The Heroic Legend of Arslan will come out of the gate seeming formulaic to some, but benefits from incredible production value and humanizing character work. Arslan has a long history in the form of novels, manga, and anime. The newest iteration of Tanaka's fantasy epic is being rendered in manga form by the incomparable Hiromu Arakawa, of Fullmetal Alchemist fame. Arakawa's manga version of this over twenty-year-old tale is now being rendered as an anime, and it looks good: really good.
First off, some will recognize a lot of the character designs from Arakawa's work on Fullmetal. Just off the top of my head, the titular character's got an Edward Elric thing going on, the main antagonist of this episode has an Alphonse thing going on, and Daryun has a Kimblee/Greed mash-up thing going on. But focusing on this is a small quibble, particularly when Arakawa's specialty is designing characters that look human and react in a human way.
Which brings me to my next point: this series has already proven to me that it is going to get things right that Attack on Titan constantly screws up. (I will try to set aside too much bashing of AoT: buy me a beer sometime and I will rant about this for hours.) Both of these series have timid lead characters. Both of these series are going to feature the tumultuous times of an empire and what the young generation can manage to do about it. But where certain protagonists (*cough* useless Eren Yeager *cough*) swap back and forth from timid to angry then back to timid and back to angry, Arslan is just a little rich spoiled piece of shit who thinks he understands the world.
And that's fantastic.
Why? Because, as this episode did a great job of showing, Arslan is a young, spoiled prince who has a budding concern for justice; but, he has absolutely no concept of what justice really is. Other series that follow this formula of "oh no crisis and only kids can save the day and we need to time-skip and the main character is being a little bitch about everything!" constantly fail to plant this seed. If the main character is hard to like, a great way to develop that character is to flip what is shitty about him on its head. Arslan's Siddhartha-like encounter with the dead slaves at the end of this episode is prodding the viewer and letting them know that his naive sense of justice is about to get blown to pieces.
And the production value of this show is top-notch. Other than one awkward shot of some soldiers marching where the digital effects made it seem a tad robotic, the music, colors, movement, and-- well, everything about this anime gorgeous.
I thought that this episode was so good that it made me want to go read the manga. If that doesn't warrant a perfect score, I'm not sure what does: I honestly think the series could only go downhill from here, so let's set our expectations high.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan 1.1 - The Glory of Ekbataana Official Website