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2015’s The Heroic Legend of Arslan is the tale of the early days of a young prince of a recently conquered kingdom as he builds an army to take back his home.

[This article contains spoilers for both The Heroic Legend of Arslan and The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance.]

This season’s The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance continues the story as, on the eve of Arslan’s triumphant march to retake the capital, his father (the king) escapes prison, takes charge of the army, and sends Arslan into exile.

The first season of Arslan is a 25-episode epic featuring numerous battles and adventures across Arslan’s war-torn country. Dust Storm Dance, in comparison, is a meager eight episodes. While the main plot–the exiled prince and his friends attempting to raise an army by fighting pirates and corruption in a southern port city–is more of the fun you’d expect given the first season, it is the episode-long portions that don’t focus on the prince and his friends that are the most interesting.

The first of these plots deal with Hilmes. Hilmes is Arslan’s cousin and the rightful heir to the throne. After barely escaping an assassination attempt at the hands of Arslan’s father as a child, Hilmes is raised in exile–only to ally with neighboring enemy nation Lusitania in his bid to take what should have always been his.

In the first season of Arslan, Hilmes is shown to be the antithesis of Arslan. He is a classic feudal ruler: he feels that all of his subjects should serve him by divine right. He is simply better than everyone else, so they should serve him unquestioningly. He has no qualms about sending even the most loyal soldier to his death. He cares not for human life but only for how useful a person is as a tool for his cause.

Compared to the progressive Arslan–a man who is pained by every death in his name and plans to abolish slavery upon taking the throne–Hilmes is a monster. Dust Storm Dance does the important step of humanising Hilmes by showing that there is, in fact, one person in the world he cares more about than either himself or his revenge: the blind princess Irina.

Horrifically burned and in exile, Irina (an exiled princess in her own right) was Hilmes only companion–and one who obviously didn’t care about his scarred face. Before beginning on his road to revenge, Irina was the one person in his life who genuinely loved him. In fact, upon meeting her after years of separation in Dust Storm Dance, he refuses to admit his identity to her. He feels that until he is king–returned to his rightful status–he is unworthy of her. A shocking idea coming from perhaps the most egotistical character in the entire story.

As the story nears its conclusion, Hilmes even throws away his long time military relationship with the Lusitanian invaders the moment they turn their swords on Irina–who, in all fairness, tried to assassinate their king. He even breaks the promise he made to himself–to keep Irina away until he is king–when it becomes clear she is safest by his side. While it always seems in the first season that it is rage alone that drove him, it’s now clear that his love for Irina is nearly as powerful, if not more so. It turns Hilmes from a one-note villain into a more well-rounded character with a possibility for redemption.

The other non-Arslan related portion of the story focuses on Etoile, a member of the invading Lusitanian army and a girl that shares a special relationship with Arslan. As a child, Etoile was captured and made a slave–only to escape by using Arslan as a hostage. While she never knew he was the prince–and Arslan likewise didn’t realize she was a girl–the two meet numerous times over the first season.

It’s only right near the end of the season that all is revealed between the two. Yet despite being enemies, the first season ends with Etoile finding herself unable to hate him–despite her religion marking him a heathen.

Etoile is a righteous person. She truly believes in the dogma of her church and the divine goodness of her king. While many of her fellow soldiers pay lip service to the holy book of their religion, she lives by its rules, striving to be moral in all things. When faced with Arslan, a good man who is a non-believer, there is only one possible way to reconcile her beliefs with her growing affection for him: convert him.

At the start of Dust Storm Dance, she (along with the Lusitanian civilians and wounded soldiers that Arslan has captured) is set free as Arslan and his army head to confront a far-away threat.

It is now that Etoile first gets an objective look at the darker side of her people. When she left the captured capital, the city was still a thriving hub of trade. Upon her return, the streets are bare and the citizens starve–along with her fellow invaders, for the most part. Despite her best efforts, she can’t even care for her small band of former captives going through the normal channels. It is only through Arslan’s gift of hidden gold that they pull through.

But while Etoile may believe in the divinity of her king and the rest of the royal family, they are anything but. The king is kind but a bumbling fool, and the king’s brother is finally ready to become king himself. With her devoted nature, Etoile is tricked into being part of a plot to kill the king–and Etoile is set to be executed so as to eliminate her as a witness. Through luck more than anything else, she escapes, but has to face a hard truth.

Etoile is at her lowest point. She is branded a traitor, her king is a captive, and she is being hunted for the knowledge she holds. All she is left with is her faith: her faith in God, her faith in her king, and, most importantly, her faith in her one true friend, Arslan. Left with no other options, she travels to Arslan and asks him to take his newfound army to save her king.

She knows that the royal family is corrupt and that her countryman’s presence is only hurting Arslan’s people. So it is clear to her that the right and noble reward for the rescue of the king would be for her army to return to Lusitania.

However, Etoile is just a lowly knight. She has no power to make any promises. But she truly believes that her king, as a holy man, will see things her way. Herein lies the irony–irony that Etoile may only notice on an instinctive level. It is the man who is supposed to be her holy enemy that devotes himself to doing the right thing, not her king.

While Arslan finds an excuse to grant her request, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time until her faith and the reality of her situation collide. Arslan has made it clear that he won’t convert (though he has no problem with the religion being practiced by others), yet he is the embodiment of her ideal king. This looming unresolved conflict makes her character limitlessly interesting.

By spending such a large amount of time on Etoile and Hilmes, The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance does a phenomenal job at using its limited runtime to its fullest. With these developing characters and the show’s cliffhanger ending, the next chapter of the Arslan saga can’t come fast enough.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance airs for free in the US with English subtitles on FUNimation.

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