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The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1

Sorry for the slight delay with this weeks midweek manga review. Personal things got in the way, but hey, better late than never! This week I’ll be taking a look at The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1, but first…

And now, onto this week’s review of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1!

The Heroic Legend of ArslanThe Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1
Story by Yoshiki Tanaka, Art by Hiromu Arakawa
Kodansha Comics, 192 pp
Rating: Teen (13 +)

Loosely inspired by a combination of historical events and Persian legend, Yoshiki Tanaka’s The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a long running series of fantasy novels set within a fantasy version of the Persian Empire along this world’s version of the Silk Road. This first volume of the series tells the tale of young Arslan, a prince of the kingdom of Pars, as he witnesses the fall of his kingdom, and comes courtesy of a co-production between Tanaka and Full Metal Alchemist creator, Hiromu Arakawa.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with this series. While the franchise has been around for a while, and the novel series has hit a whopping 13 volumes, I hadn’t encountered it at all in the past. Sure, I heard of it and vaguely remember seeing the early 90s OVA on the shelf of Blockbuster, but that was about it. Thankfully what I found was a pleasant surprise! The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1 not only does a good job at introducing us to Arslan and the other important characters, allies and enemies, but it also crams in quite a bit of world building and sets up some themes of series, such as freedom and slavery.

The series opens and quickly establishes the chilly relationship between Arslan and his parents. No reasons are immediately forthcoming, though it’s clear that relations within the royal family are strained to say the least. Early on we’re also treated to a chase through the capital, involving Arslan and a young boy from a rival kingdom. This not only keep things moving along at a nice pace, but also serves to establish the prosperity of Pars, as well as giving us a glimpse into life within Pars and introducing us to the primary antagonists of the series, the kingdom Lusitania. Tanaka and Arakawa cram in quite a bit of information throughout the volume, with hints and allusions to a powerful dynasty that Arslan’s part of, explanations of the flaws of Pars as well as it’s place geographically and economically within the world the story inhabits. Along the way other characters are introduced and established, and it’s all done so effortlessly and smoothly that it rarely comes off feeling forced, unnatural or like an info dump. Arslan himself comes across as a fairly likable fellow who’s horribly unsure of himself due to the coldness of his parents. While he’s not much of a fighter, we’re shown he can take care of himself, but it’s clear that his real strength comes from his mind and his ability to empathize and question the world around him.

Having never read the Full Metal Alchemist manga, this is my first exposure to the work of Hiromu Arakawa and it’s not a bad introduction at all. Her artwork is clean and solid. If there’s a weakness it’s that her action scenes feel a bit stiff and overly compressed. This is something that changes from scene to scene though. A shot of a character charging through a crowd on horseback looks fantastic and feels dynamic, but another shot of the same character fighting on horseback a few pages later feels static, lacking any sense of movement or motion. The Middle Eastern influence upon the series is fairly noticeable in the visuals, with the desert lending itself to clean, empty backgrounds, along with certain clothing and armor choices that echo some of the historical motifs common to such items from that region. Arakawa’s designs do a nice job at reinforcing and conveying character and personality. Arslan is the best example of this. Tanaka’s written him as a more thoughtful character, one who’s not only unsure of himself but also unsure about the way things are in the world around him, and that comes through clearly in his design and mannerisms. The clean line work helps give him a very youthful, pretty boy appearance, but one that comes across as something that’s more a matter of genetics then choice. His internal conflict regarding the war, the treatment of prisoners and slavery are all evident on his face and it’s clear that he’s torn between wanting to please his family and his own conscience.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1 is a fantastic first volume. It’s a solid fantasy book that shows a ton of promise and is absolutely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the fantasy genre. The blending of pure fiction with historical myth lends it a certain weight that it might lack otherwise, and the slightly different setting gives it a slightly different flavor from other books like Vinland Saga. It’s definitely a book to look out for, and one that will hopefully pick up the following it deserves.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics.

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  1. October 18, 2014 at 10:00 am

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