Rule of Three Review, Fantasy Digest: Seraph of the End, The Heroic Legend of Arslan – Episodes 2-3

Sometimes it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

Both of these shows are firmly on my bubble, and no one is more surprised than me. I’d expectedArslan to be a season lock and Seraph to lose my interest, but neither’s been the case. More surprising still, if you asked me to rank one ahead of the other, I’d have to admit that thanks to solid some direction, animation, and acting, Seraph is doing a better job of winning me over thanArslan.

I know, you guys. It’s weird. This season is weird.

Seraph of the End (Owari no Seraph)

Seraph looked ready to throw itself off a cliff in its second episode, and the tonal change from melancholy post-apocalyptic dystopia to supernatural high school action-adventure (complete with bullies, snarky classmates, and warmhearted wimps) seriously should have set this one in the “dropped” category for me. The world is entertaining if not exactly original (vampires! monsters! contracted demon weapons!), but it’s also the sort of thing I absolutely cannot think let myself think too hard about, because it’s kind of incredibly stupid. The exposition is beyond clunky, which will maybe subside once the world has been established, but yeesh, is there some awkward dialogue in these two episodes. Plus, d’you guys know how much I usually dislike stories where dumbass, headstrong protagonists get rewarded for being headstrong dumbasses? Like, a whole lotta bunch.

…And yet, for all that, Seraph hasn’t lost me yet. There’s something to be said for stylish action sequences, gorgeous backgrounds, and skilled vocal performances that elevate fairly flat characters into likable individuals. Even the MC, who’s bullheadedness I would normally find insufferable, manages to come across as a stubborn but sympathetic teen dealing with a lot of past trauma thanks to the efforts of Irino Miyu (Cross Game, AnoHana). Studio Wit is executing a fairly dumb premise in a rather entertaining way, which makes Seraph quite good for what it’s trying to be (i.e., EPIC VAMPIRE ACTION DRAMA). If it starts to bore me, I’ll drop it. If not, I’ll put it in the “popcorn flicks” category and have myself a good time.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Arslan Senki)

I know there’s a vast difference between print and film, which is why I tend to not harp too much on “manga vs. anime” comparisons, but… Arslan the anime is having troubles where the source material did not. The challenge with this extended battle sequence is that we’re being asked to care about a bunch of people we don’t really know, but Arakawa makes it work in the manga mostly by depicting war as a chaotic, bloody mess, more like a horror story than a standard “action fantasy.” It drives home Arslan’s own sense of shock/trauma and loudly (if not vocally) argues against King Andragoras’s militant hyper-aggressive methods.

By contrast, the anime battles are clunky and plodding, often relying on still frames, and the constant shifts between cell and CG are noticeably jarring. I think there was an attempt here to do something more traditionally cinematic and “realistic” with shot selection and character movement, but there’s simply not enough fluid animation to pull that off, and it ends up laughably awkward and poorly paced at times.

Granted, the first episode looked and felt pretty good, so there’s a chance our creative team just doesn’t have a lot of experience with massive group action scenes. The story is going to zero in on a few individuals for a while now, and the adaptation issues may subside as a result. I’m going to give this one another couple episodes to see if it can handle small-scale better than large. But if things don’t start improving, I may have to press that stop button and go back to just reading the manga instead.

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