What They Say:
Pars Era, the year 320—war is on the horizon. As the soldiers of Pars prepare for battle, a traitor within their ranks turns the tides in favor of the enemy kingdom, Lusitania. Arslan, the young Prince of Pars, survives the massacre to discover that his father has gone missing and his life is in grave danger. Unsure who to trust, Arslan escapes the battlefield, evading capture until he’s found by his loyal friend Daryun, the formidable Black Knight of Pars. With nothing but Arslan’s title and Daryun’s skill, the pair set off on a journey to return the Prince to his rightful place on the throne of Pars.
The audio presentation for this series is definitely well done as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo and the English dub in 5.1, both of which are encoded with the lossless Dolby TrueHD codec. The 5.1 mix definitely takes things up a notch, not so much in directionality and placement but rather with the overall impact. The sound of the horses and other battle elements have a stronger feeling throughout this as it plays out, making you feel the bass a bit more and giving the scenes greater strength. Both mixes handle most of the swordplay aspects well and the thwip and thunk of arrows works really well, too. Dialogue is strong overall with some very clean and clear moments to it and placement is solid throughout as there are generally a few characters around at a time digging into things as the narrative shifts focus. There may not be any huge standout moments but it’s a very strongly designed show that comes through without any problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes in this collection are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by Liden Films and Sanzigen, the series is one that looks quite good overall with some very appealing animation and character designs. That generally comes through well here with a clean look to the characters while the CG animation has a very good look in handling the troops and all the detail there, which the transfer handles perfectly. The series has a mildly muted design to it overall with what it does but it’s got some nice pop of color here and there and finds areas to really stand out. Some of the backgrounds show a bit of the gradients that exist in how the series was animated, which can be more distracting in the darker and late night scenes, but it’s not somethingn that’s a constant.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the four discs from both formats on hinges. The release also comes with an o-card that replicates the artwork from the main case but with a better cardstock that gives it a richer color palette. THe look is one that uses the familiar key visual of Arslan and Daryun together with an ornate framing of gold over the purple that fits the tone and atmosphere of the series very well. The back cover carries this design overall and places the summary of the premise in a nice design that takes up most of the real estate here while also including a breakdown of the extras. The shots from the show along the right are small but good and we get a standard technical grid along the bottom that’s mostly readable as it’s done with the gold text over the purple. While there are no show related inserts here we do get a reversible cover where the left side has Daryun and Narsus together in an action pose while the right side has a great image of Arslan and a helmed Daryun together.
The menu design for this release goes for the simple approach with what it wants to do as we get the image from the cover set against the full screen in static mode. With the clouds and the bits of flames the wisp about it has a very serious feeling to it but with a moody aspect that definitely works well. The logo is kept to the upper left with a simple font while the navigation along the bottom works the same color design as the cover with the gold and purple. That works well as both the main menu and the pop-up menu and everything works really well in moving through the menus as it’s smooth and problem free.
The extras for this release are fairly standard overall but certainly welcome. Original to this collection is the inclusion of two English language commentary tracks from the staff and cast of the show as they dig into their characters and the fun of the project itself. We also get a good collection of commercials and promos from the original broadcast run as well as the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
With some adaptations done before, this incarnation of the Heroic Legend of Arslan is based on the manga series by Hiromu Arakawa, which in turn is based on the original and still ongoing novels from Yoshiki Tanaka. Arakawa’s manga adaptation certainly is doing well, even at the slow pace that it’s working, but with fans interested in anything they do after things like Fullmetal Alchemist and Silver Spoon, getting into this adaptation is easy. I’d seen the original OVA series years ago and that didn’t make much of an impression on me so I was definitely curious to see how this one would turn out. Thankfully, based on the first half of this first season, there’s a whole lot to like here as it tickles a particular fancy that’s largely underserved within the anime realm.
The premise is straightforward enough as we’re introduced to the kingdom of Pars, a strong nation that has conquered a lot and has numerous allies nearby that it has strategic alliances with. It’s led by King Andragoras as he’s one of those strong and serious types. His reign has been one of violence to be sure but Pars itself and many of its neighbors have a sense of safety because of that strength. The main rival is the kingdom of Lusitania which has a strong religious side to it where anyone that doesn’t worship their god are heathens and often simply executed because of it. That makes them a bit one-sided at first but we do see some nuance starting to creep into them during this first half of the season. The familiar setup is here for the kingdoms and layouts and how all the action works with the cavalry and foot soldiers and so forth. And we also get a bit of intrigue that you know will come back as Andragoras’ past involves his queen who was betrothed to two others, his own brother included, and that lead to a death in the family and some simmering anger.
Within this framework we’re introduced to Arslan, first as a young boy and then as a young man of fourteen. The initial view of him at the younger age is someone disconnected from the real world but that comes from his being kept to the castle and away from many things. This gets a little more complicated as we learn later that he was actually raised outside the castle until his wet nurse and guardian were killed and he was brought inside instead. Since then, he’s been separated from the outside and has little love given to him by the Queen mother or his father. But his youthful and positive outlook aids him as he works to train to become a better warrior but does so under the shadow of the King and his belief that his father will rule for decades to come. After all, Andragoras is essentially a legend in his own time with what he’s accomplished and the battles he can claim victory overall. You can see much of how this will go and while that predictability is baked into the show it manages to work out pretty well.
Arslan’s first foray into the battlefield goes disastrously as a young man of fourteen and it’s at a time when the Lusitanians have made great inroads with neighbors of Pars and have brought the fight right to their front door almost. It’s a chaotic piece that throws a lot of the players around, such as Arslan’s primary weapons teacher in Vizhir and his good friend and strong warrior Daryun, but it’s little surprise that the end result of that second episode battle is a breaking of the ranks, a seeding of dangerous rumors about the King, and the actual supposed death (and kidnapping) of the King who fled. That we get Arslan and Daryun on the run at this stage is no surprise either as everything is a mess and it’s uncertain who to trust, particularly since one of those leading the charge for the Lusitanians is a man named Kharlan, a strong advocate of the King’s who has turned sides based on conflicting information about who has the true right to be called the king and inherit the throne. Loyalties are strong in some ways but can also be bent and twisted with surprising ease depending on the kind of force employed.
Considering the source material, you know there’s a lengthy journey ahead with some neat moments and events to happen. But this is the start of things and it has to build, which in a lot of ways reminded me of parts of the Berserk series to some degree. Arslan’s journey with Daryun to figure out what’s going on has them looking for some allies and that comes at first with Narsus, a strategic genius of sorts who left the court three years earlier. His story is intriguing as his past is varied and painful in the lessons he learned that has him working as smart as he is now. Narsus and Daryun certainly have some history together that makes them fun to watch but also simply because Narsus has his own quirks, such as being a painter of questionable content. His introduction also comes with a page of sorts that’s very devoted to him named Elam and this four coming together over the first half dozen or so episodes is spot on in standard but well done group building.
As they go forth to discover more of what’s going on and the state of the fight with Lusitana, we also get treated to other characters that will join, such as the minstrel Gieve that spent some time in the capital city before it fell and saw what happened there. His journey has him discovering some key things about the Queen and how she’s being treated but he also comes into contact with a priestess of Mithra who has been sent to help the young Prince Arslan. While she provides the only main female character of note as the Queen is a very peripheral player, it’s unfortunate that she’s basically dressed up in a few bandages and a cloak as her costume design. She provides for the fanservice and sexuality for the series in a way that’s totally not needed here. She’s also an object of attraction for Gieve, but again, she’s just that – an object. Since he doesn’t know her and she reveals little it’s all about the physicality, which is certainly appealing, but it makes both of them come across weak.
One of the biggest appeals for me with this series is that does spend the time with a wide range of characters. Though I’m always a little leary of shows that throw up character names and titles when introduced as it means there’s going to be a lot of them, this one fills out its cast slowly and effectively and continues to revisit them. Though this is Arslan’s journey that will change the course of nations, it’s one where we’ll see what’s going on elsewhere and to see that some of these opponents aren’t truly villains in the classic sense. Their motivations come to light and we see the struggles they face. Though more attention is given to the motivating actor with the not-so-mysterious Silver Mask, an array of forces are given their due and the feel like involved players in this rather than just props brought in to bring certain scenes to fruition or to have a particular kind of scene play out for Arslan himself. There’s a solid fleshing out of the world that’s certainly reminiscent of Game of Thrones in a lot of ways.
To some degree I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this as I just had hazy memory of the old OVA series from the 90’s. And with it being based on the manga that’s adapting someone else’s novels, there’s something to be said for that as well. But what we get is a very strong opening for the series here that really does leave you feeling like there could be a half dozen two-cour seasons worth of this and that it would never get boring as the fights, politics, and intrigue plays out. The core group that comes together is fairly standard but the personalities help to separate it as does the very polished and secure execution of the property. This is the kind of show that definitely appeals for the genre it plays in and the serious focus with the right kind of Arakawa humor that sneaks in from time to time in all the right ways. I’m definitely a lot more excited for this show than I was originally and can’t wait to see more of it.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 2 Commentary, Episode 13 Commentary, Promotional Video, Commercial Collection #1, Commercial Collection #2, Textless Opening Song – Boku no kotoba dewa nai kore wa bokutachi no kotoba, Textless Closing Song – Lapis Lazuli,
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 23rd, 2016
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.