Continuing on in his quest to retake Ecbatana, the capital of Pars, Crown Prince Arslan and his loyal entourage march towards the city in the hopes of rescuing his father, the king. However, upon hearing the news that the neighboring kingdom of Turan is launching an assault on the Parsian stronghold of Peshawar in the prince’s absence, Arslan is forced to turn back in order to defend the fortress. Elsewhere, Prince Hilmes makes a slight detour in his war against his cousin in order to search for a legendary sword that would secure his right to rule. As separate sides of the Parsian royal conflict clash, Arslan’s claim to the throne falls into peril, but no matter what stands in their way, the young prince and his band of warriors will charge forward to restore Pars to its former glory.
It has been three years since Universal dipped their toes into the UK anime market, with The Heroic Legend of Arslan being amongst their initial releases. Now, after their brief foray into anime seems to have come to a close, MVM Entertainment have picked up a number of licences to save them from falling into obscurity, one of which is the second season to Arslan, Dust Storm Dance. As someone who liked Arslan a fair amount, I was actually quite looking forward to finally watching the follow-up; however I found it to be a substantial downgrade from the first season, making for a disappointing watch.
The first, and most instantly noticeable flaw from the get-go (which is a criticism levelled at both seasons) is how Dust Storm Dance begins. A common complaint about the first season of Arslan is the ending, feeling as if it just kind-of stops rather than coming to a natural close, and this has a knock-on effect for the sequel, making for an incredibly jarring opening. You don’t get eased back into proceedings gently, with any sort of recap or a build-up episode, it starts literally in the middle of the battle that the last episode ended on. There was a year’s gap between the broadcasts of the series, which was bad enough, but when you factor in the three-year gap we’ve had for home video, there’s a very good chance that you’re going to start watching this barely knowing what is even happening, much like I did. You do eventually find yourself getting acclimatised, but that opening episode did little to make me like Dust Storm Dance, and that’s before you get to the actual flaws that are present.
The most damning complaint I have about Dust Storm Dance would be the almost threadbare narrative. Where the show left off last time, Arslan was heading towards a grand rescue of his father with an army at his back, which would no doubt have been a thrilling and engaging battle to watch, which is what makes it so disappointing that it never happens. Instead the story does a total 180, sending Arslan backwards to fend off an invading force, which serves as little else than time wasting. This invasion could just not have happened, and very little would have changed in the story or characters, a complaint which carries across all eight episodes. There is very little pushing the overarching narrative forwards, no progress being made. Most of the runtime is spent faffing around with pirates in some far-off city instead of seeing Arslan continue the war effort to reclaim his homeland. Sure, you get some great action set pieces, at least one in each episode, and whilst they are entertaining to watch, they’d be even better if they actually mattered more to the plot. Once you think things are going somewhere in Episode 8, it stumbles once again into the same pitfall as its predecessor, by just stopping suddenly. It has been three years since the airing of Dust Storm Dance, and if we don’t end up getting a third entry, then it just might be up there with the worst anime endings of all time, not on its quality, but purely on its abruptness.
The character development side of the equation is also quite poorly handled. One of the best elements before was seeing the prince slowly grow and change into a strong ruler from a naive child, but his growth here merely stagnates. Despite some events that would have made for a good opportunity to expand on his character, the writers don’t take advantage at all, and he remains largely the same person we saw at the end of the first season, and the same applies to his whole party too. The one person who does come out of this better off is Arslan’s bitter rival, Prince Hilmes, who gets an extended backstory which is very good to see, given his mysterious origins.
I’m not entirely sure if its because of this show, the fact I’m now watching anime on a bigger TV or a mixture of the two, but LIDENFILM’s animation work on Dust Storm Dance is quite poor. Whilst action scenes tend to look quite nice and fluid, there is a noticeable lack of detail in a lot of shots, even at medium to close distances, leading to the whole thing appearing to be rather muddled and ugly. I’ve seen worse, but it’s far from easy on the eyes. The use of CGI here is also incredibly bad, not meshing well with the 2D animation, and generally looking substandard.
If there is at least one thing of quality you can count on from this release, it’s in the audio department. Not only does Funimation’s dub stand out as rather excellent, featuring more great performances from the returning cast members, including Aaron Dismuke, Ricco Fajardo, Christopher Bevins, Vic Mignogna, Jerry Jewell, Simone Grant and Justin Briner, but the musical score by Taro Iwashiro is also absolutely fantastic to boot. Add in an opening and closing song by fan-favourite artists Eir Aoi (Fate/Zero, Kill la Kill, Sword Art Online) and Kalafina (Madoka Magica, Black Butler, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works) respectively, and I can’t say I have any complaints!
A sadly underwhelming follow-up to a fairly good show, The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance is largely a waste of time, choosing to jog in place in terms of both plot and characters instead of moving forwards, and ending as soon as it starts to gain momentum.