Spring Anime 2015 Review: Should You Watch 'The Heroic Legend of Arslan'?

Heroic Legend of Arslan official anime art.
Heroic Legend of Arslan official anime art. (c) Funimation / Kodansha

The Heroic Legend of Arslan is one of those gorgeous 90s OVAs that somehow passed me by. That’s why I was quite pleased to hear that Funimation nabbed the rights to this season’s revival of The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Not only would the new revival of The Heroic Legend of Arslan be available online streaming, it would be airing weekly on simulcast. Finally, my chance to get in on the phenomenon I missed the first time around.

Is the remake worth the watch? As a newcomer to The Heroic Legend of Arslan, I have to say yes, and this is why:

You don’t need to know anything about The Heroic Legend of Arslan to enjoy this series.

Knowing approximately zip, zero, and nada about Arslan, one of my main concerns for the revival was: how accessible is this going to be to a new viewer? The answer is: very. The anime walks you through each new character and situation in extreme and thorough detail. The first appearance of any important character is marked with text on the screen that announces their name and title. While the background characters are easy to mix up because they all have similar-sounding titles and names, the viewer is walked through the plot at a gentle pace. You do not need to know a whisper of a fart of data about the original Heroic Legend of Arslan OVA or the fantasy novels this franchise is based on to enjoy this remake.

Hiromu Arakawa’s character designs are cute and appealing, bringing a much-needed lightness and sweetness to the epic fantasy’s plot.

Arakawa’s character designs are super recognizable. It’s obvious that the woman behind Fullmetal Alchemist had a strong hand in the look of the new Heroic Legend of Arslan. Arslan’s round face and shining eyes are very reminiscent of a color-swapped Al, the Lusitanian boy he meets in the first episode looks just like a young Ed with slightly altered hair texture, Arslan’s loyal bodyguard Daryun looks like the lovechild of Roy and Maes, and so forth.

But there are some significant deviations from Arakawa’s norm. Take Narsus, whose bishonen good looks wouldn’t be out of place in the bubbliest of shoujo manga, and Arslan’s own mother, a stern and detached beauty who doesn’t look at all like Arakawa’s other notable beauties. A lot of love and research is poured into the look of the background environments as well, taking Arslan’s Persian inspiration to the max with intricate geometric designs, soaring archways and flowing clothes.

Most importantly, however, Arakawa’s character designs bring a buoyant spirit to the anime that it can certainly benefit from. No one argues that the original OVA’s sensuous and intricate style did the plot of Arslan a disservice. Rather, its sumptuousness highlighted the epic fantasy environment and made a vast world seem even more fantastical.

By contrast, Arakawa’s designs highlight the humanity of those people caught in this epic fantasy environment. Rather than watching solely for Game of Thrones-style, wheel-within-wheel machinations, the viewer can easily empathize with Arslan’s expressive young face, or the ferocity of the young Lusitanian captive. There’s a liveliness in Arakawa’s designs that make the huge plot feel more grounded and human. (And the show is obviously gearing up for even more of those wheel-within-wheel machinations, too.)

The larger plot is not predictable.

Of course certain aspects of the plot are predictable. That Arslan will regain his throne seems unquestionable; why else would it be called The Heroic Legend of Arslan, and not The Epic Failure of That One Guy Who Tried?

And anyone could have called out the fact that the Pars military was going to fail in a battle that otherwise seemed impossible to lose. Arslan’s warmongering dad was a huge dick who refused to listen to eminently reasonable considerations from intelligent advisors, and rarely will an anime present a man in power being a colossal douchebag to his underlings for no reason and then go on to validate that man’s douchebag choices by having him win the day.

But in terms of larger plot aspects, the show has not yet rolled the dice. Who is better, the Lusitanians or the Parsians? The people of Pars don’t execute women and children, but they have a massive slave economy. The religion of the Lusitanians posit all people as equal, unless they don’t follow the savage Lusitanian god, in which case they may be tortured and killed without compunction. How is the show going to resolve these aspects of its world? Is Arslan going to reclaim his throne and simply free the slaves with no repercussions? Will the religion of the Lusitanians, as so memorably preached to him by that one escapee from his youth, have an impact on him?

As for Arslan himself, will his world harden him to his own sensitivity and kindness, or will his loyal bodyguard Daryun and brilliant retainer Narsus save the precious treasure that is a leader with compassion? What about the strange situation between Arslan and his parents? Is Arslan really his warmongering father’s son and legitimate heir to the throne? And that Lusitanian captive from the first episode: when will we see him again? Will he recall that brief moment of understanding between himself and Arslan, or will he drive himself to ruin the prince’s prospects?

I don’t know. But the show seems to have an idea of where it’s going. Each episode surpasses the last in terms of quality of writing and narrative tension. So The Heroic Legend of Arslan is absolutely worth a watch.

Where can I watch?

You can watch The Heroic Legend of Arslan streaming on Funimation here. The simulcast is updated on Funimation’s web site every Sunday at 5 AM EST. You will need a Funimation subscription in order to watch the simulcast as soon as it is available and without commercial interruption, but Funimation has a great backlog that makes the subscription worth it anyway.

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