Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: Episode 2

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“Long Day of the Trainee Volunteer Soldier”

Sundays at 11:30 am EST on Funimation

Starved for cash, the party heads out on another goblin hunt. It doesn’t go well.

Aqua’s thoughts

Still baffled by just how shockingly good Grimgar turned out to be, I ventured to find out whether its quality is all on the adaptation, or if the original light novel was indeed the exception that confirms the rule. It took me all of five minutes to find out. According to some highly trustworthy sources (read: some guy on Batoto), the anime is taking some serious liberties with the source material, and indeed, a mere look at the translation of the light novel was enough to confirm my suspicions…

Whether it was by chance or not, Shihoru’s words echoed exactly what Haruhiro was thinking. And probably not just Haruhiro either. Ranta, Mogzo, Manato, everyone was probably thinking the same thing: ‘Big, round, and adorable…’ Just what exactly did they look like?! He couldn’t even imagine…

“Yes, adorable. Can I feel them, just a little?”
“Th-that’s, ah, tha—umm—wha—ohhhh…”
“Wow. I had a feeling they would feel really good to touch, and they really do!”
“Wait—ahh… nyaaa…”
“‘Nyaa, nyaa’ you sound like a cat, Shihoru.”
“Y-Yume, please… don’t… please don’t touch… there…”
“They go boing-boing, BOING-BOING…”
“P-please don’t… It’s e-embarrassing…”

Remember kids, sexual assault is okay when it’s girl on girl! But don’t worry, Yume asks permission before she goes any further.

“But maybe just try to give them a little lick? Here…”
“Uhh… B-but…”
“But it’s okay to take a big bite too… maybe around this spot? Here, just a little taste…”

What was going on? What was this? Haruhiro stepped away from the door and shook his head. This was no good. No good. No good at all. What were Yume and Shihoru doing in there? What was happening? His imagination was running in all sorts of directions. Were these the sorts of conversations girls had when boys weren’t around?

The author sure wishes. But yeah, don’t remember this ever happening in the episode we’re supposed to be talking about? Allegedly, this hot garbage is what Ranta and the other dudes witness when spying on the girls in the bath house, which the particularly eagle-eyed among you may have noticed never actually happens in the anime. In stead, the other guys discourage Ranta from being a flaming creep, and the pervert gets his ass handed to him on a silver platter by a (slightly) less touchy-feely Yume, who remains wistfully off-screen for the entire scene… at least until the obligatory OVA comes out. The rest of the screen time a lesser director would waste on the above quoted wet dreams of a future convict trudging through puberty, is used for a wonderfully atmospheric music video highlighting the anime’s absolute strengths: its gorgeous artwork and relaxing slice-of-life vibe. The contrast with what happened in the first half of the episode couldn’t be any bigger.

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The above example is far from the only time the Grimgar anime shakes itself loose from its questionable source material. It quite consistently ditches everything we hate about light novels, adding something a little more of its own instead: tasteless fanservice becomes slapstick comedy at the expense of the pervert, grating game terminology is replaced by a more realistic undercurrent of mystery and doubt, and tedious purple prose has been ejected in favour of visual scene-setting and subtle character animation. It’s nice to see that some people in the anime industry still have the guts to actually do something with the material they’ve been given, but it does beg the question… If the production staff deemed the bath house peeping scene too pointless or skeevy to adapt, then why the heck didn’t they nix the tired sexism altogether? Why do we need to see Yume groping Shihoru when you can also make her infatuation with the timid spell caster known through an understated bit of melancholy, like her heartbroken smile at Masato making Shihoru blush? Why settle on being merely interesting when you could be genuinely good?

Luckily, there’s still more than enough genuinely good in Grimgar to make it worth watching. The entire first half of this episode focuses on the show’s biggest strengths — the main characters’ incompetence and doubt, and a general air of realism around its tired premise. In spite of its pastel-tinted setting, Grimgar is still a show about average nobodies struggling to survive in a world where money is earned and conflicts are settled with blood. There are a lot of enjoyable lighter moments showing off that Haruhito, Masato and co. are still human, but the main focus in Grimgar is on fear and doubt, a fact perhaps no better illustrated than by Haruhito’s desperate struggle against a lone goblin. After charging in without a proper plan, our main character ends up with his neck between the creatures arms, while his friends just stand by and watch in horror. A strategically placed knife in its flank saves him, but the seeds of anxiety have already been sown: Grimgar does not hesitate to slowly rub in what a life-or-death situation can do to the psyche of even the most insufferable prick.

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Like so much in Grimgar, killer angst is hardly a new idea. Even Sword Art Online (initially) understood that the usual stakes of a video game don’t actually make for a lot of tension. Yet to Grimgar the doubt and regret that Ranta suffers seem like more than just an obligation. It serves to permanently drive home the idea that the stuff we do in games, or even expect people to do in fantasy and sci-fi settings, isn’t so evident at all. Ranta seemed to be the only member of the party to explicitly treat the world as if it were a video game, a place where he can do and say whatever he wants without any meaningful repercussions. Suffice to say, this attitude backfires spectacularly, and its impact lasts for the remainder of the episode. In fact, it’s what makes the rest of the episode so much more enthralling. Whether it’s Manato going out drinking or Yume and Shihoru shopping, every single scene in Grimgar that isn’t a fight serves to remind us that these people are desperately struggling to maintain some semblance of a normal life, hanging out with people they barely even know by lack of a better option. It’s this macabre undercurrent that turns Grimgar in the unique, bizarre entity it is. It’s too dark to be a slice-of-life show, too poignant to be a simplistic escapist fantasy adventure, yet too formulaic and transient to be a true character drama. For better or worse, it’s its own weird little thing, a bizarre mishmash of ideas that only work together because of the talented people behind them and their willingness to disregard the source material when it doesn’t fit their vision. It’s a bit of a bummer they can’t let it go entirely, yet without its uglier sides, there probably wouldn’t even have been a Grimgar anime to begin with.

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