The Heroic Legend of Arslan
アルスラーン戦記 (Arslan Senki)
ARAKAWA Hiromu (art), TANAKA Yoshiki (story)
Shounen – Action, adventure, fantasy, war, historical
22 Chapters / 2 Volumes (ongoing)
Crunchyroll / Kodansha USA
Arslan is the prince of Pars, a country with great wealth and slaves. He is surprised to learn some view slavery as a cruel, that all men are considered equal under the god Yaldabaoth. But when the followers of Yaldabaoth attack, Arslan must face many trials and decisions in order to reclaim his kingdom.
If you’re the type of person who loves the stories in JRPGs like Final Fantasy (particularly the older games), then this series is right up your alley.
Reviewing a manga adaptation is usually harder than reviewing an original series. Some faults and strengths may be because of the manga itself or a part of the original source work. The series is based upon a legend, and the author created The Heroic Legend of Arslan with inspiration from the original story and his own imagination. This series is also the second manga adaptation, so it has another level of complications.
Ironically, as I alluded to earlier, this actually feels more like an adaptation of a video game than a light novel series. Level 1 Arslan Class: Prince teams up with Lancer, Archers, and other party members to retake his kingdom. I can almost picture the boss battles. If Arslan was a game, then it feels like it’s still in the early stages. I feel like the full team is probably assembled, but Arslan has some leveling up to do in order to face the Final Boss and retake his kingdom.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan is set in a fictional version of the Middle East. This is a refreshing change from the Far East or Western period settings many manga and light novels choose. The topic of slavery is at the forefront, which is always a sensitive topic. This series chooses more to focus on “decent confinement versus freedom with difficulties” aspect. While this practice is abhorrent in modern society, to Arslan, it just seemed natural to not question it. In the first chapter, Arslan realizes there is much to learn. This makes Arslan a refreshing hero. He doesn’t go through some huge monologue about whether to believe the slave or not, and he does not immediately rebel against his country’s traditions. But it does plant the seed of knowledge into the prince.
Speaking of Arslan, I was worried he would be nothing but a crybaby, at least early in the story. He’s sensitive and wants his parents’ affections, but he doesn’t whine about it. He’s kind but also can’t turn his eyes away from the war. He’s not a typical hot-blooded shounen or JRPG hero. I really like Arslan as both a character and especially as the main lead. He’s not overly strong or confident but not horrible weak either, and that’s what makes his journey appealing.
Arslan’s companions have a couple of common tropes (loyal guard, cool beauty priestess, con man, etc.). They each have their own quirks that will probably end up being running gags. The brains, for instance, is evidently a horrible artist. The priestess is anything but humble about her looks. It’s the secondary characters that are far more complex. The readers are given relatively little insight into the inner workings of Arslan’s parents, but I’m sure their pasts will play a huge part in the story. (In many ways, their pasts already have.) Right now, the enemies’ motives are being revealed, but there are still a lot more mysteries that need to be unraveled.
The latest chapters seem to be introducing some fantasy elements. I think it’s kind of late to reveal that magic does exist in this world. I thought the art was hinting at magic, but I disregarded it as artistic license. It might not even play a role in the story, but there should have been more hints that this is a fantasy instead of realistic historical drama.
Also on the negative side, I had a heck of a time remembering the three kingdoms, capital cities, and titles. I wish there was more assistance in the story to explain the world. At the very least, the print volumes really should have some extra materials. I don’t know if this adaptation is just not doing a good job of explaining everything or if the original novels also lack proper clarification. But what gods/goddesses exist in Pars? What were the classes there? What are the differences between the two other kingdoms? I honestly cannot remember. Even while I was reading it, I just felt lost.
The art, like Hero Tales or Silver Spoon, takes some getting used to. Not because it’s terrible, but because the characters look so much like her mega-hit Fullmetal Alchemist. In the first volume, for instance, Daryun is drawn in full black when he’s attacking. I didn’t know if this was a design choice or if he was using some sort of darkness spell. Eventually, the characters start to look more like individuals instead of copies. Arakawa’s artwork is clearly laid-out and easy to follow. She uses a mix of small and large panels to add visual variety. Lots of greytones are used, making this look more like a black, white, and grey manga rather than a black and white manga. The shading is pretty impressive.
This is one of those tricky titles to translate. No honorifics are used. This makes sense, as this series obviously has Middle Eastern influences. So any Japanese verbal tics are downplayed or eliminated. The most confusing part is the titles (ranks) of the characters. I have a hard time remembering which ranks are higher and what each corresponds to. I thought maybe the print versions would include a guide, but no such luck.
It still feels like it’s a bit too early to fairly judge this series. It could introduce some interesting story twists, or it could end up on the path of mediocrity. I do think it shows a lot of promise, and I am looking forward to seeing Arslan grow.
The artist, as mentioned before, is well-known for her series Fullmetal Alchemist. She’s also drawn the adaptation for Hero Tales and is writing and drawing Silver Spoon. The latter is unreleased in the US in manga form, but the previous two are available from Viz Media and Yen Press respectively.
Am I the only one who keeps reading the main character’s name as “Aslan” and marzban as “marzipan”? Anyone?