Heroic Legend of Arslan
Nearly 10 years after I saw the motion picture that started this series, I've finally had the ability to see the whole of The Heroic Legend of Arslan. This comes with both joy and sadness. Happily, the show is one of the few I've seen that, despite varied management and wildly decreasing budgets, manages to stay together in terms of plot and remains entertaining. Alas, the show is unfinished in its present form, and there is no reason to expect its continuation. Although the conclusion is satisfying at a superficial level, the lack of resolution is off-putting even to the most jaded anime fan used to ambiguous endings.
Arslan takes place in Palse, a fictional version of Persia sometime in the days of knights and kingdom building. The first film introduces us to Arslan, the crown prince, as his father Andragoras is taken captive during a fierce battle with the Lusitanians, their archrivals determined to take Palse by force. Arslan escapes with only an adviser, but together they form a small, dedicated core that will fight to reclaim their lost realm. They are threatened by Silvermask, who leads the Lusitanian army and declares himself to be the son of the king that Andragoras deposed when he claimed the throne. Silvermask will not rest until Arslan is dead and he himself is crowned. Arslan's only hope is to amass an army large enough to reclaim his capital.
The animation is the first thing of note in the series, and it has to be because it changes so drastically as we go. Although the first two parts, which were released as feature films, don't have nearly the sheen one expects from theatrical anime, they still feature some great graphics and battle sequences with far more characters on screen than one usually finds, with realistic motion rarely seen in Japanese animation work. However, the third and fourth episodes have no budget in comparison, and rather than even appearing like OVAs, they look as if they were part of a television show. The final two episodes (released as Age of Heroes) were done a bit later, and the budget is back. Though they lack the motion work of the films, the characters look stunning. For the artwork connoisseur, it's a frustrating conundrum.
For those who like complicated plotting or reality-based fantasy, though, Heroic Legend of Arslan is a dream. I thoroughly enjoyed the way Arslan weaves through its story, and though some find it disjointed, I never found the plot strands hard to maneuver. It's also fascinating to see a complex pseudo-history like this. Though the Lodoss Wars OVAs have more finesse than Arslan, the former owes far more to Dungeons and Dragons than to realistic warfare. Though there are touches of magic in Arslan, they are more the manipulation of superstition. I never lost interest in the core story.
If the core story were finished, I would be able to give an unqualified recommendation. I can't do that, though, because closure is important, and Arslan has none. The sixth episode ends in almost precisely the same place as the first. This would be fine, even kosher, if we had hope of some sequel. Without it, we are left with an uneasy incompleteness. It reminds me of the time my wife and I drove an hour to a great ice cream shop to see an old friend who worked there. When we arrived, we found out that she was off that day. That wasn't to say the treats we got that day didn't taste great, but that the journey was much less fulfilling than hoped because we didn't achieve everything we'd expected.
Heroic Legend of Arslan is still a show I'd watch again; it's better than the TV version of Lodoss by a good deal. Perhaps someday, the show will actually be finished and I'll be able to increase its rating. For now, though, consider Arslan a very good epic that might be great if it were just complete.
Heroic Legend of Arslan -- violence (somewhat graphic), brief language -- B