This is review number three hundred and fifty eight. This anime is part of the Winter 2016 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. It’s a twelve episode anime about SAO being given a much better story. No, this is actually a very different being and I actually like the change in perspective. Let’s read on.
The story follows a group of people trying to live in this unique video game world. It’s never addressed as such, but the rules still applies. There’s just one twist: people can die, and the six individuals are now tasked to live their life here. They grow as a group and they learn to cope with the challenges of life including poverty, ridicule and even death.
Taking the Pants Off
This is probably the most visually striking anime of the season, and you can tell A-1 Pictures is going all out with this one. The premise also feels a bit familiar because it’s basically the same subject Swort Art Online tread on. I don’t think you can compare this to SAO though, because this show is just divine. It’s certainly not for everyone, since the pacing is pretty slow, but the storytelling is amazing. It is a show that’ll test your patience, but the payoff is really satisfying. At the start, I was honestly annoyed at the direction the anime is taking because it just didn’t feel right. By the end of it though, everything lined up perfectly and I really wanted more of it. I want another season simply because the anime experience is really unique. I’ve seen a lot of light novel anime, and I’ve come to expect the same clusterf*ck experience from them. Light novel anime often tries to stuff the show with as much volumes of the original source as possible. This leaves the entire adaptation as a horrid mess. I have gone to accept though that this is just the norm for LN anime now. We’ll always see a show rush an adaptation and cover as much of the light novel. It doesn’t matter if the end product isn’t anything great, because LN anime often has the elements to pass off as decent. The premise of the light novels are often too inviting to deny watching them, so audiences are often lured in with little effort. This is why LN shows are frustrating to watch. They have the potential to be great, but they settle with just “OK”. Grimgar is different though. For a rare occurrence, we have a light novel anime taking its sweet time. Most LN anime would cover twelve volumes or more, and it’s often the norm. I think Grimgar only covered three or four volumes though, so the story is really precise. It’s slow because it’s deliberately making the story better, and I have never seen an LN anime take so much care. This is honestly a new experience for me. I’m used to LN clusterf*cks, so I never once imagined an LN show actually trying to achieve it’s potential to finally be a great anime. Believe me, this anime is great.
The premise of the show can be initially explained with these three images:
There you go. We have a bunch of people stuck in a game, and we’ll soon realize that they can’t get out. They’ll have to get strong, fight monsters and then someone will die. I’ve seen this topic discussed before in both SAO and Log Horizon. The mood of the anime feels like it’s going the SAO route, and it really got me excited. The first episode sets up the premise really well, but the following episodes are a bit puzzling. The anime is really slow. If SAO is an action anime where the cool concept of RPGs are presented in overblown fashion, then Grimgar is the opposite. The story follows six characters living their life in the game, but the show never addressed that. No one stood up and said “we’re stuck in a game”, and the anime is slowly abandoning that idea. The fact that these characters might be stuck in a game is now just a backdrop for the show. These characters are simply just living the rest of their lives, and they’re having a hard time with it. Even though the characters should fight goblins to get stronger, the anime mostly follows the most mundane sh*t. The characters would get up early, they’ll eat breakfast and they’ll just spend time being together. The anime doesn’t follow their fights, but it features their everyday routine instead. It is really weird, because the anime is trying to avoid action. Again if SAO is focused on the action, Grimgar is more like a healing anime. It focuses on the beauty of nature and the characters that move about it.
The first four episodes is really just a big prologue for the story. With how the show is paced, I honestly thought that the story will explode when someone from the six dies. The show is deliberately making us care for the characters and how they bond as a party, so it only makes sense for one of them to die. I imagine it being as gruesome as a certain magical girl losing her head. I thought that entire thing will blow over at episode three, per the expected anime rule, so I only had to endure all this nonsensical laidback atmosphere for a few more episodes. Unfortunately, the third episode ends with no one dying and I was honestly concerned. The pacing of the anime is really slow, the characters don’t do anything exciting, the action is lacking as it focuses more on boring scenes like people cooking breakfast and, more importantly, the story hasn’t materialized at all. Yes, the first four episodes had no semblance of story to it. It just features a lot of the characters daily routine. They get up in the morning, they hunt some goblins, they eat as a group, they walk home and then night falls with hardly anything worth talking about. The characters are being introduced though, and their function in the group is being featured quite prominently. It really just signals one of them dying, and it’s honestly taking a long time. They don’t even fight as group, they all feel a bit subdued and it’s honestly getting depressing seeing them go through their daily routine one more time. Until it finally happens, one of them finally dies and this is where the intentions of the show finally became clear.
If you’re expecting an SAO style anime, then you won’t find it here. Grimgar is about six people living their life and nothing more. The big twist is that they are stuck in a video game, but they are simply humans living out their life. The mundane daily routine of the characters is the story, because the point of the anime is to feature real life inside a game. Did that make sense? Anyways, the show is trying to humanize the video game experience and putting more gravity on things that really matter in real life. The first four episodes covered this quite splendidly with the mundane everyday routines, and it includes topics like worrying about money, facing tomorrow realizing you haven’t done much with your life, and failing at something. It certainly isn’t the most exciting topics to focus on, but I think the death sequence really made this point clear. Death is the most important topic to cover here. Apparently, this game has no items to revive the dead so they simply die. In a video game, death is something people took for granted. Well, what if it mattered? What if death really mattered in a game? Imagine playing FF Tactics, then your soldier dies and you realize that he can no longer be revived. Now imagine what the other characters would feel about his loss. This is the idea Grimgar is trying to cover. It’s a game with real life ideals to it, and I think it’s a really great approach at a tired concept like “being stuck in a video game”. The show isn’t upfront with this though, and I think that approach is really great. The audience is asked to experience it for themselves, and the first four episodes really delivered that sentiment really clearly.
Death is the catalyst that ignited the story though, and you’ll have to sit through four episodes to get there. After slow and deliberately boring scenes of just the characters bonding and forcing a smile through their sad predicament, it all falls apart when the one person keeping them together dies. The characters are now having a tough time dealing with the loss of their important member, and the others aren’t quite ready to continue without him. In life though, the characters must learn to cope with the death and simply move on. This is a really powerful message, and the anime really handled it with care. Even with their loss, they must still continue with their mundane routine because life simply goes on. The characters have different ways of dealing with death though, so it’s really hard for them to simply move on. It’s an incredibly powerful dialogue for the anime, and it works extremely well after you spend four boring episodes just growing love for each character. The show would focus on every little quirk and mannerisms they all have, and this adds an impact to the sudden loss of one of them. Death might be an unnatural thing for a video game, but it’s an incredibly heavy matter in real life. You’ll now witness several video game characters try and continue living on with a heavy heart. My favorite part is how the funeral to bury their friend even costs money, and the show has spent four episodes pointing out how poor the characters are. They reuse the same underwear every day, so imagine hearing how expensive a funeral can be. This is real people, and the slow mundane pace of the show is really building up to this bitter fact. Death is a tough thing to experience, money is absolute and life simply goes on even if you chose to be stuck in the past.
With their leader’s death, one of them has to step up now and the story can finally commence. This anime follows a guy named Haruhiro who takes on the role of leader after the sudden death of their former leader. He is a very inexperienced fighter and he lacks the capacity to really lead his party, but this is a duty he feels he must do. The former leader entrusted the group to him, and he is now doing his best to pick up the pieces for the sake of everyone. This is where you’ll really appreciate the characters and the mundane pace of the story. They are a weak party, and their leader really pulls them through with his extreme positivity. With him gone, they must now really do their best to change. They’ll do it for themselves, and to make sure his death is something that won’t happen ever again. This starts with Haruhiro who is really trying to lead the group, but there seems to be tension within and they must work together to solve it. Welcoming another member so soon to replace their leader probably isn’t a smart first move on Haruhiro’s case.
The first chapter is really the entire boring first four episodes, and it also serves as a prologue of sorts. You are introduced to the characters, and the dynamic of the group. The second chapter features their new member, Mary, and how they try to become a better group with her. She is a cold person, and she seems to be distant. When the other characters try to befriend her, she would just give them a cold and disinterested response. After their tragic loss, getting dissed by a cold girl is really the last thing they want. They understand that they need her though, but the cracks of this group are really starting to show. As the leader, Haruhiro must learn to be the group’s core and getting Mary to ease up so they can be better friends is the first step. It’s easier said than done though, because Mary is not just cold but her attitude is also annoying. Dealing with her and the loss of their friend is a tough thing to do. They’re dealing with one death, but it looks like Mary is carrying a burden far larger than what they’re experiencing as a group.
The second chapter has a lot to cover. Haruhiro is trying to get Mary to become closer with the group, but there are also a lot of other things going on. They’re also trying to become a much better party by improving their battle strategies, they’re trying to learn more about each other and they’re dealing with a loss. The same mundane pace still applies, but there is also a considerable amount of action. With Haruhiro’s new approach at dealing with his party, they are really becoming a much more cohesive unit. They know about their shortcomings and they’re trying to individually get better in their own way. Perhaps the best thing to note here is Haruhiro’s growth the most. He is a guy walking along the sidelines in the first chapter, but he has grown into a guy that is trying to take charge. As the show progresses, he has grown more intuitive and he learns how to act in the moment. He doesn’t want to be the same guy frozen in place while a goblin tries to stab him. No, he is showing growth and he is really internalizing everything. This really makes the mundane pacing a lot easier to digest, because we now have a character to relate to. In the first chapter, nothing is happening and no one is taking charge. There is no direction, but it gets easier once Haruhiro assumes his natural role. The second chapter is about Mary though, and the girl has a dark past that is the big focus of this chapter. If they want to become a better group, they need to bring Mary into the fold. She is hesitant though, because she’s dealing with a lot of things. This is where the daily routines really start to make sense. Part of Haruhiro’s routine is getting Mary to warm up by inviting her to dinner and such. Mary would reply with a cold “no” though, but things changes as life go on. Her cold “no” will eventually be followed up with a “see you tomorrow” that’ll be followed up with a happy skip from her at another day until she finally lets up and joins them. I love this slow storytelling, because you really get to soak up so much. Every little thing matters in the anime, and any sign that the mundane routine will be change really puts dread within you. You honestly want things to stay the same, and it’s surprising considering you wanted the anime to be SAO when you first saw it.
The thing that makes this anime special is the payoff. The boring first four episodes are soon answered back with an exciting final three episodes, the third chapter. The characters decided to explore a new place. They’ve grown tired of hunting goblins, so they opt to go to the mines and hunt some Kobolds. This is where the anime really ended the slow pacing, and they just gave us nonstop action. The third chapter features a lot of exciting fight scenes, and they’re fun to watch considering the characters have grown from reluctant noobs to experienced killers. Hunting kobolds are different from goblins though, because the kobolds are a lot more organized. They’re also in their first dungeon, in the enemy’s territory, so they’re really in for the fight of their life. Things turn absolutely horrid when Mary is reunited with something that forced her to experience death. I’m trying to be discreet, but the third chapter climaxes into the party’s very fight boss fight. It’s a scary boss fight considering the characters might die, and they’re now literally fighting for their life. Payoff comes in a lot of ways though for the anime. The various subplots the anime introduced throughout the series is given a proper conclusion in the final chapter. Their hopes of becoming a great party are met here and they are also given a second chance to do something right when one of them is faced with the possibility of death. It’s an amazing journey till the end, and it really makes you want more of the show. It’s so wonderfully presented, and you want to see the characters in their mundane daily life one more time. The boss fight is wonderfully done as well, because the buildup to it is just wonderfully executed. You feel dread when the bastard appeared and the battle itself is really unique. It’s not a straight up fight with the boss, but it’s a bit smarter considering real life consequences seek out our characters.
The characters are all pretty great. They were tediously introduced in the show, and they often overpower the story. In the first half, the characters were the sole focus of the show. This approach is brilliant, because the second half’s action packed sequences have more weight when the characters you’ve grown to like are a part of it. Let me talk about the female characters first. Seriously, in the entire first four episodes, you are treated to nothing but boobs and butts. Yume and Shihoru are supporting characters at best, but they were introduced as eye candy. They literally did nothing but give us fan service, and it adds to the frustration when you first watch the show. There are scenes of nothing but Yume in a strikingly sexy position and the camera is often on her ass. For Shihoru, the camera loves to pan up. She’s always crouching with her boobs emphasized, and she has this cute defenseless face on. She also doesn’t talk to boys, and it got infuriating after the second episode. She’s a damsel fan service character, fine, but with a directionless plot I thought the show would stumble into SAO territory. SAO is a harem filled RPG story, and I honestly thought Grimgar would go there. This is A-1 Pictures, and they did SAO. They can kill this anime if they want, but you know what? The girls are nicely fleshed out. Yume is a hot piece of ass but, after the death, she became this vulnerable girl that couldn’t find her voice. Shihoru is an annoying character that can’t talk to boys, but that’s also part of the story. Part of her growth is being able to talk to boys, and that’s the best part about this anime. It focuses on growth. Yume and Shihoru grow as both individuals and as RPG characters. The audience is hand in hand seeing them grow, and this really adds depth to the story when you literally see them climb out of poverty and into success.
Haruhiro is an interesting character because he really started out one dimensional. As the story progresses, he became a lot more intuitive and reliable. He knows how the other members move and think, and he also tries to consider their feelings when deciding anything. His leadership is put into the test at the third chapter, and you can see him really try to keep it together for the sake of his group. He also has some really personal moments with the former leader, and it really makes him a more well-rounded character. You smile at his efforts, and you want to cheer him on in all his endeavors. It’s especially more wonderful considering they’re an underdog party starting out. Mary is a character I forced myself not to like, but the narrative is just too great not to like her. She is a cold distant person, but her growth is a good example of how to flesh out a character. You don’t need to do it in a hurried manner. You pace her growth with the story, and it give more emphasis to the story. Her flashback is so well presented that you dread her going back to it. It’s amazing, because her character is nothing special. She’s just a cold character, but her worth changes to the point that you smile whenever you see her. The anime made it a point to make sure she is as humanly related as possible, and I think it suits her character well.
Another character I personally liked is the loud mouth Ranta. He is annoying, and I love how much he annoys me. Anime characters that can elicit a reaction from the viewers are something I love the most. It’s obvious that he is intentionally designed to be annoying, but he still gets under your skin. It’s easy to make audiences cheer for the underdog, but it’s actually harder to sell a bad guy. They’re often just automatically the one you aren’t supposed to cheer on, but it’s a challenge to make the audience turn on him. Ranta does this seamlessly with his endless verbal nonsense. He often just spews verbal vomit because that’s how he copes, but holy Pikachu, does it wear you down. It comes to a point where I honestly wanted him dead, but it comes to a point where you also want him alive. Actually, yeah, can we kill him instead? I actually visited spoilers central, AKA wikipedia, and I learned another damn character died in the story. Damn you, wikipedia!!!
A-1 took a gamble with this anime. On a weekly basis, it must’ve been tough to watch this but I think the show will gain a following once it stops airing. The visual treat is unmatched, and A-1 really outdid themselves. This doesn’t feel like the typical A-1 style, and it’s a really refreshing change. This studio loves action, and I can point to SAO to prove my point. For them to try something this unique and, to see it actually succeed, makes me all warm inside. It makes me even happier knowing Ryousuke Nakamura directed this anime. He did Mouryou no Hako, and I often complain that his talent is being under appreciated. I heard he took big creative liberties on adapting the novel, and I think the gamble works. The anime is uniquely its own, and it’s a different anime experience. This guy amazed me when he handled Mouryou no Hako, because he gave justice to the novel. He captured it’s over bloated ego, and he shaped it into something uniquely its own. Like Mouryou no Hako though, Grimgar is not for everyone. The first four episodes might turn people off, but I hope his style catches on. LN anime shouldn’t be stuffing ten volumes in twelve episodes. They should be cradling the story, and capturing its beauty without feeling forced to do it. He made me interested in LN anime again, and I honestly gave up a long time ago. LN anime is a saturated medium now, but it looks like it just needs a fresh pair of eyes to make it interesting again. A-1 Pictures, take Ryousuke Nakamura in, and give him a chance to grow. He honestly has the talents of a young Akiyuki Shinbo. Just like Shinbo, the guy is a visionary so please gives him a chance to shape your vision. I’m pretty sure he’ll do great. After all, he moved the death scene one episode and he flipped it on its head. A headless magical girl might be rolling in her grave right about now.
Sight and Sound
Character design is pretty great. The design is made by Eiri Shirai, and they’re your typical light novel design. The color palette is soft, and the character proportions are pretty appealing to look at. In the LN business, it’s often the cover that draws readers in so she really knows how to make a LN cover look great. Her highlights and shadows are dynamic, and she puts insane details on the characters. Their hair, costume and pose is given a lot of care that it’s fun just staring endlessly at them. The wonderful part is that the anime captured her vision. The lighting effect she loves to use is nicely presented in the anime, and her detail work is present as well. Each character has a different job, like thief or priest, and they’re all nicely designed. Every piece of clothing is unique to the character, and it matches their personality well. It’s not just the job outfits though. Even their normal clothing rags they put on at home is uniquely their own, and that’s the kind of insane detail that makes this show great. The rags even complement the characters, and it easily helps distinguish them. The face design is simple though, and they don’t standout that much. It’s okay though, because you’ll be staring too much at their bodies. I even pause some scenes just to study Yume’s pose. It’s pretty cool.
The visuals are amazing in this anime. In the first four episodes, the show immerses you in the video game world the characters are in. It’s not just used to set the mood, but rather, the point is to intimately introduce the audience to the world the characters are in. Ryousuke Nakamura loves compelling visuals in his anime, and you can tell these influences the anime greatly. From the ruins they fight in, to the forests the hunt in, and to the village they live in, the visuals are just stunning. It’s a gentle painted background that actually gives off a more LN vibe that video game one, but the effect is still the same. It has a calming presence that feels really inviting. Nothing is taken for granted in this anime. The visual storytelling is just a masterpiece. From the wind swaying the grass to the water flowing the river to the fire crackling in the fireplace, it all gives a wonderful mood that helps in watching the anime. When I watched the show, the visuals subconscious effects are so bedazzling that you will seriously won’t feel bored watching the plot-less first four episodes. That’s how f*cking amazing Ryouske is as a director. He did the same thing in Mouryou no Hako when he tried to nullify the confusing dialogue, and he’s done it amazingly well in this anime. I’m not sure if other people will be bored by it, but I think the visuals just set the perfect pace for the anime.
The visuals are often accompanied by an amazing soundtrack as well. There are some episodes that just feature a montage with a song in it, and it’s very immersive. It makes me a bit impatient at times, but it also feels very relaxing just seeing the visuals paired with the wonderful music. This is actually pretty great when you experience the mundane daily routine of the characters, because it’s presented with the strong visuals and music of the show. It helps create a unique experience for the anime, and I’m sure it’ll counter the boring nature of the show for you as well.
The animation is outstanding. The movements are sublime, and the fight scenes are amazingly presented. They are paced amazingly, and it actually tells a story. It’s patient with each strike, and the movements are just flawless. I even love how detailed it can be. The characters have their own unique poses in the show, and they often get into position first before fighting. The way they swing their swords and cast their spells really capture the RPG vibe of the story, and this all comes together with the outstanding sights and sounds of the anime as well. The mundane scenes are also pretty great. I love Moguzo just cooking away, and the animation is so detailed that ever flame motion under his boiling pot is captured perfectly. Simple scenes of pouring a cup of water, biting into a chicken leg and even drinking from a mug have amazing animation to it. It’s consistent through and through, and you can just tell A-1 Pictures is bringing it’s A game on. The facial expressions are also pretty great, and they are dynamic in this anime. Characters cry, get angry and laugh often in the same scene and the animation is there to perfectly present it. Even the monsters are nicely animated, and there’s really nothing here that wasn’t given a strong high quality animation treatment.
The anime’s OP is “Knew day” by (K)NoW_NAME. I actually think the song is just OK, and the singer feels a bit ordinary. It’s your typical OP that gets you pump when you watch the anime, but it’s really nothing that special. I do like the instrumentals though, because it has a fantasy vibe to it as if leading you towards an RPG adventure of your own. The song is about facing tomorrow hand in hand with that special someone, and it is an uplifting song. I actually like the lyrics, but the song overall isn’t really that special for me. The OP sequence is just a brief introduction of the characters, and it mostly just emphasizes the amazing visuals and animation in the actual show. The way it introduces the characters are so flashy, and I love how it gives nothing away. It doesn’t even point out who dies in the show, and I love that kind of restraint. The anime’s ED is “Harvest” by (K)NoW_NAME. I love this song. It’s a slow solemn song, and I think the singer’s voice is a nice standout here. It’s really the one thing making this show special, and it’s accompanied by a nice piano arrangement. I think the lyrics are about losing someone dear, and it follows the loneliness of their absence. It’s a powerful song that nicely suits the theme of the anime. The ED sequence is simply a big picture of the characters, and the camera just pans over it a couple of times. I think it is Eiri’s design, but I’m not sure. It looks pretty though.
8/10 “It’s an appreciative anime combining the adventures of fiction with the pangs of real life.”
I know the story doesn’t deserve such a high score, but it has more merits to it. This is a rare LN anime, and the anime experience isn’t just on the story. It is pretty technically great as well. I know some people might not appreciate the boring first four episodes, but you can skip it. I think you can start at five then circle back. This is a unique anime, and it’d be a shame if you don’t experience its beauty. If you like personal shows focused on the characters then you’ll like this anime. If you like the premise of SAO, then you’ll love how this show spins it even more differently than Log Horizon. If you like a strong visual show bordering on a healing anime, then you should try this show as well. I recommend it.