By Andy Hanley
With Liden Films and Sanzigen’s anime adaptation of The Heroic Legend of Arslan now airing in Japan (and streaming to the UK courtesy of Anime Limited of course), no doubt we’ll see some increased interest in the show’s source material, that being Hiromu Arakawa’s manga itself adapted from Yoshiki Tanaka’s on-going series of novels. The good news is that this manga is itself available legally in digital form on Crunchyroll’s manga service, with over twenty chapters available in English at the time of writing, so this seems like a prescient time to build on Andrew Osmond’s discussion of the origins and outline of The Heroic Legend of Arslan and take a look over the manga itself.
Hiromu Arakawa is also the author of Fullmetal Alchemist, although even the briefest of looks at The Heroic Legend of Arslan will probably tip you off as to that fact – Arakawa’s style and character designs are a perfect fit for this story based in a fictionalised 19th century, and if we’re honest the titular lead character of the series wouldn’t have to work too hard to cosplay as Edward Elric if he so desired!
Arakawa’s abilities also match well in terms of story, with plenty of shades of grey to play with concerning its cast and their goals and motivations. The world of Arslan might not be filled with alchemy and magic (save for a reference or two around the edges of its story), but there’s an assured confidence to Arakawa’s world-building that matches that of Fullmetal Alchemist – admittedly it has a lot of information to pack into its first few chapters in terms of the nations and politics involved which can make it heavy-going initially, but it soon finds its flow and only becomes more compelling from that point forth.
Indeed, save for those early events the pacing of Arslan is nigh-on impeccable – fast-moving but still willing to make time to consider its characters and their circumstances when the story requires it, switching seamlessly between weaving its cast into the narrative and delivering kinetic, thrilling and visceral action scenes. Again, Arakawa’s prior experience clearly counts in her favour here, as she’s uncompromising in her illustrations of a world where brutal death and torture are a hazardous aspect of everyday life for the soldiers and slaves who reside within it, while even their superiors aren’t immune from a bloody fate at the hands of another. More simply put, this manga is not for the squeamish, with decapitations and impromptu amputations in one panel and an arrow to an unfortunate head the next; even with all of this bloodshed the violence rarely, if ever, feels gratuitous.
Even within its framework of war and the aftermath of a particularly brutal clash, there’s still room for some wonderful moments of comic relief – again in keeping with her work on Fullmetal Alchemist, Arakawa knows when to lighten the mood or break the tension with a well-placed gag or moment of humour, and it’s another aspect to this manga that really makes it stand out from the crowd as an entertaining work as well as one with a carefully crafted and engaging story to tell.
With such strong material to work from, there’s a lot to look forward to from the anime adaptation of the series, while the manga itself is well worth your time whether you’re a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist or simply hungry for a great story in a pseudo-historical setting.