I thought I knew who the antagonists were in this series going into this volume. You have Silver Mask, now revealed as Hilmes — son of the murdered King Osores, who was the secret power behind Lusitania’s invasion of Ecbatana and has a serious mad-on for its King Andragoras and (by extension) Arslan. Yet Andragoras isn’t on the side of the angels either, as he was the murderer of Osores, and his parenting skills are right up there with Gendo Ikari’s. There’s also Innocentis, the king of Lusitania whose girth is exceeded only by his foolishness. A recent arrival to the cast is Duke Guiscard of Lusitania whose association should mark him as one of the bad guys, but whose cunning and pragmatism make it hard for me to find any reason to dislike him.
As it turns out, the real antagonists here are outright villains — the fanatical followers of Yaldabaoth, Lusitania’s religion of choice. One of them, Bodin the priest, has been kind of a background character in the previous volumes sporting the wide-eyed look of a crazed zealot who enjoys nothing more than throwing infidels on a pyre. He gets a more prominent role after a fellow high-ranking member of his faith is murdered under mysterious circumstances and then demands that 10,000 infidels be slain as recompense. While this leads to some marvelous trolling on Guiscard’s part, it stops being a laughing matter when the Yaldabaoth Templars arrive in town. This group slaughtered 250,000 men, women, and children in their last campaign and they are determined to have the king see the rightness of their ways once again.
Bodin’s zealotry may come off as some over-the-top villainy, but it’s not hard to see how his kind of thinking would mellow out over a thousand years to the kind of religious partisanship we see in this country today. But that’s just my opinion. It does make me eager to see how the title character and his group will deal with these characters when they face off against them, even if it seems likely that they’ll be dispatched swiftly and decisively. You see, even if these fanatics of Yaldabaoth make for good bad guys, their one-sided villainy is out of place in a work from Hiromu Arakawa. It’s all just shades of gray as she showed us in “Fullmetal Alchemist,” though humanizing these crazies is probably too much to ask even from a mangaka of her skill.