Review for The Heroic Legend Of Arslan - Series 1 Part 2
Seraph of the End spoiled me. There’s probably an obscure German word for the feeling that you get when the first product you buy from a company approaches perfection, but the second is somewhat mediocre. I said that Seraph of the End was of Aniplex US quality, and I was looking forward to more of the same from The Heroic Legend of Arslan, especially as having seen MVM’s release of Season 2, I realised that this was a series I would probably enjoy more. But in the end, when the first part of Universal’s Arslan collection passed before me, the AV quality remained truly Funimation, while the subtitling was Manga Entertainment crossed with Kazé. It was basically a Manga release in a nicer box and with a load of tat. It got me thinking of importing the US release and swapping out the discs, but I don’t yet know whether I like the series enough to do that. Maybe after Part 2, I’ll make a decision.
Arslan is the pampered and somewhat spoilt prince of the nation of Pars, although not by his parents. The Queen keeps him at arm’s length, while the King barely acknowledges his existence. It’s people like the general Vahriz, and the warrior Daryun who have raised him. Pars is a country built on conquest, and King Andragoras III has staked his reputation on total and assured victory over his foes, most notably the nation of Lusitania, who are routed when they invade Pars’ ally and neighbour Maryam. Curiosity about the prisoners of war draws Arslan to the slave market, where he meets a young soldier from Lusitania, not much older than himself, held in a cage. One thing leads to another, and Arslan inadvertently helps the boy escape from the capital Ecbatana, and gets another perspective on the world in the process.
Three years later, Lusitania attacks again, and this time, at age 14, Arslan is ready to be blooded in his first battle. But Lusitania have obtained a shrewd general, have mastered the strategy and tactics to bring Andragoras low, and have bought key figures in Pars to betray their king. Pars is defeated on the battlefield, and the capital Ecbatana falls to the enemy. Arslan manages to escape with the help of Daryun, but what can a fourteen year old prince do to take back the country and the throne which is rightfully his?
The concluding episodes of The Heroic Legend of Arslan Season 1 are presented across two discs in this collector’s edition from Universal.
14. The Foreign Prince
15. The Black Leopard of Sindhura
16. Elegy for the Setting Sun
17. The Duel Before the Gods
18. Once Again Across the River
19. End of Winter
20. The True Face of a Knight
21. A Song of Farewell
22. The Night Before the Attack
23. The Battle for the Keep at Saint Emmanuel
24. The Decisive Battle
25. The Highway of Blood and Sweat
I really have been spoiled by Seraph of the End. Universal gave that show a very impressive presentation, and I was hoping for more of the same for Arslan. Alas, that wasn’t to be. It gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer across these two discs. The image is clear and sharp, with excellent detail, and with smooth, fluid animation. Hiromu Arakawa’s character designs give a little touch of FMA to the story, but the action sequences, and the detail in the world and costume design really does impress, as an anime that is aiming for the high end. The problem with the release is the usual one of banding. It was surprisingly absent in Seraph, but here it is prevalent to the usual Funimation degree, with darker scenes more affected. Given how much of the show takes place in gloomy castles, and dusty battlefields, you’ll notice it quite often.
Universal try and live up to their name, certainly in comparison with Funimation, by offering DTS-HD MA 5.1 English, 2.0 Japanese, German, and French, with optional English, French, German and Dutch subtitles. I stuck with the Japanese, although this time I was tempted to go with the English. For unlike the perfection Universal attained with Seraph of the End, they fall short with Arslan. They come up with the often seen problem of being unable to show dialogue translations and text translations at the same time. This is a problem as the show introduces each character with a text box showing name and status, and if someone is talking at that time, the Japanese text isn’t translated.
Thankfully, many of the show’s characters get bios in the Visual Guide, and keeping that handy while watching the show is a more convenient option than skipping back and switching subtitle tracks. Of course, the further you go into the show, the more acquainted you are with the characters, and the less you actually need the translations. Another issue is that the subtitles can’t decide whether one character’s name is Hilmes or Hermes. And song lyric subtitles are missing. The audio itself is fine, the dialogue is clear, the subtitles are timed accurately, and the show’s action and music comes across as you would expect.
Just like Seraph of the End, Universal release Heroic Legend of Arslan in Collector’s Edition form, all packaged in a chipboard, art covered slipcase which can sit on a shelf with standard Amaray BD cases around it.
Inside you’ll find the following.
2 discs held in a landscape form digipack.
4 playing card sized character info cards.
12 large art cards.
Double-sided mini poster.
You also get 2 books in 1, the Series 1 Part 2 Visual Guide, 72 pages long with a character list, production notes, feature columns and feature interviews, more four-panel comics, with plenty to look at in terms of artwork, and lots to read. Flip the book over, and from the other side you get the Key Animation Book, 32 pages of line art.
The discs boot to animated menus after a language select screen.
Disc 1 has the textless credits listed as Music Clips, one opening and two endings.
Disc 2 has 8:06 of Comedy Shorts.
Funny thing about legends isn’t it, the way they exaggerate in the telling. What started off as a brief punch up in a pub winds up as an epic battle across time and space. But it isn’t often that a story allows you to see the exaggeration in progress. This really should have been called the Heroic Legends of everyone that Arslan knew. The truth of course is a lot different. You can see Arslan being all heroic and legendary in the brief Season 2 that MVM released here, and you can see a bit of it in the last two episodes in this collection. I’ve already mentioned that Season 2 ends on an open note, with the implication that there is a lot more story left to tell. With that in mind, you can take Season 1 to really be the prologue of The Heroic Legend of Arslan; what sets everything in motion.
Season 2 had more than its share of issues, its short length being just one, but in it, Arslan was a proactive character. In season 1, he’s just reactive. We meet him as a child, get some idea of his good nature, before leaping forward a handful of years to his first battle, which goes badly, as the Lusitanians invade and take over the country. Arslan escapes with his life, and with his trusted bodyguard Daryun. Over the course of his flight, he encounters others like the military adviser and erstwhile artist Narsus and his servant Elam, the priestess Farangis, the minstrel Gieve, and the bandit Alfreed. And that’s enough of an army for Arslan to contemplate taking back the country and driving out the invaders. However, there’s a fly in the ointment in the form of Hilmes, who apparently has a more valid claim to the throne than Arslan, and a bloodthirsty need for vengeance.
As this collection begins, Arslan’s party has just reached Peshawar citadel, a fortress still in Pars’ hands, and he’s started putting together an army to take his first steps back towards the capital. But first he has to deal with an invasion from Sindhura, a neighbouring (rather Indian) country whose princes are jostling to become the next heir, and the younger brother Rajendra thinks invading Pars will give him an advantage. Repelling the invasion is Arslan’s first challenge, but next comes taking a force in to Sindhura, sorting out the succession there, and hopefully get some allies to help his fight in the process. All of this before coming back to Pars and starting on the march to retake Ecbatana.
I keep saying Arslan, as if he’s doing the actual heavy lifting in all this, but as I said, he’s a reactive character. Narsus does his thinking for him, Daryun does his fighting, and the others are mostly there to reflect his good nature. There are times where I was tempted to label Arslan a figurehead for Narsus’ ambitions, and it’s only because Narsus is such a good natured protagonist himself that I didn’t think of him as overly Machiavellian. The people around him do the hard work, and Arslan is left with the little character moments, learning from others, and making small choices that indicate to us how he will eventually, actually become this legendary leader of the title. But as I said, it isn’t until the last three odd episodes that Arslan really takes centre stage and starts making decisions for himself.
Another issue that I had is that the show really does go for the legendary aspect of the tale. It may as well be an epic saga. Pity the poor CG clones that populate the battlefields as their life expectancies are grim. But if you have a recognisable face, and you get an (un-translated) text caption with your name and position, then be sure that even if your time on the stage isn’t lengthy, you will get an epic exit. And as for Arslan and his aides, no matter the odds or the stakes, they will prevail. There’s one point where Farangis walks through a hail of arrows from a hundred archers and doesn’t get a scratch, but every arrow she shoots finds its target. There’s only so much ‘legend’ you can take before you stop taking the story seriously.
An ineffective main character for the most part, and daft storytelling aside, there is still much to enjoy about the Heroic Legend of Arslan, not least because it’s unlike the average anime made these days. The episodes are very watchable, the characters are likeable if not exactly believable, and it all flows at a decent pace. I also get a kick out of seeing all this ancient history and geography reinvented in this fantasy land. Histories hundreds of years apart and from Europe all the way to the Far East are somehow squeezed into this tale, and made to work. I do look forward to watching it again, even though The Heroic Legend of Arslan is no Berserk. It’s one of those shows that are fun because they are so corny. But while I might have pondered it as I started this review, I certainly have no intention of double dipping just to get fixed subtitles.