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Mr. Freeze Reviews Arslan Senki

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Mr. Freeze Reviews Arslan Senki

Post by Mr. Freeze on Mon Sep 19, 2016 3:26 am

Mr. Freeze Reviews:

Arslan Senki

(...and Arslan Senki: Fūjin Ranbu)


Anyone who is fond of dramatic science fiction or fantasy Japanese media has probably heard of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes novels by Yoshiki Tanaka, or at least of the anime adaptation that ran throughout the 1990s. The anime adaptation in particular is one that has held up well unlike its fantasy counterpart The Heroic Legend of Arslan, (or rather, Arslan Senki) which has not held up in consumer memory despite also having an animated series of OVAs around the same time. However, the Japanese "adaptation" of the Persian epic has once again entered a state of relevance in the animated industry due to Liden Films adapting the Arakawa manga in 2015. The manga caught up to the novels back in the 1990s and then introduced a manga-original ending.

Now that the 2nd season, Arslan Senki: Fūjin Ranbu, has finished up, I have already come out of this show with a fairly strong opinion on it, one that will likely not change much with upcoming seasons unless radical changes are instilled in the narrative or visuals. How does the current version of this epic fare?

The Concept in a Nutshell
In a fictional world based off of pre-Islamic Persia, the great Kingdom of Pars has stood strong under the rule of King Andragoras III. His son, Prince Arslan, is a meek and timid prince who displays too much kindness for his father's liking. All the same, he aspires to rule one day even as he goes out to speak to foreign slaves and attempt to learn more of the world around him. However, when the Lusitanian Empire invades with their holy crusade and seeks to overthrow the Parsian grip on the region, it is not long before Arslan is sent out to his maiden battle. The battle is a failure, with Arslan's father's fate unknown and Arslan forced to go into hiding as the enemy marches on the capital. It is from this low point, with only one knight to his name, that Arslan must build up a force powerful enough to reclaim his kingdom all while keeping his idealistic heart in the harsh world around him.

My score is broken up into 4 categories that add up to a potential score of 40. Letter grade is based on percentages akin to standard grading (i.e. 36 out of 40 is the lowest score for an A grade, 32 out of 40 for B, etc).

The Story
If video game analogies are to be allowed, then it could be said that Arslan Senki functions like an anime equivalent to Nintendo's Fire Emblem franchise, with a deposed prince pulling together a ragtag group of allies to take back his lost kingdom. Somewhat hilariously, the overpowered nature of more recent Fire Emblem characters also applies, as men such as Daryun are able to take out dozens if not hundreds of men on their own in these battles. Unfortunately, unlike Fire Emblem, this also sets up the audience expectation of most characters having a fairly hefty amount of plot armor. I mean, c'mon, are characters like Daryun really going to die anytime soon? It seems just as unlikely as a character dying in Soul Eater. This can be problematic for the viewer depending on their expectations (which are set fairly early on with the initial battle and its casualties), as war narratives that don't take death seriously skirt a dangerous line.

What is more likely to entice the viewer to continue watching is the political narrative that unfolds throughout the show. Arslan's growing campaign is occasionally put aside to demonstrate the power dynamics at the now conquered Parsian capital, and watching the imminent struggle between figureheads can be gripping for a time. The interactions between the Emperor of Lusitania, his brother who holds the real power, the Archpriest pushing for religious conversion and destruction of Parsian culture, and the mysterious masked general under the empire's command are interesting in that they are a carefully balanced scale ready to tip in any direction. Oftentimes the most interesting portions of Arslan come from this aspect of the story rather than Arslan's marching and campaigning.

That said, the plot dangerously teeters on filler at times, which can be frustrating for some. The second season in particular feels like half of it is filler, and this impression is strengthened by Fūjin Ranbu only consisting of 8 episodes. At the end of these "filler" stretches, one is able to recognize that changes have been made, even objective ones! Nonetheless, these minute changes are ones that will impact much later in the narrative and feel largely inconsequential to the initial reasons the characters set off in the first place.

The characters can also prove a mixed bag. While Arslan himself is fairly likeable due to his inquisitive nature and his gradual growth, other characters do not feel as though they are as three-dimensional. Each member of Arslan's party often has a quirk or running joke that usually dominates them on and off the battlefield, which can be off-putting for those seeking character-driven narratives. This, combined with the plot armor, can lead to irritation during Arslan's segments of the narrative. By Fūjin Ranbu, I found myself always waiting for Arslan's portion of the narrative to be done with for the episode so that it could return to the situation at the capital and the ongoing conflicts in the mainland.

The narrative overall becomes a push-and-pull of intrigue and irritation. Its characters are both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. How much interest you can garner from the world itself and the character interactions will make or break your enjoyment of the story. I give the narrative a 7/10.

The Visuals
Arslan's visuals are purposed to match the manga adaptation rather than any of the novel covers, and overall this can convey a bit of a tonal dissonance. This is especially apparent when the characters occasionally display chibi-esque manga faces for the grand total of 6 seconds every other episode. This is pretty damning for a war narrative, but the poor visuals overall really bring the show down a number of notches. Cinematography is mediocre, animation is nothing special, and it all comes back to the bane of my existence: the CGI. In this instance it is understandable that computer-generated armies are necessary, as animating hundreds of thousands of soldiers is simply ludicrous. Nonetheless, it is ugly looking and hampers the already unimpressive visuals. For the sort of stale visual appearance it gives off, the animation and art direction gets a 5/10 from me.

The Voice Acting
While the Japanese sub for Arslan Senki is perfectly acceptable (albeit translating Hermes to Hilmes in the subtitles is certainly strange), it's the dub that comes up as a bit of a disaster. I won't lie: my jaw actually dropped when I heard some of the voice delivery. For a 2015-16 anime, the dub really reeks of old '90s dub flaws, and not in a nostalgic way. Seeing Hermes being spoken as "Hilmes" in the dub was not something I was prepared for, nor was Narsus running his mouth off like he was an extra in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Sound mixing issues make it so that the dub occasionally has characters saying words that I didn't recognize, mostly because I couldn't hear them enunciate them over the soundtrack and warfare. I was going to give the voice acting a pass until I came across this dub, and now I cannot with good conscious give the voice acting anything higher than a 6/10 for hearing such a shoddy localization (as well as a translating decision on par with crappy fan translations). Stick with the sub if you choose to watch it.

The Soundtrack
The music of Arslan Senki was composed by Taro Iwashiro, who used the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra for recording the score. While it is a nice score, the actual recordings sound much better than the track mixed with the actual show. The overuse of some tracks definitely doesn't lend the score any favors, as I fairly quickly became sick of "Shounen Ha Soshite Ou To Naru" despite the piece itself being fairly standard and functional. A lot of the score's pluses become more noticeable outside of the show, which unfortunately doesn't aid the episodes in their presentation. In truth, the soundtrack tends to run together into two types of pieces: battle music, and emotional music. While this is fairly standard of any show, many of the battle scores run together with other battle scores, and the emotional scores do the same. You will not be remembering this soundtrack for years to come. The soundtrack gets a 6/10 for being serviceable, if not a little easy to forget.

Final Notes Before the Verdict:
As mentioned before, there are occasionally mixing issues with the sound, though I didn't know where to put them in terms of the review. I believe it was episode 2 of Fūjin Ranbu where the dialogue was especially difficult to hear due to serious audio issues. Sword clashes were louder than anything else, and the audio preferred misc. sounds > soundtrack > voice acting. Apparently this was fixed in later airings, but it's worth noting that this is the level of professionalism we're dealing with.

The Verdict
Arslan Senki receives a 24/40, or an D in my book. Only approach this if you're a diehard fan of fantasy war narratives and have seen all the rest, as the political intrigue is probably not worth visual tone shifts, one-note characters and subpar animation. Read the books instead.
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Mr. Freeze

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