HeroicLegend of Arslan, Volume 1collects the first four issues of Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa’s2013 manga adaptation of Yoshi Tanaka’s light-novel series, TheHeroic Legend of Arslan.
Whenwe first meet young Arslan, he seems unlikely to figure in anylegend, much less a heroic legend. Though he is the crown prince ofPars, he is timid and unsure of himself. He’s certainly not aself-assured, bold figure like his father, Andragoras III. Asconfident off the battlefield as he is on it, Andragoras III is theembodiment of Parsian virtue.
AndragorasIII crushed the fanatical Lusitanians the first time the absolutemonarch met them on the field of battle. No surprise, given Parsianmartial prowess and the unfamiliarity of the fanatical Lusitanianswith Parsian tactics. The only setback, post-victory, was theLusitanians’ odd reluctance to be enslaved; rather than bend theirknee to their new owners, almost all of the prisoners killedthemselves. The lone exception was one young man, who managed toescape by (briefly) taking Arslan hostage.
Thesecond war should be, the king believes, as one-sided as was thefirst one. It will be a fine opportunity for fourteen-year-old Arslanto get a taste of battle. Andragoras is entirely correct. Theconflict to come will be entirely one-sided. Andragoras’ arroganceand lack of imagination prevent him from ever entertaining the ideathat the Lusitanians might have learned something from their firstwar, They might have taken steps to circumvent Parsian strength andtactics. Might even have some Parsians on their side.
Fiftythousand Parsian soldiers pay for Andragoras’ lack of vision.Arslan is left alone on the battlefield, surrounded by thousands ofLusitanian soldiers.
Ifthere’s one thing that this series teaches us, it is that if one ispart of an army being led into an obvious trap by someone convincedof victory, try very hard to be the title character. A number ofcharacters that have been fleshed out enough that the reader may careabout them do not make it past the encounter with the Lusitanians.And … if you cannot be the title character, do your best to be hisloyal bodyguard. Just not the sort of bodyguard who is bisected bythe Big Bad, thereby establishing that the Big Bad is a legitimatethreat.
AlthoughArslan and his people draw on Persia for inspiration, the Lusitaniansappear to be based on Frankish Christians from a much later era.Cruel fanatics for the most part, the Lusitanians are convinced theirone true god Yaldabaoth1 gives them license to murder their wayacross the world in search of treasure. There’s one nuancedLusitanian character (the boy Arslan inadvertently helps escape); hesees Parsian society as intolerably hierarchical and thus alegitimate enemy. Other than that, there’s not much evidence thatthe Lusitanians are anything but Lawful Evil.
Ofcourse, Pars may seem like a pretty sweet place from Arslan’ pointof view, but he’s seeing it from the perspective of a crown prince.The Parsian economy is based on slave labour. Andragoras’ badtemper (combined with absolute power) have reaped a bountiful crop ofexiles, at least two of whom have deserted to Lusitania.
Havingread four volumes ofLegend of Galactic Heroesand nine 3‑in‑1 volumes ofFullmetal Alchemist,which were penned by the creators of thisseries, I can see elements of the earlier series in this one2. Orperhaps it’s that Arslan’s dash of humanism and moral ambiguityappealed to Arakawa — at least appealed enough for her to take on theproject.
WhileI would guess that this series will not appeal to me quite as much asFMA did, I will certainly seek out more volumes.
1:Which my spellchecker wants to correct to “blood bath”. Given theYaldabaothiancustom of slaughtering pagans down the youngest infant, that’s apt.
2:Elements that include Tanaka’s almost David Weberesque love of bodycounts. High body counts.