By Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa. Released in Japan as “Arslan Senki” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
I must admit to being unfamiliar with the original Arslan fantasy novels this is based on. Published since the 1980s by Kadokawa, they also spawned a manga in the early 1990s, which ran in Asuka and was drawn by Chisato Nakamura, famous over here for many Harlequin manga adaptation\s. But now the series is being rebooted for a new generation, with the art being done by Hiromu Arakawa of Fullmetal Alchemist fame. This means that the action scenes are superbly handled, and also that our hero, Arslan, just happens to look like the child Ed and Winry would have had in FMA. Which is pretty much what you’d expect. If you hire an artist, you get their art style.
The story itself is about a fantasy kingdom that seems to be defined as “not quite Persia”, and its young prince who is having difficulty living up to the expectations placed on him, particularly since he doesn’t get much love from either of his parents. He does have some awesome advisors, though, one or two of whom even survive past this first book. After a prologue showing him getting into a prolonged chase with an escaped prisoner from Lusitania, whose country is a bit more democratic and less dependent on slaves than Arslan’s own, we move forward to seeing Arslan at 14 or so, getting ready to fight in his first battle, not knowing how much of a disaster it will be.
As you’d expect for a fantasy series, much of this first volume is devoted to worldbuilding, though there’s also some healthy character development. Arslan has a bit of a complex about wanting to impress his stern and cold parents, neither of whom seem to hold him in much regard – there may be an answer for that, it’s hinted later, as Arslan may not be the King’s real son. He’s the sort of nice, earnest, naive protagonist you enjoy seeing grow to maturity in stories like these. His main ally seems to be Daryun, who is also stern but actually cares about Arslan, even if he has to be prodded to do so on occasion by his father.
I imagine that the next couple of volumes will be trying to figure out how to retake the kingdom now that it has fallen, and attempting to reassess their enemies. The enemies themselves don’t get much of a look-in here – the child who drags Arslan around in Chapter 1 did not return, much to my surprise, in the battle. As for the masked man who appears to be the main villain, he’s driven by a hatred of the King (who, I will admit, is not a caricatured bad King/bad father as I’d expected – he’s a decent King who likely is aware his wife is having affairs and that Arslan isn’t his, and this galls him, as it’s also clear he’d do anything for her). Like a lot of Volume 1s, this seems to be mostly setup, but I’m definitely on board with what is shaping up to be a thought-provoking and exciting new action series.