Manga Watch Reviews: The Heroic Legend of Arslan V.1
The Heroic Legend of Arslan V.1
The second manga adaptation of Yoshiki Tanaka’s long-running book series; The Heroic Legend of Arslan is set in a fictional version of Persia and follows the young prince, Arslan as he makes his way into his first battle at just 14, only to lose everything. He must then begin his journey to regain his kingdom. A long running series that began in 1986, this new manga adaptation is brought to us by the well-known Hiromu Arakawa; the person behind Fullmetal Alchemist.
To Read or Not to Read:
Read if the premise interests you.
(Taken directly from the back of the manga) In the prosperous kingdom of Pars lies the Royal Capital of Ecbatana, a city of splendor and wonder, ruled by the undefeated and fearsome King Andragoras. Arslan is the young and curious prince of Pars, who, despite his best efforts, doesn’t seem to have what it takes to be a proper king like his father.
At the age of 14, Arslan goes to his first battle and loses everything as the blood-soaked mist of war gives way to scorching flames, bringing him to face the demise of his once glorious kingdom. However, it is Arslan’s destiny to be a ruler, and despite the trials that face him, he must now embark on a journey to reclaim his fallen kingdom.
While the idea of a prince losing everything and having to regain it isn’t a common one, even less so in ’86 when Mr. Tanaka first came up with the story, it’s still a somewhat trite one in my mind. Moving past the overall uninteresting base, the story begins with Arslan, a talent-less prince of only eleven years of age. After being kidnapped by an escaped prisoner of war, a child of the same age, we get treated to some exposition which is a blessing. This bit of exposition not only helps to build the world, but also provides an opportunity to influence Arslan’s views. We don’t see it much in this volume, but I hope the possibility for an open-minded character is not utterly lost. If nothing else, the stage is set for a nice plot point. After some further events occur, we flash forward three years. Arslan, now a young fourteen year old, is still a bit shoddy with the sword, but he’s at least improved. He mentions to his trainer that perhaps his skills would flourish if he were given the opportunity to fight in a real battle. As fate, or plot convenience, (perhaps contrivance?) would have it, he is immediately blessed with a war. This war shows off several friends, foes, and possible future allies, before dumping Arslan off with one talented bodyguard. He must now begin the struggle to gain strength, find allies, and reclaim his kingdom. I’ll admit, I tend to read manga series in bulk, so only reading a single volume and creating a review of it is going to result in a little bit of harshness on my part. A single volume can’t really provide the detailed story that one would expect from a full video game, or tv show, or movie, like my other reviews. That said, however, a single volume should still be able to set up enough of a premise and world that the reader desires to continue with the series. This one manages that, but barely. Having read hundreds of manga series, I can say that so many of them follow a relatively standard formula, and because of that, unless they’re made uniquely or done well enough, they come off as stale and bland. Now, this series does have quite a few years on most modern manga but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a relatively new release and in this day and age, what may have been a good story twenty years ago can’t really stand on it’s own anymore. Now, does this manga have the potential to be excellent? Yes, but the first volume doesn’t show that well and because of this it strains the reader to be convinced to pick up a second volume.
The characters are relatively bland, without much depth or variety of emotions to them. You have the hapless but occasionally strong prince Arslan, the stern and intimidating king Andragoras, the honorable and skilled soldier Daryun, and the aloof and cold queen Tahamenay. Other characters come and go, but the manga makes it uncertain who will be of importance and who will simply die off. That said, though, due to the original book series being created so long ago I doubt this series follows the recent trend of “gritty manga” with anyone and everyone being eligible for death. Even so, though, with so little space per volume it’s hard to establish much depth with the characters. There are hints of larger things going on and more to the characters than is visible at first glance, however, such as how Arslan learns about the world from the child prisoner in the flashback at the beginning, or how there seems to be a great deal of tension between the king and queen. These are just hints, though, and apart from them, we really only see the one-sided boring stereotypes that these characters fall into, at least so far.
A lot of manga dialogue is awfully cheesy, but pleasingly the dialogue in THLoA resists that trend most of the time, with each line seeming to have a point and purpose. Characters speak in a way that displays their personality well, and helps to build up their character. The series also makes a habit of using Persian words and units of measurement, which is a very nice touch and adds to the cultural depth for the series.
The art style is done in Hiromu Arakawa’s signature style, which is a delightful blend of cartoonish youth and mature details. I was a little disappointed to see that her abilities at illustrating a variety of characters seems somewhat limited, however, as many of the characters appear incredibly similar to characters from Fullmetal Alchemist. After having read a great deal of Silver Spoon, Arakawa’s other work, I thought her unique character designs would be more prevalent. To be sure, Silver Spoon also features similarly designed characters, but not to the extent that Fullmetal Alchemist and THLoA does. Many of the characters are so similar that you almost want to call them by their names in Fullmetal Alchemist. That said, Arakawa’s style is still delightful, and the few shots we get of scenery in the first volume are detailed and lovely.
When it all comes down to it, regardless of any flaws the manga may have, it’s all about whether it’s fun and enjoyable. Overall, I’d say this barely scrapes by on enjoyment. The story doesn’t immediately grab you but the action is good and prevalent and the characters are likable enough to make you want to at least finish the volume. And by the time you have, they leave you with an ending that causes you to want to pick up the second volume, at least to see a bit of resolution to events of the first volume.
- Beautiful art style
- Hints of deeper plots than those that are immediately seen
- An ending with enough intrigue to make you consider picking up the second volume
- One-sided characters
- A lack of diverse character designs
- A plot that doesn’t instantly make you want to pick up the next volume
Despite the protagonist’s name sounding like a cross between a british slang term for one’s posterior and the lion from the Chronicles of Narnia, The Heroic Legend of Arslan has the potential to be an outstanding series despite it’s not quite so outstanding beginning. A somewhat lackluster beginning however doesn’t rule it out from your bookshelves, due to a very enjoyable art style and what seems to be a promise of more to come. If this series can grow from here, then I see no reason why this volume shouldn’t be a somewhat uninteresting beginning to an excellent experience for manga fans. With a story that’s been successful enough to spawn not one, but two manga adaptations and two anime film adaptations, combined with the art of a successful and well-loved artist such as Hiromu Arakawa, the series has definite potential, and it’s one to keep an eye on.