Review: Arslan Senki (TV)

[Synopsis]: At the young age of fourteen Arslan (Kobayashi, Yuusuke), the crown prince of Pars and son of King Andragoras III embarks on his maiden battle against Lusitania, a neighboring country, where he loses everything. The Lusitanian forces overwhelm the formidable Parsian army through trickery and deceit and Arslan’s once glorious kingdom falls to the invaders. Bereft of both allies and a home to return to he and his trusted retainer Daryun (Hosoya, Yoshimasa) venture onward from the battle and begin gathering heroic allies to their cause in an attempt to take back Arslan’s throne and recover the capital of Ecbatana.

[Characters]: 

In classic form of the historical drama genre, Arslan Senki offers a large host of characters – Arslan’s own company featuring as many as seven diverse characters ranging from a master tactician in Narsus to a priestess of Misra in Farangis. With that said, the show is heavily focused on Arslan as its story most primarily concerns his growth as a person and as a leader and the actual development and characterization of those close to him and those he encounters on his journey take a back seat to this. Each individual character is introduced with a compelling enough template for them to get by within the story and a good many of them do well within the show as they are presented such as Narsus and Daryun who are appealing due to their logical thinking and overwhelming strength respectively.

Arslan himself is quite interesting in terms of characterization however the show mishandles him in some ways that ultimately cheapens his growth and maturation. In the beginning of the show we are introduced to a fledgling prince who, despite being kind and eager to learn, is ignorant of the outside world in relation to the kingdom of Pars. He is ineffective with a weapon on the battlefield and lacks faith in himself and so all in all he represents great opportunity, if not a little too obviously so, to grow as a character. The show develops him quite well at first, translating his willingness to learn and improve upon himself while still being young well into his character’s actions and dialogue. One chief example of this is in his initial thoughts on slavery – rather than agree with Narsus who claims that the slaves of Pars should be freed and that it is wrongful to enslave them in the first place, he takes the sentiment into account but reserves his ultimate judgement on the matter despite feeling the same way. This reservation of character speaks volumes about Arslan in that he is aware of how ignorant he is of the greater implications of these grand decisions and his reticent attitude towards them is an engaging attribute.

Though Arslan was characterized quite intricately early on, we see this dull over time as his beliefs become more resolute and he lacks the deliberation and carefulness he featured early on. In some ways this was a way for the show to mature him however a great many of the earlier concerns such as the implications of slavery within the kingdom are dismissed rather than decided upon in an intellectual way. Alongside this inability to follow through on earlier character traits, Arslan acts incredibly foolishly at times in part due to his kind-hearted nature combined with his initial innocence however these actions seem awkward and out of place in the latter parts of his story. I think that ultimately Arslan turned out to be an interesting character though his mismanagement hurt the show for me a good deal due to its heavy reliance on him rather than other members of the cast to produce compelling dialogue and further the story.

To add a quick note concerning the rest of the cast, a decent number of them are quite compelling and fit well within the world such as the enigmatic and twisted ‘Silvermask’ or the traveling musician and rogue Gieve however there were a choice few characters that impacted the story and the setting very poorly and damaged the cast irreparably. In the historical drama setting most of the characters presented made a lot of sense but the show also introduced a handful of characters such as Elam, Alfreed, and Etoile who felt out of place among the other cast members and within the world itself. They each occupied more typical character archetypes than the rest of the cast and the effects of seeing an otherwise engaging dialogue be thrown off by a stereotypical ‘tsundere’ dynamic grew increasingly more tiresome. Furthermore, these characters didn’t have a whole lot of purpose behind them and it constantly felt as if events warped themselves in such a way in order to give them some form of relevance. As much as I’d like to say that the positive elements of Arslan’s characterization and a few other characters made the shortcomings of these people trivial, this was not the case and they were provided with more than enough screen time to often detract from the setting and story.

[Art/Animation]:

While Arslan Senki stumbled a bit in terms of its cast and their characterization the greatest weakness of the show was in its art and animation. Though the show presented a good few scenes of high quality animation over the course of its full 25-episode run, far too many of the episodes faltered extremely noticeably in character design, movement, and general art style. This is saddened all the more by the presence of Arakawa Hiromu’s designs which were otherwise quite appealing and in her classic style where the quality drops affected them to the point that the characters did not even resemble themselves at times. The art direction wasn’t all that bad and there were a handful of interesting shots each episode but the execution was what truly marred the visuals of the show and the quality drops were so frequent and so noticeable that I can list no more significant and impactful shortcoming of the show than this.

As if to make matters worse, Arslan Senki also relied a great deal on CG in order to deliver its farther reaching scenes such as its great battles and countless banners of horsemen. Due to the historical setting of the show this was definitely a case where the usage of CG was due to either budgetary concerns or because of their difficulty of execution rather than to achieve a certain aesthetic by means of the CG. Arslan Senki did not make good use of this technique, especially early on – the CG soldiers and horses pop out of the frames far too noticeably to be forgiven and I found that they constantly broke whatever immersion the show could offer with their sharing of the same face, their robotic movement, and their general aesthetic delivery. I will give credit to the show however for its improvement in this category in the latter episodes however – while the show does not actually improve within this technical aspect it does do a far better job at times masking the presence of the CG by using fast, zooming, overhead shots of the battle and darting between the soldiers at ground-level as they clashed. The quality drops and poor implementation of CG hurt the show a good deal and I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone who gets annoyed by these things as they were highly noticeable and consistently resent.

[Story]:

The story of Arslan Senki was perhaps the area in which it showed the most potential and where it most succeeded. The idea of a coming of age story involving a prince and a return to his kingdom is by no means an original story however Arslan sets itself apart in several ways by raising interesting questions early on concerning the nature of Arslan’s enemy and Arslan’s own lineage. Alongside this the story does a good enough job nurturing Arslan and teaching him new things in order for him to grow as a person and a leader though at times this appears a bit hamfisted but is forgivable due to the purpose of the show.

The story of Arslan lends itself well to its world and setting as the places and countries all feel legitimized within the plot after their introduction and the manner in which the plot unfolds was compelling enough to keep my interest even amidst the other major short comings of the show. One point of concern in respect to the world of Arslan Senki was in how it handled the presence of magic. For the most part, the world is quite like ours however the blatant appearance of something magical does not occur until nearly half way through the show. Though the presence of sorcery and the like is eluded at as early on as Arslan’s maiden battle, it comes off as the kind of typical smoke and mirrors kind of magic often discussed in similar historical action shows and seeing its manifestation later on felt out of place. While there is is no rule that says that the world of Arslan should have no magic in it the way in which it is handled and introduced was problematic in my eyes as it felt inconsistent and its presence far too spread out along the length of the show to feel natural to the world setting. Hopefully the implementation of magic becomes more obvious in the future as it would work well for the show whether it is used often or not.

[Music]:

The music worked well for the show and was one of the more memorable elements of it while not appealing to me beyond its own context. It was medieval, it was heroic, and the instrumentation of the soundtrack never felt out of place. Perhaps the only qualm I have in this area was that the show had a tendency to fall back into certain songs each episode that made them feel a tad overused rather than featuring other songs more often though due to the positive influence of those choice songs on the story and presentation of the show I find this fairly forgivable.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

Arslan Senki was certainly a mix of pros and cons all throughout and I think it can be summarized as a show with great ideas, an interesting premise, and an awesome art style that was executed poorly. Arslan was interesting even given his less than stellar characterization as he offered a very explicit and intricate way of thinking that I found appealing and this trait won out for me over his negative attributes. Similarly, the plot of the show kept me watching despite the many production issues and visual problems the show exhibited and so I have to admit that I found the show at least compelling to the point that I could tolerate its flaws rather than dismiss them. I think, if the show does receive a future installment which it very likely could due to the length of its source material, it could turn out quite well if the production value was increased.

Rating: 5

I gave Arslan Senki a 5 primarily because the plot intrigued me enough to keep watching and by means of its occasional mystery elements it set itself far enough apart from other similar stories to avoid becoming forgettable. I can’t find it in myself to rate the show any higher as its visuals were lacking in the extreme and a small number of the characters from the cast were infuriating in their design and personality in such a way that they majorly detracted from certain character relationships and dialogue exchanges.

[Recommendations]:

I would recommend Arslan Senki to any fans of the historical action genre as it exemplifies all of the conflicts, intrigues, and settings that make the genre interesting. The action of the show is quite good and there were a handful of beautiful action scenes sprinkled throughout the show however elsewhere the choreography was lacking and the animation poor and so I wouldn’t cite these choice few triumphs as reason enough for one to pick up the show due to its action alone. To go hand in hand with my comments from earlier, I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone who is bothered extensively by quality drops as it was far and away the biggest problem for the show and even a novice of the medium will be able to pick out the differences in quality from shot to shot due to their overt nature.

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