First Look: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Alternative titles: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar
Light Novel Adaptation by A-1 Pictures
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

A bunch of Japanese teenagers end up in a beautiful fantasy world without their memories. It may or may not be a big video game.

Iro’s verdict: Exceeded Grim Expectations

We all expected this to be terrible, but it… wasn’t? Weird. Grimgar went in an unexpected direction by staying surprisingly grounded for a trapped-in-a-video-game plot, not straying into Sword Art Online‘s childish power fantasy nor Log Horizon‘s meticulous minutiae. Instead, it’s slice-of-life in a fantasy world with a bunch of beautiful background art. Everyone having amnesia and the focus on everyday life gives the introduction an almost Haibane Renmei feel, and allows us to ease into the state of things. In particular, I caught minor character details that normally wouldn’t warrant being animated: stuff like Haruhiro adjusting his grip on the knife, Yume holding her ponytail up while hanging from a branch or having her drink go down wrong, or Ranta fiddling with his spoon after eating. It goes a long way towards making Grimgar feel more comfortable and plausible.

On the other hand, juvenile light novel bullshit still rears its ugly head on occasion. There’s an entirely-too-long sequence with the group talking about Shihoru’s boobs, complete with lingering camera shots and skeevy girl-on-girl “skinship”. Speaking of Shihoru, her chest jiggles with every single movement she makes, which is so pointless that it’s embarrassing. Thief Guildmaster Barbara’s entire character design screams gross fanservice object. And, if the plot decides to go in too hard on the characters trying to go back to the real world, or if it goes too deep into game mechanics, then I could see the show collapsing in on itself from sheer dumb anime-ness. But for now, I’m keeping a close eye on Grimgar and hoping it’s the DnD slice-of-life we never knew we wanted.

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Aqua’s verdict: Sword Heart Online

Veteran readers of our site undoubtedly know of my virulent, long-standing, well-documented, and frankly rather embarrassing hatred for Sword Art Online, a show that to many of us still serves as the alpha and omega of everything wrong with mainstream anime. It’s no surprise, then, that it pretty much singlehandedly spawned an entire genre. Countless stories about average teenagers stranded in video games or worlds that work exactly like video games have reared up in recent years, all of them unified by the same penchant for artificial technobabble, mechanics that don’t exactly translate all too well to a non-interactive medium, and above all else, a relentless desire to sacrifice any and all decency and conventions of good writing in favour of puerile wish fulfillment.

Sword Art Online certainly wasn’t the first anime to play the escapism game, but it certainly felt like the first show to really consistently and shamelessly push an agenda of making its straight, male, geek audience feel good about itself by heaping endless privileges, opportunities, and victories onto its protagonist, not to mention crowds of nubile girls who’d gladly sacrifice their agency for his perfect blandness. All because he has the only ability the target audience feels they have that matters: He is good at video games. Dozens of stories have followed in Sword Art Online‘s wake, not all using the video game angle, but all using a move or reincarnation into a world many a nerd would want to live in as some kind of therapy, propagating the idea that you too, average, not even particularly pleasant to be around geek, can live the life of a hero, a perfect specimen of heterosexual masculinity, without having to lift a single finger. It’s lazy writing, not only because it exists solely to coddle sad, reactionary nerds and proclaim ideals that shouldn’t be supported at all, but also because it will gladly let this regressive pandering take precedence over the bare minimum of qualities one would expect a story with an ounce of respect for itself to have.

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At first glance, Grimgar seems to tick off enough of these boxes to warrant itself a one-way trip to the trash bin of my mind, with its characters talking of joining guilds, fulfilling quests and selling the spoils of hunting enemies. Yet Grimgar can’t be a gamer power fantasy if the characters don’t realize they’re in a video game, let alone if the attention is somewhat evenly divided amongst a clear-cut cast of contrasting personalities. It takes a tried-and-true premise and chooses to tell a story with it, rather than a series of loosely connected ideas designed to make its main character look as good as possible. Grimgar seems to be the story of what everyone else who got stuck inside a video game is doing when the main character is off dropping panties and saving the virtual world. Our main characters are essentially a group of losers, average people who suddenly have to survive in a world that works exactly like a video game, regardless of how familiar they are with games at all. It’s a far more interesting approach to the formula than the one espoused by Sword Art Online and many of its imitators, portraying the mechanics and typicalities of video games and fantasy as dangerous and difficult rather than as desirable. Combined with its slow pace and stunning eye for detail, Grimgar puts the humanity back in a genre all but defined by turning its protagonists into supermen.

It helps that this show just looks drop-dead gorgeous. Director Ryousuke Nakamura already built up a pedigree for himself with the far-prettier-than-it-had-any-right-to-be Aiura and his movie Nerawareta Gakuen, and Grimgar uses a similarly soft, muted colour palette, with the water-coloured, pencil-drawn backgrounds as a breathtaking standout. Nakamura has a strong sense for subtlety, with his excellent character animation telling us far more about a character than any ham-fisted exposition could. Even at its absolute worst — and don’t worry, it still gets pretty badGrimgar attempts to spin cringeworthy clichés into characterization. Sure, a one-off line expressing Shihoru’s crippling body image issues doesn’t quite make up for a good tenth of the show wasted on infantile banter about her breasts, and Yume standing up for her is ruined almost immediately by some subsequent skinship, but I can at least appreciate the effort. Especially seems it seems to fit in Grimgar‘s grander theme of ‘what if actual people ended up in a world defined by nerd conventions?’. Anyway, I must admit that a lot of the goodwill Grimgar is getting from the Glorio crew seems to be based almost entirely on how little we actually know about it. Where our characters come from, where they are, and where they are going; I could imagine a million ways in which this show could thoroughly shit the bed in episodes to come. Maybe it already has, and we just haven’t noticed yet because we were too distracted by how pretty it looks… But Christ, does it look pretty.

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Artemis’ verdict: Either My Taste Suddenly Took A Dive Or This Is Actually Good

Seriously, I just about had to pinch myself. Then again, the benefits of low expectations are that you’re sometimes pleasantly surprised – and in this case, it was a very pleasant surprise indeed. I’m not saying Grimgar is perfect by any means; having an overlong conversation about a character’s breasts right in front of her like she’s quite literally just an object (complete with bonus girl/girl fondling just to wrap things up), was a sour note in an otherwise excellent premiere, and the kind of fanservice that doesn’t even offend me anymore so much as make me roll my eyes and wish anime would just grow the hell up already. Other than that though, I honestly don’t have a whole lot of complaints. The art style is lovely and wow those backgrounds look great! The highly practical, slice-of-life feel of the piece is something I can definitely get behind as well, and all the little details that go along with that make it seem like the staff actually put some serious thought into the realities of the scenario. Exposition was mostly kept to a minimum too, yet I was left in no confusion about what was going on. Overall I think Grimgar shows a lot of promise. Whether it lives up to that or crashes hard is of course totally up in the air, but then again, that’s pretty much anime in a nutshell. Either way, a very solid first episode, sign me up for more!

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2 thoughts on “First Look: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

  1. I too, found this show to be a lovely addition to my queue. The graphics are stunning, beautiful, simply gorgeous. The music is also quite lovely. The characters are getting more and more likable. In episode 2, all the characters developed either personally, or the relationships between them developed. I also love the slice of life feel of this anime. If this was another SAO/Hack copy cat, then it wouldn’t have much to offer.

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