Do I enjoy a good war story? I can’t really say with much certainty. History in general has never really been my favorite subject. I did enjoy Howard Zinn’s writings, and yeah, I listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History from time to time. So if you force me to really answer that question, then I guess it just comes down to the storytelling. The greater the storyteller, the more interesting history will be… even if this isn’t always the most suitable way to approach the subject academically. Of course, it usually goes without saying that history isn’t just a collection of dates and events. There were people involved. People with very complex motivations. And that’s the crux of it, I suppose. When it comes right down to it, this is what I’m desperately searching for in Arslan Senki. The fighting, the military tactics, the human brutality, so on and so forth… I can get that from a Wikipedia entry. You write a fictional story, however, so that you can get inside the heads of your characters.
With the real thing, you can only rely on the primary and secondary sources that you are lucky enough to uncover. This is perhaps not so hard with recent wars. But let’s go back 1000 years. Now, the picture is much blurrier. Go back another thousand years. If you’re lucky, perhaps a famous poet isn’t embellishing the fuck out of some historic war. But he probably is. So the way I see it, a fictional war story might not be based on any actual primary or secondary account, but you nevertheless have the opportunity to get in at the ground level. You have the chance to feel as though you were there. You can actually the little moments that would have otherwise been lost in history, i.e. when a major player steps aside and mutters something to him or herself. That’s where a fictional war story can set itself apart. Characters within it can actually have arcs. Well, with this anime, you know that Arslan will eventually have his arc. This is, after all, The Heroic Legends of Arslan. To put it another way, he better have an arc ’cause he sure as hell ain’t fit to be king at this time.
But this is perhaps where it’s difficult to really enjoy a narrative like Arslan Senki in a weekly episodic format. The stage must be set. We cannot have a war story without, well, the war. We must see the royal capital get sacked. We must see scenes after scenes of all-out fighting. We must see the slaves’ uprising. And of course, war is a story that involves a countless number of major players. There’s Silver Mask, there’s Kharlan, there’s the king whose whereabouts are still a mystery, there’s the queen, there’s the wandering minstrel Gieve who also happens to be an expert swordsman. Oh yeah, the blond kid from the first episode will probably rear his head one day. And there’s no doubt that we’ll be introduced to more and more characters as the story develops. But no matter how grand the stage, the format will never change. We are locked into weekly episodes at a little over twenty minutes a pop. After watching Ecbatana fall to the Lusitanian soldiers and the rebel slaves, there’s really no time left for Arslan at all.
At best, our boy hero can only stare with determination at his blade. And then we’re done. We must wait another seven days for another episode. With novels, I get one gigantic chunk of the story, and I can reading to my heart’s content. I can power through the fall of Ecbatana and continue tracing Arslan’s development. This isn’t the case with an anime adaptation. I have no choice really, but to wait. And between Arslan’s character development and a major event such as Ecbatana being eaten from the inside out by its own former slaves, perhaps it is a wise choice to focus primarily on the latter. But as I’ve said, fictional war stories personally stand out to me because I can get inside the characters’ head. At the moment, however, I’m not getting into anyone’s head, and with an entire week until the next episode, my interest is waning. Corners must be cut when you adapt a story from one format to another… but maybe twenty odd minutes of anime will never be able to do a story like this one justice.
Because without a better look at Arslan or any of the character’s inner world, the rest of story isn’t, well, all that impressive. It’s like baby’s first warlord adventures or something. First, there wasn’t much in the way of military strategy or political maneuvering in this week’s episode. That’s fine, though. Afer all, it’s not like I was expecting much on that front anyway. But it’s the characters’ reaction to the slave uprising that’s the most perplexing. I-I never knew that their malcontent ran so deep! I say we harshly punish the slaves for wanting freedom! There’s no way this might galvanize the other slaves, especially with the enemies literally right outside our walls! P-perhaps we could free the slaves? Hahaha, ’tis a silly thought! No work would be done were that to happen! And this just goes on and on until eventually, the Lusitanian soldiers break through Ecbatana’s defenses at the dead of night. And with the slaves’ help, the royal palace goes up in flames. Good riddance.
In the midst of all the chaos, we see Gieve hold his own against the man with the silver mask. It’s just too bad that the scenes are way too dark for me to appreciate anything that is happening onscreen. It’s just as well, anyway. The animation quality took a rather steep drop in this week’s episode. At times, I felt like I was watching something from a few decades ago. Arslan and company spend most of their time sitting in a room, discussing their next moves. The queen is up to something, but we have yet to see her by herself so it’s hard to get much of a read on what she’s thinking or feeling. The one guy who was talking any sense ends up dying at the end of the episode, so really, Gieve is really the only one to get major screen time and actually survive the fracas. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the guy, though. I can at least identify a bit with Arslan. On the other hand, Gieve feels like he’s in this story because it needs at least one badass young character while the old men die horribly.
So that’s the long and short of it. Arslan Senki feels like it should be an epic, but epics are hard to tell through an episodic format. It’s like sitting down to a 20-course dinner, but you have to wait a week between each course. By the time I make it to the next course, I will have forgotten what I had eaten a week ago (as you can clearly see, Shokugeki no Soma has influenced my thinking a bit this season). The first two episodes focused decent amount on Arslan, but I still didn’t feel as though it gave him enough of a presence. With the past few episodes, he’s taken a back seat, and no one else has really filled the void. Maybe Gieve was supposed to do that, but I’m not feeling it. At the rate that the story is unfolding, and with so many other shows to watch this season, it’s hard to pick up where we last left off and suddenly be invested in Arslan and his trials.