For this review I’ll cover the twenty five episode first series and the eight episode follow up, Fuujin Ranbu. Arslan senki is based off of a novel series that came out from ’86 all the way until ’17. That’s even longer than Claremont’s amazing run writing the X-men. And it’s not completely over. There’s still a manga going. The novels were the brain child of Tanaka Yoshiki, which makes me somewhat wary since he also wrote the brain dead, rubbish series Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu. In any case, the series had an OVA in the early to mid 90s and this two series anime from 2015-2016. It was handled by Liden Films, the same studio that worked on Terra formars, which was also not good. Who knows, maybe this one will actually exceed my expectations and not be awful. In spite of having a name that sounds like the shit version of Narnia’s protector.
The narrative is simple enough. The Kingdom of Pars is prosperous with a strong king to defend it. It also has a strong contingent of nearby nations that would love a piece of that prosperity. Including the borderline Theocracy of Lusitania. During his first foray into battle, Prince Arslan finds himself separated from his father while things around him quickly turn bad for the Parsian forces. He finds himself separated with only the loyal Daryun to rely on. And it seems like the only one who can unite what remains of Pars’ military and drive the Lusitanian forces from the royal capital is Arslan.
The biggest problem with the narrative might just be that it drags a bit. There are a bunch of episodes where Arslan and his group sit back and do nothing while we witness the siege of the capital. And it really shouldn’t take as long as it does since the way it’ll end is obvious. Another prominent example is in the shift from the end of the first series to the beginning of the second. We see our heroes about to take a huge step only to rapidly back-pedal in what feels like a cheap ploy to get more content out of the concept.
As much as it surprises me, I do have a lot of aspects of the series I’m going to praise. In a far shot from that other Tanaka written anime, the strategy in this is actual well thought out strategy. It doesn’t rely on one group being composed entirely of idiots. It relies on misdirection, terrain advantages, figuring out ways to rattle the opposing troops and other various things. I don’t know if Ginga Eiyuu was just adapted badly or if Tanaka just doesn’t know how to apply strategy to a sci-fi setting. In terms of political aspects, the primary issue is a lot more morally one-sided since it deals with slavery but Tanaka does a good job of writing it from the perspective of a culture where that’s been their way of life and it’s just starting to shift. Which is a big improvement over that other series that presented a more morally grey conundrum, but presented it very ineptly.
The narrative actually somewhat reminds me of Nintendo’s classic Fire Emblem series. With the way the prince has to flee while things go wrong in his nation and then has to find strong allies while dealing with intrigue from multiple angles. Except this started coming out before that franchise existed. I can’t deny that the story unfolds in an intriguing way, even with the detours. And this is one of the few anime I’ve seen that has a narrator and uses them effectively. A lot of the narrator’s purpose is to show the passage of time between significant events while keeping the audience caught up on what the important characters have been doing. Thereby allowing the series to have greater scope without a huge amount of filler.
One thing I really appreciate about the major characters is that they aren’t just blind followers. Pretty much all of them start out with some kind of relatively weak reason to go to his side but then their dynamics start developing and they find stronger reasons to follow him. Which both shows a nice character progression and creates some powerful dynamics. The characters themselves are quite strongly written with enough background details to illustrate how they were shaped into who they are and complexity to them. That goes for the antagonistic characters as well. Especially Silver Mask & Guiscard. Which is another huge difference between this and that other Tanaka anime where the cast was massive but also very boring and one note. The only dude I remember vividly from that is toga guy and that’s only cause he was so over the top.
The artwork looks fantastic. No awkward posing that no human would ever use. The character designs are well done. The armour and costuming looks good. Although Falangies’ might be overly fan-service oriented. The action sequences are phenomenal with amazing swordplay, quick arrow shots and just very dynamic movements. The backgrounds are strongly detailed, to top it off. Which is another huge difference from that other anime.
The acting is really well done. Kobayashi Yuusuke, Hosoya Yoshimasa, Sakamoto Maaya, Namikawa Daisuke, Numakura Manami, Uchiyama Yumi, Koyasu Takehito, Kaji Yuki and pretty much everyone else does a great job. The only performance I can really single out as lacklustre comes from Sakurai Toshiharu who voices King Innocentis. His performance feels a bit out of place since he sounds a bit like the typical “comedic fat man” in a series where that doesn’t really work. Iwashiro Taro’s soundtrack is fantastic in both series.
There’s a bit. Elam comes across as having a bit of a crush on Narsus at times, and vying for his affections against Alfreed. There are also moments where Daryun and Narsus come across as more than friends. It’s not the case in the majority of their shared screen time, but it’s certainly an ongoing thing.
Areas of Improvement:
- A More Focused Narrative. While the diversions are entertaining, it would be nice to see the story get on with it a bit more quickly.
- Proper Clothes for Falangies. I get that she’s supposed to come from a warmer climate, but it might help if she was properly dressed for combat and the weather.
- A less comedic performance for Innocentis. If this were a more comedic series, he would sound fine. But since it’s not, a more nuanced performance would work wonders.
I’m actually flabbergasted. Given my previous experiences with both this writer and this studio, I expected to have a terrible time. I expected this to be a slog I had to force myself through to finish the review request. But I really enjoyed the series. It’s the type of fantasy that reminds me of a Fire Emblem story in the best way. I would actually love to see it given a third series to finish things up and I’m definitely going to chase down the manga to see the conclusion regardless. I’ll give this one a solid 8/10. If you’re a fantasy fan, I recommend it.