Unpopular Opinion: Arslan Senki Season 2

Arslan Senki Season 2 is by far my favorite show of summer 2016.  I know a lot of people are way more hype about Mob Psycho 100, and for good reason it’s been fantastic so far, but Arslan Senki has stood out for me in particular because it’s the only prominent sequel of the season which hasn’t fucked up big time, something I went over in detail in my last post.  In fact, Arslan Senki season 2 adds a surprising amount of detail to the characters, world and overarching plot of the series despite being only eight episodes long.  Moreover the second season concludes it’s arc nicely and lays out everything needed to get a third season started.  Before we move on though I would encourage anyone, it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the show or not, to read my prior review of Arslan Senki as it will introduce the story for newcomers and give you all some idea of where I’m coming from.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Arslan Senki season 2 is everything a proper sequel should be.  It adds substantially to the pre-existing narrative, maintains a level of quality on par with the first season, and, most importantly, it doesn’t fuck anything from season 1 up.  Now all of those things seem pretty basic and obvious but if you’ve been watching many sequels lately you ought to know how often sequels fail to do all, or possibly any, of these things.  Its accomplishments as a sequel are already great enough to excite me, however I think’s also important to note the precise subject material that has been added.  Because what makes Arslan Senki season 2 work is how much less time is focused on Arslan, much like how the early episodes of season one were mostly dedicated to showing how quickly Pars fell once the rug was pulled out from under it.

Arslan and his group do some important things but Hermes and the royal court of Lusitania got a lot more time in the spotlight.  This is vital as it gives both Hermes and the Lusitanians time to develop and grow more nuanced.  Because that was what a lot of Arslan Senki season 2 was, making the pre-existing factions, world and story more nuanced and complex.  One of the things only shown in broad strokes in the later part of season 1, was that there was a lot of division among the main three powers behind the Lusitanians even without the question of Hermes.  In season 2 those divisions are made much clearer and the consequences of that division manifests in interesting ways, like Bodin destroying the aqueduct and leaving Ecbatana with a serious water shortage problem.  In addition we finally got a brief glance at to other nations mentioned but not shown in season 1, Maryam, the fallen ally of Pars and Turan, a hostile nation to the east.  But what I consider the most important additions to the show was the extra development of Hermes.  In season 1 Hermes was this one note, revenge seeker who was clearly going too far in his revenge, which was going to be his downfall.  He’s still this way, but season 2 adds some important details to his backstory, like how he was betrayed multiple times and egged on by the weird sorcerer cult seen in season 1 before he finally snapped and became the kind of guy he is, and even more interestingly that he has romantic feelings for someone, namely the exiled, blind princess of Maryam.  This is important because while it doesn’t change or break his overall character and methods, it adds depth to him and makes much more human, especially when the Maryam princess is introduced.  His quest for revenge is even more justified than it was in season 1 (not that that redeems him from going too far) and a potential marriage with the Maryam princess puts him an ideal position to claim not only Pars, but also Maryam as his rightful kingdom.

Meanwhile Arslan and his gang saved their nation’s major trade hub from corruption and a pirate problem but that honestly wasn’t that important.  Sure, in a big picture sense it was important for the war effort and it was something that needed to happen, but as it’s own story the saving of Gilan was something of a footnote, honestly Arslan’s achievements against the Lusitanians, Sindhura and Turan were far more impressive from a military standpoint and they added a lot more to Arslan and company’s character.  Season 2 was less about Arslan and more about allowing the rest of the world involved get on his level in terms complexity and depth of characterization, and laying the foundation for what looks to be a more substantial third season.  And I will admit that phrasing it that way does make it sound a bit boring, I mean it’s essentially a transition season in-between the first and third season, but it’s a powerhouse at getting things done and to be honest I think it’s very exciting to see a work spend some extra time adding in details and upping its game at the ground level because that tells me the people working on this thing care, it tells me this is not some cash-grab, but rather a serious attempt to bring the Arslan Senki manga to life in animation in it’s full glory.  Moreover I’m both a big fan of history (real and fictional) and I have a massive boner for world building, and this season adds a lot to the world building as well as making the historical aspects of the show more realistic and interesting.

However while the focus is less on Arslan and more about getting the rest of the story ready for the next, bigger season, there is one hugely important development for Arslan, namely that by the end of the second season he’s finally willing to go against his nominal father.  Season 2 made it abundantly clear that Andragoras is a better warrior than season 1 let on, and it also further showcased how pathetic he was as a king.  His escape and subsequent return to the throne should be bringing Pars’s army more morale than it has ever had and effectively nullify any lingering concerns about the proper successor of Pars for the time being.  However because he’s a dick, and to me at least appears unbelievably insecure and petty, he has left Pars’s army more divided than it’s ever been, lowered the morale of his most important generals and effectively thrown away all the talent that Arslan had amassed, talent which had seen Pars not only survive the Lusitanian invasion but even thrive despite the many threats it faced in it’s weakened state.  Now with the second season ending and what looks to be the final conflict coming soon in the third season (which is also hopefully coming soon), Arslan appears ready to stop taking his father’s shit and take the future of Pars into his unquestionably more capable hands.  This a pretty big moment for him personally, it will make things more complicated for Pars in the future and I think it sends a message about kingship that I find very on-point, namely that a king’s greatest skill should not be his physical power or the ability to craft a fearsome reputation but rather the ability to gather and earn the trust and faith of competent people.  What makes Arslan an ideal king is that because he has the loyalty of good strategists and warriors he can devote himself to ruling, to fixing the social problems and cultural divides that caused Pars to fall in the first place.  Meanwhile Andragoras is only good at fighting, a valuable skill, but not something particularly important to kingship.

All three royal members of Pars have been left in interesting positions by season 2’s end.  Andragoras has ostensibly the biggest army of the three and a secure base in Peshawar.  Hermes has a battle-hardened army, a potential royal spouse and the legendary sword of Pars’ founder to give him influence.  Arslan meanwhile has won the hearts and minds of people all over Pars and even some from other nations, making him the ideal king even if he doesn’t necessarily have the tangible assets and credentials of his competitors.  It makes me pretty damn excited for the war to come, especially with the Lustianians divided and the new king of Turan seeking vengeance against Pars.

All told Arslan Senki season 2 got a hell of a lot done in eight episodes.  Characters and royal courts have been fleshed out in more detail.  Important new characters have been introduced and new nations have made their debut.  There were action scenes big and small, intrigue, betrayal and it was all neatly tied up to set the stage for a bigger season to come.  And best of all it proved me wrong, twice.  I was initially a little bummed out with the end of season 1, with main complaint being, “why didn’t they just finish the fight for Ecbatana?”  That question was answered right away as season 2 opens up with an invasion from Turan which Arslan had to turn back and fight because Peshawar was currently more valuable than Ecbatana.  I was also concerned that with just eight episodes this season was basically going to be a pointless spin-off which wouldn’t be on par with season one, and as I’ve explained above I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I’m very much impressed with Arslan Senki seasons 1 and 2, and if you haven’t checked them out already, I would highly recommend you do so.

This next bit isn’t really all that important to the review but it’s something I wanted to touch on anyway.  I wanted to talk about the historical inspirations behind the world of Arslan Senki and what that could theoretically mean for the show.  Pars is based off of ancient Persia, the heart of which is modern day Iran, and though the map has been warped a bit, the map of Pars is mostly accurate to it’s real world counterpart, ancient Persia.  Pars appears to border what would be the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Arabian Sea in our world and this is fairly accurate, though it would mean Pars has control of Armenia in our world.  This would make Maryam a nation of steppe nomads but they look more like that world’s version of Armenians to me, which is in keeping with warped map, if Pars occupies land that would be Armenia, then Armenia could be shifted north and made into Maryam.  Sindhura is a bit weird because it’s inspired by India but the kingdoms terrain is desert not jungle. On that note Pars doesn’t seem too heavily influenced by Persian culture, it’s armies wear vaguely eastern armor and they have slaves but other than that they don’t seem rock an eastern vibe as much as Sindhura.  Turan meanwhile is a bit of mystery because it could one of several options.  Based on their name the most obvious answer would be that Turan is based on the ancient Turks, who were nomads before they settled in Turkey.  However they could also be Dahae, an eastern steppe nomad people or Parthia, which was a steppe nomad nation which eventually became more traditionally eastern culturally, and which would eventually become a major power in the Middle East.

The most interesting faction by far though is the Lusitanians.  Based on their wargear and zealotry it’s fairly obvious that they are based on the crusader armies of Europe.  However their name implies something different and it’s going to be important.  Thus far most of the nations of Arslan Senki are based on nations from the ancient world with Turan being the only exception if we assume they based on the Turks, who weren’t a prominent force until later.  Turan could also theoretically be inspired by the Huns which would be more period appropriate but that seems less likely to me.  Instead of crusaders, the Lusitanian’s could be based on the inhabitants of Lusitania, the Lusitani.  Lusitania was the Roman name for what is today Portugal, and the Lusitani were an ancient world tribe of Iberians.  Assuming that the world map of Arslan Senki’s world is mostly accurate to our own, as is the case for the region shown in the show, that would mean the Lusitanians could theoretically control as much territory as the Roman empire did in our world, they would after all be coming from west of Spain and gotten as far east as Iran.  Even if they went mostly in straight line and didn’t conquer as much territory to the north and south as Rome did, that’s still a staggering amount of territory to control, which means lots of resources and soldiers.  If this was in fact the case it would mean the Lusitanian’s are exponentially more powerful than Pars and could be bringing in even larger armies in the future.  This doesn’t guarantee victory of course, numbers alone don’t win wars and even if they did it’s fucking hard to win wars when you are far from your home base.  This is all drawn from a mix of historical knowledge and speculation of course, but how interesting would it be if it was revealed that the Lusitanian army that sacked Ecbatana was just a vanguard for a much larger force?  What would that force Arslan, Hermes and Andragoras to do?  Would they join forces, would they continue to fight?  Would they drive the Lusitainians out for good (the ancient Germans did something similar to Rome, they killed so many soldiers, a full 10% of Rome’s total military might, in the Battle of Teutoberg Forest that Rome just said fuck it and never invaded again), or would they fall, or maybe be weakened enough to fall to Turan or Sindhura?  The possibilities are endless and while it looks like none of them will actually happen, it is a fun thought exercise and something I very much wanted to get off my chest.  Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

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3 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion: Arslan Senki Season 2

  1. It wasn’t my favourite series of the summer anime season, and wouldn’t have been even if it was still going, but I enjoyed this sequel nonetheless. I have some major bones to pick with the series overall, but you’ve made some pretty good points here. Personally, I’m still not over the fact that we’re finally getting anime historical-fantasy material that’s not just a redo of every other generically European-inspired setting.

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    • I didn’t really expect this to be anyone else’s favorite of the season but I’m curious as to what you problems you have with the show. If you feel ok sharing I’d love to hear your thoughts, or if you’ve written about it already you can post a link in the comments. That said if you’re looking for other historical-fantasy anime not set in Europe, Katanagatari and Seirei no Moribito are shows I’d recommend checking out if you haven’t already.

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      • The biggest ongoing problem I have with Arslan Senki is with its female cast. Farangis gets little to no character development and seems mainly to be used as an excuse for nonsensical fanservice, Alfreed’s character development is more or less totally limited to her pretty random claim of being Narsus’ wife, and Etoile just pops up whenever it happens to be convenient for the plot. As much as I enjoy the series as whole, I’d say its treatment of the women of its cast is a fairly major flaw.

        I have watched both Katanagatari and Moribito and thoroughly enjoyed them both – but especially the latter.

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