Prince Arslan is the heir to the kingdom of Pars, a strong nation that sits at the heart of the trade route connecting the East and the West. When the neighboring nation of Lusitania begins to invade Pars, the naive and timid Arslan is soon thrust into his maiden battle, a battle that goes horribly wrong when the Parsian army falls for a Lusitanian stratagem which leads to Ecbatana, the Parsian Capital, being occupied by Lusitanian forces. With the help of his loyal warrior and friend Daryun, he barely manages to escape with his life and goes into hiding. Soon, Arslan, aided by his allies, makes plans to retake the kingdom of Pars and to find his father, King Andragonas III, who went missing after the invasion.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a 2015 anime adaption of the 2013 manga series by Hiromu Arakawa which, in turn, is an adaptation of the long- running and popular Japanese novel series by Yoshiki Tanaka. Whilst I do think that Arslan has its merits, the first half of this Action-Fantasy show leaves a lot to be desired, despite its stellar presentation.
The real root of the issue here is that there really isn’t a whole lot going on, both in terms of its story and characters. If you read the synopsis for the show, you’ve gotten almost as much story as you do from watching the show itself. After the initial 5 or 6 episodes which set up the world, introduce the characters and execute the premise, the story starts to meander and doesn’t really do anything of significance, mostly just showing Arslan and his allies in hiding or on the run from the Lusitanian soldiers. A lot of it feels like padding and can be rather tedious in some places. However, there is a revelation towards the end of this half of the show that could make for a compelling plot development going forward but it’s revealed too late in the game for it to have any real impact on the story in the first half. After said reveal, Arslan definitely feels like it has the potential to head in a far more interesting direction, so hopefully the second half lives up to that promise. Despite the lack of an interesting story, I was still thoroughly entertained and kept watching mostly due to some really fantastic action sequences. The best of these appear at the beginning, with the initial battle between Pars and Lusitania and the invasion of the Parsian capital of Ecbatana being the highlights of the entire first half for me. These are very well animated with a good blend of traditional 2D animation and some above average CGI animation that really makes the action stand out.
The characters of Arslan are, for the most part, just as lacklustre as its story, with a couple of exceptions. The first would be the titular Arslan; whom I found to be an instantly likable lead, mostly because he’s one of the most genuinely pure-hearted characters we meet, and has a real charisma about him that really makes you want to root for him and his noble goals. The second is Gieve, a charming bard who’s a really lovable rogue. Apart from those two, literally every other character in the show is just kind of dull. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they all lack personality, but they just aren’t developed enough to really make me care for them. This isn’t helped by a lack of screen time for most of the cast in the first few episodes, with the action predominating and some characters like Farangis not being introduced until later in the story. The main antagonist, Silver Mask, whilst having more of a personality than many of the others, is mostly just a two-dimensional, clichéd villain, which is a real shame because I think a more morally ambiguous villain could have made for a really interesting dynamic going forward.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a co-production between Liden Films (Terraformers, Berserk (2016), Aiura) and Sanzigen (009: Re: Cyborg, Black Rock Shooter, Arpeggio of Blue Steel) and they have created a really fantastic looking show that stays true to the manga it was based on. As mentioned before, the action sequences in Arslan are definitely the best thing about it, thanks in no small part to the excellent animation, which has some of the best-looking CGI I think I’ve seen in an anime and works well with the 2D animation, not sticking out like a sore thumb unlike most other shows.
If there is one other department I must highlight as being amazing (apart from the visuals) it would have to be the original score. Composed by Taro Iwashiro, the spectacular soundtrack really stands out and helps to create a magnificent atmosphere. Despite the soundtrack, one thing I can’t really say I was overly fond of was the OP song, ‘oku no Kotoba de wa Nai, Kore wa Bokutachi no Kotoba’ by UVERworld, as I really didn’t think it fits a show like Arslan. Universal’s release of The Heroic Legend of Arslan comes with both a Japanese and English audio track. The English dub is all around pretty good, although I can’t think of anyone who was particularly outstanding. The cast includes some notable voice actors such as Aaron Dismuke (Fullmetal Alchemist, Cat Planet Cuties, Blood Blockade Battlefront), Ricco Fajardo (Seraph of the End, Fairy Tail, Prince of Stride: Alternative) and Jerry Jewell (Baccano, Evangelion 3.33, Shiki).
As well as the first 13 episodes of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Universal’s Limited Edition release is packed to the gills with extras, both on disc and physical. On the disc, you get trailers, TV spots, clean versions of both the first and second opening and closings (which is a little strange considering the second OP and ED aren’t featured on any of the episodes in Part 1) as well as the Short Comedy of Arslan, a short chibi comedy spin-off. In terms of physical extras, not only does Arslan feature a high quality rigid box, you get an 80 page, full colour art book, with character profiles and translated interviews with the creators of the show, 12 gorgeous artcards, 4 collectable character cards and a map of the Kingdom of Pars, which when flipped over doubles as a game board and includes tokens featuring characters from the anime. It’s a really fantastic set that fans of the show will absolutely adore.
Whilst the action and sheer spectacle seen in The Heroic Hero of Arslan will keep you watching, the mostly bland characters and overly simple story will do little to hold your interest, even if it looks and sounds spectacular.