I’m not quite sure what to make of this anime. I suppose I don’t dislike it; I don’t find it very disagreeable. At the end of the day, however, it’s just not very exciting. I can watch it on my commute to work, which is actually what I did this morning. It’s fine in that sense; it’s good enough to be a time-killer. But after episodes, I don’t feel that hunger to see what happens in the next episode. Don’t me me wrong, because the show hasn’t exactly committed any great narrative sin or what have you. There are also a few things it does right. The war scenes, for instance, are not bad. They’re a whole lot more visceral than what I’ve seen in a lot of the anime over the past few years. They’re certainly not too lazily portrayed. Of course, this is a TV series, so you have to be a little lenient. I’m not expecting Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day scene. I just expect a little effort, a.k.a. not a bunch of CGI toys crashing into each other on some brown and browner map as a disinterested narrator drones on and on about the troop movements. The battle scenes in Arslan Senki may not leave me speechless in my seat with my heart in my throat, but they’re… okay.
But maybe that’s the problem. A lot about Arslan Senki is just okay. Arslan himself is just okay. He’s not a terrible character. He’s not overly wimpish at the start of the anime, and this is one of the many pitfalls that the show could have stumbled into. But he’s not exactly compelling either. Yeah, the prince has a sensitive soul… but beyond that, he hasn’t got a terribly arresting presence. I’m not waiting to see what he does next. I’m not waiting to see what he says next. A bit like the story, Arslan is a bit dry. For example, Arslan had his maiden battle quite early on in the story, and it turned out to be a complete and utter disaster. Imagine being a 14 year old, coddled within the palace walls for a good percentage of your life, then finding yourself thrust into the midst of war. A heavy fog surrounds you, so you can barely see anything. But the sounds. The screams. The men — your men — are dying as the enemy begins to rout the once invincible Parsian army. Soon, the ground is soaked in blood, and littered with bodies. You eventually stumble upon the corpse of a young boy not much older than you. Possibly the same age as you. He had sworn his life to protect you, and here he lies… cold and lifeless.
Man, that is some heavy shit! But the end result did not hit me as hard as it should have. I was ready to empathize with Arslan. I was ready to be drawn into the boy’s character. But, well, the story kind of just gets over it. It’s not that Arslan was unaffected by the horrors of war. He was. It was just so brief, though. I’m not asking for the guy to have a mental breakdown on the battlefield. I’m not asking for the guy to go into a catatonic state for episodes and episodes on end, and basically be useless. I just thought that this was a golden moment for the story to engage the audience’s emotions, and it pretty much said, “No thanks.” So Arslan hops onto Daryun’s steed, and they quickly meet up with the prince’s eventual tactician. We even crack a few jokes about Narsus’s art (I’m kind of curious what his paintings are like). No, Arslan Senki does not have to be a grimdark anime about the utter wretchedness of war. We don’t need to wax poetic about how war is horrible, how it never changes, blah blah blah. That’s not what I’m saying at all. It’s just that the story has me interested on a surface level — I mean, the story’s okay — but it hasn’t gotten me where it counts, i.e. deep in my gut.
Maybe we need that blond boy from the first episode to make a comeback. I wonder what he’s up to. We haven’t seen him once in these last four episodes. Well, no, that’s not entirely accurate. When the topic turns to slavery, Arslan briefly remembers that fateful day he spent with the young prisoner-of-war. But other than that, the story isn’t ready for the blond boy to make his reappearance in the story. That’s too bad, really. He seemed passionate. He seemed to wear his emotions on his sleeves (well, let’s just pretend he had sleeves). To be fair, Arslan still needs to find himself. The prince won’t just automatically stumble upon his principles. That sort of thing will have to develop as he matures into a protagonist worthy of being a great ruler. But until then, the story needs someone else to step up. Sadly, the rest of the characters are a bit like Arslan: not terrible, but not terribly captivating. Daryun’s actually pretty stiff. For now, he’s a loyal soldier with a strong sense of duty, and yeah, he’s got an emotion. He’s real angry about the current state of things. But he hasn’t got much depth either. On the bright side, however, at least he isn’t Andragoras. Hoo boy, now that is an unfortunate character.
I can’t help but draw comparisons to King Il from Akatsuki no Yona. King Il’s portrayal was a little more interesting, because although Yona always remembered him as a kind-hearted father, others didn’t see him quite so favorably. He wasn’t a great warrior, but maybe he had more blood on his hands than one would think. Arslan’s father, on the other hand, is just a complete and utter dumbass. There’s no nuance to his character at all. Every scene he’s in, he’s completely unlikeable and completely brainless. What’s that? You raise very reasonable points about the upcoming battle? ME NO CARE. ME INVINCIBLE WARRIOR. ME PROVE SELF MANY TIMES ON BATTLEFIELD. SO ME FIGHT HARD ME WIN HARD. C’mon, man. I get it; hubris is often man’s greatest weakness. We’ve all been bitten in the ass before by our pride and arrogance. But this guy transcends arrogance so hard that I’m not sure he has a triple digit IQ. And I just think to all the famous generals and warlords throughout history, and I’m reminded that they were often cunning and shrewd. Perhaps they all had an unsung genius behind-the-scenes. Maybe. But Andragoras went and banished Narsus from the court, so…
There are some potentially interesting developments for the story to take. For one, the invading army may proclaim that all men are free, but they’re also a bit… fanatical about their one and only God. That is quite dangerous. Of course, this sort of thing is hardly new. Religious wars were fought all the time throughout history. Hell, religion continues to drive some 21st century conflicts. So in that regard, Arslan Senki isn’t completely one dimensional. The Lusitanians aren’t exactly liberators. The masked man is, however, a little hokey, but we’ll save that discussion for when he plays a larger role in the narrative. And even if Arslan has good intentions, why should any former slave care what he has to say? Why should any former slave want anything short of a truly free and equal society? Sure, you can kneel and bow your head to a just monarch, but so long as this particular system of rule exists, there’s always the risk that a future monarch can and will fuck everything up. Assuming Arslan wins back his kingdom, he may very well preside over decades and decades of peace and prosperity, but his successors can just as easily undo all of that in an instant. Furthermore, Arslan may not be guilty for his father’s crimes, but that means nothing to a man who has had to live his life in bondage. How will Arslan reclaim his kingdom on the back of that?
Hopefully, future episodes will address some of these heavier issues. Otherwise, the anime is in danger of losing my interest if things stay the way that they are. Again, Arslan Senki is alright. Its characters — minus Andragoras but hopefully he’s dead by now — are also alright. At the same time, it’s just all a bit too forgettable. Outside of the larger questions about slavery, the story and its characters are a bit too plain. Perhaps too safe. In fact, even if the anime deals more with some of the questions I raised in the previous paragraph, what can the show do to rectify its less-than-compelling characters? Maybe Arslan Senki needs more politics. Maybe it needs more intrigue to make these characters a little more memorable. I mean, Kharlan must have had a good reason to betray his own kingdom, right? But I have a feeling it’ll be a while until Kharlan’s true motivations are revealed. And it’s not like Andragoras is Ned Stark or anything, a.k.a. a good man done in because the world and its smiling sociopaths don’t give a rat’s ass how much honor you have. Andragoras is just a shitty ruler of a kingdom built on the sweat and tears of slaves. If anything, he deserves to be shamed in front of his people, so if there’s going to be any juicy political machination in this anime, I doubt he’ll have much of a role to play in any of it.
On an unrelated note, what should I write about next?