"The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Original)" Revels in Camp, While Dabbling in Serious Themes
Directed by: Mamoru Hamatsu (episodes 1-2, 5-6) Tetsurō Amino (episodes 3-4)
Rating: PG-13 Studio: Animate Films (Episodes 1-2) J. C. Staff (Episodes 3-4) Number of Episodes: 6
If you can't nail it, run with it. Adapted from a 1986 manga of the same name, "The Heroic Legend of Arslan" comes from an era where dubbing and animation standards were much lower than they are today.
That's not to say that "Arslan" is bad, far from it, just the anime never quite hits the serious yet visually stunning goal it set out to achieve. Set in the fictional kingdom of Pars while it struggles with neighboring Lusitania, the anime documents the exploits of the Parsian Crown Prince as he learns what it means to be a leader.
As is typical of anime of this nature, "Arslan" delivers on interesting, likeable characters, the foremost would have to be Daryun (dub: Steven Pacey, sub: Kazuhiko Inoue), a Pars official stripped of his rank by the condescending King Andragoras (dub: Douglas Blackwell, sub: Akio Ōtsuka) sworn to protect Prince Arslan (dub: Ben Fairman, sub: Kappei Yamaguchi) at all costs. Accompanying them are Narsus (dub: Daniel Flynn, sub: Kaneto Shiozawa), Gieve (dub: Timothy Bentinick, sub: Kazuki Yao), Ferangis (dub: Pamela Merrick, sub: Masako Katsuki), and Alfreed (dub: NA, sub: Kumiko Watanabe), a tactician, musician, priestess, and bandit respectively.
At first glance, Arslan's enemies are clear cut. Pars is at war with Lusitania, a country fueled by religious fanatics. Their figurehead changes this. SIlvermask (dub: NA, sub: Shūichi Ikeda), better known as Prince Hermes, is the rightful heir to the kingdom of Pars, and was legitimately wronged by Arslan's father, Andragoras.
This leads to a unique conflict, as although Silvermask is the rightful heir, and by the laws of television should receive retribution, Prince Arslan is the more appropriate choice for King. Throughout the OVAs, Arslan condemns the ways of his father, favoring to create a society in which slavery does not exist and all his subordinates have a say in the inner workings of the kingdom. In short, the audience sympathizes with SIlvermask without wanting him to succeed in his quest.
Part of the fun of these OVAs is just how close they get to making a dramatic mark. This might be a case of lost in translation, a the dubbing is alright for the time, but is shamed by today's standards, though the quality of animation also plays a part. At first glance, it feels like a first attempt at an anime (a good first attempt at that), but lacks the patience and maturity an older production team might have had.
That is not to say the OVAs dramatic messages don't ever hit their mark, or what they tried to do is not noteworthy. In fact, that is where most of the enjoyability of the series comes from: knowing what message the filmmakers are trying to get across and how they goofily misstep it be it through a poorly delivered line, a jarring cut, or a camera angle that didn't quite translate well in animated form.
The narrative structure is also something to talk about. It surely is not predictable, which adds value to the series. It makes you wonder where the creators were intending to take the series, given it ended in a way that resolved almost no major plot points, and left Prince Arslan particularly vulnerable (not having the support of Pars or Lusitania, with less than reliable allies). Hopefully the 2015 series can at least partially explore that, if it indeed chooses to go down much the same narrative road. Though the original "Heroic Legend of Arslan" series is by no means a masterpiece, its's certainty worth checking out for anyone interested in animated fantasy.