The Heroic Legend of Arslan holds such a great amount of story telling that it hardly seems to be a manga but rather a retelling of an ancient story of feuds in a fictional middle-eastern world. Originally, this story was presented as a novel by Dr. Tanaka in the late 1980s, and the manga adaption does a wonderful job of conveying the elements of novels throughout the drawn chapters. Readers will quickly see the care that went into crafting the story.
Ecbatana is a capital city known for beauty, riches and splendor in the country of Pars, which is ruled by the undefeated King Andragoras. The young prince, Arslan, has not seen the likes of war until he is 14 years old. Despite of all his schooling, the prince lacks the talent to become a great and powerful king like his father. Arslan loses his home, the palace in Ecbatana, and the city itself when invaders rush in and wage war. Not knowing what is happening in his beloved city, the prince runs away with a couple close aides to eventually gather a small group of his own. They all work with each other using their individual talents and try to reclaim the country and thrown for their young leader, Arslan.
Politics play a major role within the storyline. Not only are the royal families fighting against each over for the claim of the Pars throne, but the religious groups are becoming involved, forcing the situation to become extremely dangerous for anyone opposing the ideas of Yaldabaoth. Anyone who does not agree with this faith is executed, and often tortured first, on the spot. Even converts are not taken seriously by the leaders of this religion. The reality of surviving in such a world is painfully clear. Many innocent people lose their lives either being brave or by being in the way.
A downside to this manga series is that the characters don’t actually grow as individuals. They seem to grow as units and gradually work better together over time, yet they each still hold onto their own flaws. Arslan is the only one who seems to alter as time goes on. He starts out as a young inexperienced prince and ends up a leader of a group, who is prepared to die to reclaim the kingdom. Over time, he learns the importance of his actions as a leader and future king, although he still retains his innocent ideals.
This manga pays close attention to the social classes within a kingdom from the slaves, to the military and royals. No class is left unaffected by the wars and invasion. Even small towns on the outskirts of areas are significantly attended to in the story. A major group that is of concern to Arslan is the salves. Outright freeing slaves after overcoming their owner, the prince believes he is doing good. Quickly, the issue of how the former slaves should survive once being freed is brought about during an uprising. They learn of their master’s death and are quick to grab weapons to kill the prince’s group. Their fear of losing the life they have known, (despite it being enslaved) is what leads to their violence. Narsus, one of the princes’ sworn aides, explains that those slaves were brainwashed and given shelter, clothes and food, no matter how meager the living they were used to. The future court painter not only teaches Arslan but the reader as well sees the consequence of freeing slaves without a means to teach them to support themselves in life. Most fantasy and historical stories discuss the evils of slavery, yet rarely do they speak of the reality of surviving after freedom has been granted. Including such a deep topic in a manga, even a manga adaption, is fantastic.
A few things are not addressed fully and are left a bit open ended. One such topic is magic in the kingdom of Pars and it’s neighboring countries. Magic in this fantasy is often referred to as a work of evil. Yet, the explanation for this has yet to be given in the series. Magic is wielded by those in the shadows and they use it for the purpose of killing. This alone may give the people of Pars reason to fear magic wielders. However, this short explanation leaves the readers wanting more.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan manga is slightly flawed, but it conveys a reality of waring countries in a fantasy world in such a manner that the story appears life-like. It is not for the faint of heart since the gore is blatantly shown, and the content material is harsh. For those looking for a novel-like story progression with a deep political and war ridden world, than this is the manga for them.
This manga is written by Dr. Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa and drawn by Arakawa-san. It is published by Kodansha and available for digital viewing through Crunchyroll. This manga series is also available in physical copies through book retailers.