Heroic Legend of Arslan (1991)
The country of Palse (a dead-ringer, geographically and culturally to ancient Persia) is embroiled in a war with the neighboring country of Lusitania and its religious zealots. The young Crown Prince, Arslan, begins a quest to reunite the shattered armies of Palse with his loyal general, Daruun, and a cadre of servants, commoners, and nobles, and he uses his charisma to forge alliances with neighboring countries in order to one day regain the land of his home.
Call this "Record of Bishounen War". The concentration of pretty boys in this show makes Fushigi Yugi look positively butch. From Arslan himself, to his advisors, to the bard who spreads his story throughout the land, you'd think that medieval Persia was populated by nothing but extremely beautiful men with not a single facial hair among them (except perhaps the old king Andragoras). A bit of a stretch from the luxuriantly bearded Mesopotamians who preceded them ... but hey, this is anime.
And this is an anime that appeals to bishounen fans, as well as fans of the oh-so-rare genre of historical fantasy. Surprisingly enough, the history and geography are logically presented and beautifully animated, with epic battles and tranquil gardens presented with a very high amount of gloss for an early '90s animation. Characterization is fairly well-done, as you can pretty much tell which bishounen is which, anyway. And Arslan himself is a likable character, if maybe a bit reminiscent of (an albeit quite feminine) Parn.
Man, are those men pretty.*
The music and soundtrack enhance the feel of the series, without resorting to the "ethnic" usage of sitars and tambors which would've felt tawdry in this setting. And the ending song for the second half of the series is a beautiful and lyrical expression of the feel of the series.
If there's one obvious drawback to the series, it's the obviously unfinished plot. By the end of the series, Arslan still hasn't acquired Ruknabard (the series's Excalibur), or regained most of the territory of his land. The relations with his neighboring countries, and their ambitions have yet to be explored and explained. And is Jon Bodan really using his "religion" as an excuse for conquest? Whatever happens to the beautiful Etoile, the enemy who catches Arslan's attention (if not possibly his heart)? Well, seeing as it's been years since the last installment of Arslan, we may never know. And that's a pity, because this series is actually quite interesting, if a tad slow for some.
Another drawback is the inconsistent English dub. For the first three tapes, the dubbing, for the most part, is well-done. The lone exception is Lajendra, the king of the Indian empire (as it were), who sounds like he shares the same VA as Apu from The Simpsons. ("Would you like a slushie?") But KSS waited until episode 4 to inform its American distributors that they intended the names to be different than they were originally translated. Arislan became Arslan. Daryuun became Daruun. And Gieve became Guibu. Sadly, this led to a much harsher and less lyrical sound to the dub, not helped by the almost complete change-over of the voice cast. Gieve sounded like a true bard, articulate and lilting, but not effete by any means. Guibu, on the other hand sounds like my uncle after a few too many cigarettes, strumming his guitar over a campfire. Not exactly the image we wanted ... not to mention that the dub in episode 3 mentions that Andragoras dies in captivity, when in fact, he reappears in episode 5. And there's no magic, much less resurrection, in this series. Oops. Of course, this can be avoided by viewing the subtitled version.
This would probably be a good time to mention that, while the manga is as yet unlicensed in North America, there's probably a translation or two out there on the Internet. If you find yourself enjoying this series and wanting for more, the manga is highly recommended, and unlike the anime, there is a definite sense of closure at the end of the manga storyline.
Despite its flaws and its lack of an ending, Heroic Legend of Arslan is definitely worth renting, if not outright buying if you're into this sort of genre. Of course, if you're a bit off-put by watching a gaggle of very pretty and somewhat effete men following an equally pretty and feminine prince into battle, then you shouldn't be watching this. And it's not exactly a fast-paced actioner either, with a lot of time taken in background, characterization, and general setting-up of the story. But for a good epic, Arslan fits the ticket. If only they made more.
And man, are those men pretty.*
Pure action fans should probably subtract a star or two. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Due to some violence and implications of torture, I wouldn't suggest this for small children (this is a war here), but teenagers should be okay. If there was brief nudity like the box cover implies, I must have missed it, because I certainly didn't notice anything worth mentioning. Anyone disconcerted by bishounen (you guys know who you are) also should avoid this. Otherwise, have fun.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, English dub; VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (6/6)
Heroic Legend of Arslan (1991) © 1991 Yoshiki Tanaka / Kadokawa Shoten / Movic / Sony Music Entertainment
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