates to the city in order to provoke them to open the gates, however, Gieve’s bow was the only one which would reach that distance and he shot and killed Shapur at Shapur’s request so he can be spared the torture and humiliation. Gieve was rewarded and was entrusted with guiding Queen Tahameny out of the city. When Gieve discovered that the person he was escorting was a Doppleganger, he relieved himself of his duties and left.
It was on his journey back that he would meet Falangies. He would fall in love with her and annoyingly follow and pester her to the ends of the Earth. I’ll touch on Falangies in a second, but first…
Gieve was a pretty awesome character. He was an obvious ladies man who would chase any girl he wanted. Although he did end up serving Arslan in the end, Gieve was always a loner-type character. Gieve would do things just to benefit himself, but towards the end, he, too, succumbed to Arslan’s influence. Gieve was a pretty well-rounded character that also served as the comedic relief in the show. While Daryun takes my top spot, Gieve is definitely in my top 3 of favorites in this show.
She is cleric dedicated to the Goddess Misra. She has the ability to communicated with the Djinn… powerful spirits that aid those who worship Misra. When the Djinn said that one day one of them would protect Prince Arslan, everyone at her temple chose her out of jealousy for her fighting ability. Falangies searches for Arslan and runs into Gieve in the process. Gieve tags along and the rest is history!
Falangies was a bit of a dry character. She is strong-willed, but didn’t really add much to the show outside her ability to fight with a bow and arrow. She always just seemed like she was in the background and if it wasn’t for the comedic relief with Gieve, which got old by the third or fourth time they went there, she wouldn’t really be needed in this cast. Oh well..
Speaking of characters in the background… she’s a member of the Zot Clan… a clan of bandits. One day, Lord Silver Mask appears and slaughters her clansman, including her father, when they try to ambush Silver Mask. Alfreed is left alive and she swears to get revenge. Narsus, while passing by, witnesses this and helps protect Alfreed. Alfreed falls in love with Narsus and decides to follow him anywhere…. like we didn’t see this before!
The only difference here is that Alfreed and Elam end up fighting of Narsus’ attention for entirely different reasons. Alfreed wants Narsus’ love while Elam wants to be the only one who serves Narsus as repayment for setting him free. It’s basically Gieve/Falangies 2.0 with a different premise and much like Falangies, Alfreed wasn’t really needed, but we got her anyway.
Now that we’ve covered the heroes, let’s look at the villains!
If you’re wondering why I would put the King as a villain, it’s due to his attitude. He’s stubborn, set in his ways, believes his army is invincible, would rather die than give an order to retreat, and acts like Prince Arslan isn’t even worth his time. Such a wonderful King… To say more would spoil the story, but what happens to Andragoras was well-deserved. I hated his character… and not in a way where I didn’t want to watch him.. I hated him for what the character was personality-wise. In other words.. I loved how they developed him to be a non-bad guy bad guy if that makes sense.
Lord Silver Mask
A mysterious man who is helping the kingdom of Lusitania. He has alternative motives.
It’s really hard to talk about this character without blowing a major spoiler lid off of this series, but I will say that he is the main antagonist in the series and he’s a villain you can actually sympathize with, even if he’s so consumed with hatred that there’s no way you can change his mind about the way he’s going about things. He is the third in my top three favorite characters because he reminds me of a tragic hero that’s fallen into darkness… and I love characters like that.
At first you think this character is a guy, but nope.. classic anime swerve… it’s a female. She is a devout follower of the Lusitanian religion and vows to kill anyone who doesn’t agree with their teachings. She ends up meeting Arslan a few times throughout the series and even her iron-willed blind faith gets broken by Arslan’s words… but not too much.
Etoile could be considered a classic Tsundere character… but she never really shows her soft side until very very late in the series and it’s not like a normal tsundere where there are hints of a softer side all along.. it’s almost as if Etoile learns to become softer thanks to Arslan’s words and actions. I wish we got to see more of her development as she was definitely and interesting character and the only one of the antagonists I can talk about freely without spoiling a lot!
Phew… this is only scratching the surface. There are a lot of minor characters such as Sam, one of Pars’ generals, Bodin… the religious fanatic, Jaswant, who ends up becoming a follower of Arslan through one of his journies, Gadevi, another one who eventually becomes a political aid to Arslan thanks to his help in another story arc… there’s just so many characters that it’s hard to really talk about all of them, but each character, whether they are a supporting role or a main serve a purpose and that’s always a good thing!
Art, Animation, and Sound
The art of Arslan Senki is very good and the animation was hit or miss. There was some really odd looking CG in the first episode, but then when they used it later on, it seemed more natural. The animation in the later episodes was pretty good and some of the fight scenes were really detailed, but outside of that, when nothing big was happening, the animation felt kind of subpar.
The character designs looked exactly like what you would expect from Arakawa. Arslan looked like a younger Edward Elric and my GOD did Daryun look like Greed. Everyone else had their own flair about them and it seems only Arslan and Daryun were nods to her other series. Everyone was well designed and I loved Silver Mask’s design the most.
At least the art wasn’t as bad as Narsus’ paintings
The OST was very good. I wouldn’t call it a must-have, but it’s definitely worth the time to sample it. Some of the tracks were used a bit too much during the series, but everything fit and when Gieve “sang” his song at the beginning, it was just beautiful (the music.. not Gieve just reading a poem over it.) The first opening, “Boku no Kotoba” by UVERworld took some getting used to, but it’s a song that grew on you. The second opening by NICO Touches the Walls fell kind of flat for me… it sounded way too generic which is odd because they usually do some awesome work. Both endings were amazing, though!
There were a lot of simple mistakes made with Arslan Senki throughout the show and a few nuances I didn’t like which prevent me from giving this a really high score. It’s not 10/10 material by any means, but the fact that they used Narsus as a cop out for the outcome of every battle bothered me a bit more than it should have.
The strengths are the characters and the overall journey, but the fact that it really didn’t conclude, even after being given 25 episodes, just makes the whole journey feel empty. I really hope they green light a second season because I want to see this story end properly.
All in all.. if you are a fan of medieval sword and board wars.. this is a must-watch series for you. I highly recommend it.
As much as I recommend an Etoile x Arslan ship once you find out that this wasn’t yaoi.
Medieval War Done Right
A simple story and a strong main character make this one of the more enjoyable medieval war animes out there!
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