Arslan is the son of King Andragoras III and Queen Tahamine–making him the crown prince of Pars. He’s not like other royals, though. Arslan seeks to learn about other cultures, worries about his subjects, and seeks to better himself as a person so that he may accomplish all this and more. Aiming to prove himself to his father, Arslan heads out with the king for his first battle at age 14. Treachery is afoot, however, and the Parsians suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the Lusitanians. Now, Arslan, with the aid of the powerful knight Daryun and the rest of their skilled yet odd allies, seeks to purge the Lusitanians who have invaded his home, reclaim his throne, and make Pars as great as he envisions it. Even being a mouthful, this is much easier said than done. And thus, the boy would become king.
Oh, Hiromu Arakawa, it’s been far too long. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is probably one of my top five favorite anime, and Silver Spoon is one of the comfiest anime I’ve ever watched. So, naturally the adaptation of Arakawa’s manga adaptation of a series of fantasy novels based off of a Persian epic (going down the rabbit hole of entertainment here) would be on my list. It never took precedence for one reason or another, and thus, I wound up sitting on it for quite some time. Since I’ve entered into another of my fantasy phases (everyone else has phases for genres or media, right?), I decided it was finally time to give this one a watch. And boy, am I glad I did.
Arakawa excels at making diverse and interesting characters. Sure, between works some designs are re-used, but within a series, the characters are a cast of snowflakes. And that’s not just referring to their faces or builds but to their personalities as well. That’s why her manga and anime are always so appealing. Granted, I don’t know how much her versions of these characters are drawn from the novels, but there is definite Arakawa flair to each and every one of them. Just look at Arslan. He is the Elrics rolled into one. Kinda.
Arslan is a kind, steadfast young man whose charisma comes from how deeply he cares for everyone. It’s easy to see why so many characters in the series are drawn to serve him. The character Etoile inherited the brashness and blonde hair of the Elrics. The interactions between the two wound up being some of my favorite stuff. They’re not my favorite characters, but a lot of what they do is driven by the other. See, Etoile is a Lusitanian soldier, and the Lusitanians are religious fanatics. Like, they kill any who do not worship their god (we have veered from the Elric association…but now I guess we’re in Ishval). Some would say, “Oh, it’s an obvious stab at Islamic extremists,” but it’s probably mainly drawing from the Christian Crusades. Let’s not forget those super happy fun times. Anyhoo, the Lusitanians also believe all men are equal, so Etoile opposes slavery–which is the backbone of Pars. Arslan is inspired by Etoile’s words as a child, and that’s sort of the beginning of the man he will become. Etoile changed his mind on that, but the two still argue over the whole “kill all the heathens” thing with Arslan pointing out the contradiction that the religion itself says all men are equal. I know these sound like wordy debates, but they’re really not. The two are so likable that you can’t help but enjoy their arguing.
Although I do love them, my favorite character is, by far and away, Daryun. The man is a damn monster. His name is enough to send shivers down the spines of an entire army. Warriors flee in droves when they even think he might be near. He even earns the moniker “Fierce Tiger General” later on. His fight scenes are always great because you either get to see his prowess when he deals with a worthy opponent, or you get to see him go through hordes of mooks like a hot knife through butter. But, he’s also a pretty nice guy. Daryun once spared a dangerous opponent since he’d already been unhorsed. He even brings the comedy once in a while since he and his old buddy Narsus often take jabs at each other.
I don’t think I’ll go into the rest of the cast, but rest assured, they’re great. The world of Arslan is probably more on the low side of fantasy than the high. There’s rarely any magic shown, but it is there. There also haven’t been any magical beasties. Since it’s based on a Persian epic, the world draws heavily from the geography in that area at that time. It’s fairly similar to A Song of Ice and Fire in a lot of ways, really. Once more, nowhere near as dark (it is still dark, though), but the similarities are there with legitimate claims to various thrones, pretty realized rules, and a cast list you can get lost reading.
Another similarity with its much larger, wintry cousin is its pacing issues. Now, I don’t know if it has anything to do with how far the manga is or that the novel series isn’t finished, but the pacing for this show is erratic. It felt like the anime just lingered on a number of things. Although I was engrossed in the series, I would often find myself going, “We’re still here?” And then, out of nowhere, it jumps months ahead. I had to really start paying attention to the dates. It’s like they’re trying to make me take another history class. Nay nay, I say!
Arslan is a little difficult to score for me. On one hand, I love almost everything about it: The characters, the look, the world, the story. It’s all good stuff. Jarring pacing and the fact that it doesn’t actually end take away a bit, though. A second season’s on the way in a couple weeks, so we thankfully have that. I’ll stick with an 8.5 for now. Leaning more in the 9 direction for sure. If you have a fantasy itch, then scratch it with this!