After spending some time rewatching all three shows that appealed to me as something I’d enjoy blogging about for several months, I ended up settling on this one purely for selfish reasons. Since I took up blogging anime, I’ve covered Gakkou Garashi, a horror story, and One Punch Man, a superhero story. I’m in the mood to spend some time with a fantasy series, especially one that has as much potential and promise as Grimgar does.
To elaborate on what I mean by that, it goes back to my love of Dungeons & Dragons, especially my time as a Dungeon Master. One of my favorite things to do in that role was to build stories and adventures that played off the characters strengths and weaknesses, as well as the personalities the players had given them. Grimgar reminds me of those tales my friends and I use to tell, so there’s a bit of nostalgia at work here, I admit.
As I said in my overview of the winter season, this show has a lot of room for the characters to grow, and it is exactly that kind of story I most enjoy watching. While I am aware that this series may end up being terrible, or falling on its face, it’s that promise of potential that really draws me to it. That, and a couple of other things I’ll get into as I recap, and in my afterthoughts.
For now, let me just say that there were elements in play in the first episode of Grimgar that gave me a lot of hope that I’m going to see something really unique, amazing, and special. I know nothing of the light novel series it is based on, and I’m avoiding them so I can see the show with fresh eyes, and enjoy it as it unfolds.
There is also a bit of trepidation there, as well, because I am aware of the reputation light novels have with anime adaptations. Generally speaking, they end up being terrible. Still, Grimgar has gotten off on a solid enough foot with me that I’m going to give it a chance.
While I’d be surprised if it ended up having the powerful emotional resonance of Gakkou Garashi, or the quiet significance hidden under the pure awesomeness of One Punch Man, I’m going to roll the dice and hope that it at least pulls out a solid, well told story. Really, I am a man of simple tastes, and I don’t need it to do more than that, so hopefully, that’s just what we’ll get.
So, all that said, let’s take a look at episode one.
We start with our central protagonist, Haruhiro, who only gets to be that by virtue of providing all the voice over narration, as he runs through the forest, trying to flank a Goblin his pal Ranta is fighting. Ranta gets knocked on his ass, and Haruhiro soon joins him as the Goblin proves to be a more capable fighter than both of them combined.
To prove it, Haruhiro literally stumbles over Ranta, sending them both down into a pile. Nothing like a little situational awareness to make a battle go smoothly. Really, guys, this is what miniatures are for.
Ranta gives Haruhiro some shit, encouraging him to go stab the damn Goblin, which Haruhiro responds to by pointing out Ranta hasn’t had any better luck. The third member of their party shows up at that point, a girl named Yume, who nearly hits them both with an arrow. Well, nearly is a bit much. At less than five yards away from both them and the Goblin, she still managed to hit a tree, so I doubt they were in any immediate danger.
Yume is their Ranger, by the way. Or Hunter as it’s called in this show. Good thing she’s a crack marksman with that bow, ‘eh?
Manato, the party Cleric, or Priest in this case, and team leader, yells at her to use close range weapons, as she’s just as likely to hit allies as enemies at the distance she is fighting from. Yume clumsily drops her bow and quiver and manages to fumble out her short sword as the teams fighter, Moguzo, comes swinging in with his big ass sword.
Which he gets stuck in a tree. Sigh.
The Goblin jumps on Moguzo’s sword and nearly slices his face off when it hears someone chanting and turns to see the party’s caster, Shihoru, trying to stammer out a spell. Of them all, she’s the one most obviously terrified, and the Goblin picks up on that, charging right at her as the rest scramble to recover their weapons, get back on their feet, and try to cover Shihoru.
Which they fail at miserably.
She’s nearly killed, but Manato manages to get there in time and drive the Goblin back with his staff. Still, Shihoru is injured, even if only slightly, so he heals her up as she tries to stammer out an apology, in tears from both the pain, and her own self image, which we’ll get into later.
Moguzo manages to get his sword free and is scrambling to get over to Shihoru and Manato, when Manato shows why he’s the team leader here. He shouts out to the team that this for real, as the Goblin is fighting for its life the same as they are. No living thing wants to die, not even a Goblin, so what this really comes down to is a question of who wants to live the most.
This gets everyone to focus back on the fight instead of their failures, which is a good thing, as the Goblin now looks like its ready to get serious. Ranta points out that Goblins are suppose to be the weakest monsters in Grimgar, which Haruhiro agrees is the case, before thinking to himself that they still might be stronger than this entire party combined.
I can’t say he’s wrong, either. Which brings me to my first point of order. These guys suck. They aren’t just bad, they are laughably bad. So much so that the six of them can’t beat a single Goblin. Now, for those who have gotten use to animes where the main characters are absurdly powerful and just need someone to believe in them to believe in themselves, this is going to be a real departure, as no amount of belief is going to change that all these guys are truly awful.
Yet, this is a pretty fair view of first time adventurers. In D&D, at level 1, characters aren’t superheroes. They’re idiots trying to figure out how to do anything at all. Especially if you have a party full of characters that not only don’t know their own abilities, but each others, leading to some of the messiest free for all’s you’ll ever see.
For me, it’s actually nice to see a group of characters fall over each other trying to be heroes, and failing at it. It leaves room for growth, and it’s that very growth that I am hoping to see in this series.
The show cuts to some… sparkly… thingys… as a voice whispers “Awaken” over and over. No idea what that’s about, but I figure it’ll be important later.
Haruhiro jerks awake as a nearby clock tower strikes six. As in A.M. Ya know, in the morning. Or as we call it around here, too damn early. Seriously, if the sun ain’t even up yet, we aren’t gonna be. Sadly, Haruhiro is, and for that matter so is Ranta, who proceeds to give him hell.
Mostly he teases him about oversleeping, but decides to pick on him for having “sleepy eyes”. Haruhiro points out that his eyes always look that way. Before they can get into it too much, Manato shows up to remind them both that it’s time for breakfast, which causes Haruhiro to remember he was suppose to be helping with that. Manato tells him not to worry over it, as he decided to switch with Haruhiro, who was worn out after the fight with the Goblin yesterday.
Ranta gives him some more crap, until Haruhiro remembers Ranta was also suppose to be helping with breakfast. Ranta blows it off, since Moguzo had traded with him. Haruhiro calls him out for being a hypocrite, but Ranta ain’t having it. He didn’t know Manato swapped and thought he wasn’t going to get any morning chow, so the ragging stands.
In the kitchen of the house they all share, Yume is watching a pot over a fire, commenting that it’s starting to smell good. Moguzo thanks her, as he enjoys cooking, as much as she enjoys taste testing. At least these two have found some balance.
Manato shows up with some veggies he picked on the way back from their hunt yesterday and Shihoru starts chopping them up, which is about the only time we get to see her smile. This leads to the groups breakfast scene where we learn a bit more about what’s up.
Basically, they’re broke, and trying to scratch together enough money just to survive, eat, and keep a roof over their heads. Apparently, they didn’t defeat the Goblin yesterday, it either escaping or them retreating, which means they are even shorter on cash today, forcing them to be even more frugal. All of this is pointed out by Manato, who has taken on not just the role of party leader, but parent.
He states that his magic can heal wounds, but not replace lost blood, which sounds like something that will be relevant at a later time. Foreshadowing, they call it. Haruhiro agrees he’s been feeling dizzy, but doesn’t think it’s a big deal. Ranta, in typical Ranta fashion, as we’ll soon learn, declares himself totally fine.
That settled, Manato suggests they try hunting again, looking for single, weak enemies to fight. Ranta isn’t thrilled to go so slow, especially with Renji and his group having already well outpaced them all. We’ll get to Renji shortly, by the way. For now, he and his party are doing way better than this bunch.
I suspect a group of hedgehogs could possibly do better, but only because hedgehogs have a modicum of situational awareness.
Our first big hint that all is not as it seems arrives when Manato encourages Ranta to be patient, as this isn’t a game. Except nobody, including Manato, knows what a game is. He just blurted out the word, and knows that it’s the right word, but he has no idea what it is, or even means.
Haruhiro takes over narrating at this point, letting us know that this sort of thing happens a lot. Someone will casually use a word that nobody recognizes, yet feels familiar. It makes them all uneasy, but what really bugs them even more is that not a single one of them remembers who they are, where they are from, or how they got here.
Some days ago, they all woke up inside a giant, monolithic structure, with no clue how they got there. Haruhiro vaguely remembers that weird sparkly thing we saw a bit earlier, but mostly, he remembers the dark. He found his way outside onto a balcony, where eleven other people are standing around.
Two things. First, there is an even dozen people here. That’s… odd. Second, there are soldiers standing around, as if expecting them, which is equally odd, as they don’t proceed to offer any explanations, just glare. This whole situation is plan weird.
That aside, no one remembers who they are, or how they got there. Nobody recognizes anybody else, or has even a faint glimmer of recognition. There is a good chance none of them knew each other before, or if they did, can’t even remember that. Again, the whole situation is odd. Making it even stranger, they are all wearing modern clothing, which implies something I’ll get into later.
Shihoru started to panic, but one of the others, whose name wasn’t revealed, suggested they ask the guards. Rather than give answers, these two take them into town and dump them off on someone else, who proceeds to lay out their situation, without ever offering an explanation.
That guys name is Brittany, and he tells them they are in the town of Ortana, in Grimgar, and that he is the head of the Volunteer Soldier Squad of the Borderland Brigade. Which explains absolutely nothing.
This is when we meet Renji, who basically just demands Brittany explain everything, before calling him a perv. Brittany reacts to that by threatening to slice Renji’s face off. Renji gets the message, but let’s Brittany know he’ll defend himself if he has to. While I wouldn’t put money on Renji lasting long against Brittany, at least we now know what kind of man he is. There’s a matter where Brittany is concerned that I’ll tackle in a bit.
Brittany then tells them that he’ll give ten silver coins to each person who joins the Volunteer Brigade, which is enough for them to live on for a while. Haruhiro only barely hears him, though, as he’s noticed his cellphone is missing, then wonders what the hell a cellphone is. This follows Manato’s earlier use of the word game as something familiar, yet alien. They are all from our world. We’ll get into that more later.
Brittany goes on to explain that they can buy a trainee badge for twenty silvers, and an official bag for more. Each comes with it’s own privileges. Renji asks what all that means, and Brittany basically tells them that they’ll have to learn how everything works for themselves, but in a nutshell, they need to go kill monsters to keep them from growing too numerous. They can sell anything they can scavenge, buy better badges, or “level up” as it were, and pretty much, improve their quality of life. With that, he welcomes them to the Volunteer Brigade, with one piece of advice. Don’t quit. Yes, they will all die eventually, but if they quit, they’ll die faster.
Brittany more or less plays the role of an NPC who walks the players through the basics of the game, except that this is no game. Remember when I said they were all wearing modern clothes? Yeah, they aren’t trapped in a virtual world such as SAO, but rather, seem to have been transported to an another world entirely. Back with the Goblin fight, we saw Shihoru get injured, and she was really bleeding. This isn’t a game gone wrong, this is their new reality.
What makes it odd is that there were soldiers basically awaiting their arrival, and neither they, nor Brittany, seems to notice or care that they are wearing clothes that are not the norm of Grimgar. Either they have seen this before, enough to not be bothered by it, or something else is up. What, I don’t know and can’t guess, but it’s an oddity of considerable size, and makes me suspect it has meaning in the long run of the story.
We return to the present as Haruhiro tells us that Renji grabbed all the strongest looking people and formed his own party, leaving these guys, who apparently he deemed too weak, to live or die on their own. Class act, that Renji. Though, it seems to have worked well for him, as he and his party has already bought their official badges, while our heroes are struggling just to kill anything, and are quickly running out of the silver they were given at the start.
The party is heading out again, hoping for better luck today, while Ranta raves about wanting real meat. Manato advises he be patient, until they can earn their own living, but Ranta just takes that as an excuse to tell a nearby butcher that soon, he’ll eat everything the guy has, including his stall. The vendor looks at him like he’s crazy, proving their are sane people in this world, and that Ranta isn’t one of them.
This leads to some banter among the party as Ranta brags about how strong he is, and everyone else more or less ignores him. With Ranta’s boasting done with, Manato lays out their financial situation, namely that they have enough to just get by for the next two weeks, after which, they’ll be hungry and homeless.
Turns out, they had to spend some of their starting money to join a guild, or select a class as it were. After which, they had to train, then were allowed to go and hunt monsters in order to try and earn a living for themselves. Before picking their guilds, the whole party had a discussion about what each of them should do, and came to a pretty good decision.
Haruhiro became the party’s thief, while Manato became their healer, Moguzo their warrior, Ranta a dark knight, Yume the hunter, and Shihoru the magician. In other words, they have a Fighter, a Barbarian, a Cleric, a Wizard, a Ranger, and a Rogue, which is a very solid and balanced party. Two melee fighters, with the thief being able to flank, a healer, and two ranged fighters, one with magic, the other with arrows. In theory, this should be a strong party build.
Somehow, this bunch manages to make it not work.
Again, because Haruhiro is the narrator, we only get to see him petitioning to join the Thieves Guild, and meet his class trainer, Barbara, who puts the oh in oh-la-la Probably the la-la, as well. I’ll get into her more in a bit, but for now, let’s just say that she knows how to make an entrance, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Nor is she afraid to whip poor Haruhiro into shape as a thief.
Granted, she gives him the nickname of Old Cat, because he always looks sleepy, and probably scares the poor kid off women forever, but at least he knows how to use his weapon, more or less. To be honest, from the fight we saw earlier, it isn’t even a lack of understanding, so much as it his him being hesitant to fully engage the enemy. All of them suffer from this really, as they know their lives are on the line, and it makes them reluctant to really take any risks. So, they try to play it safe, and end up getting their asses kicked.
Regardless, off they go to try hunting yet again. They take a break for lunch, which is code for character building. We start with Yume, who always eats too fast, something even her Hunter teacher told her. Of course, he also told her she couldn’t aim a bow and arrow for crap, and that being a hunter probably was not a job for her.
Ranta gives her shit about it, and how perky she is about saying it all, but Yume gives him shit right back, pointing out that despite how bad she is at archery, it’d probably be okay if she accidentally shot him. Haruhiro, who is trying to keep some kind of giant hedgehog looking critter from stealing his food, points out that it was him she almost hit.
This is where Ranta showcases something about his personality that I’ll want to dive into more fully in a bit. For now, he starts by giving Yume shit for being flat chested, which she really isn’t, nor does she seem to give a single fuck what Ranta thinks. This just makes him more agitated, so he points out he prefers busty girls, like Shihoru.
Manato and Moguzo literally stay out of this entire conversation, but Haruhiro, probably still traumatized by Barbara, stares at her chest, then feels like a dick for doing it, especially since she caught him. He apologizes, and she shrugs it off, but she is obviously self conscious about it all.
Ranta, who can’t take a hint, proceeds to go on and on about her boobs, like a fucking idiot. Shihoru tries to say that she isn’t really busty so much as she is fat, which is also totally not true. Yume dismisses that, but Shihoru sticks to her claim, prompting Ranta to accuse her of being the kind of girl who claims to be fat, even though she isn’t, to make other girls self conscious about their own bodies. He calls it the kind of girl other girls hate.
Haruhiro decides to try and step in, pointing out that nobody likes Ranta as he finally gives the hedgehog critter a bite, which causes it to bring out its babies to eat. Ranta responds by claiming the entire world hates him, because he’s too awesome for everyone in it to bear.
As those two go at it, Shihoru keeps insisting she really is fat, until she starts to break down in tears. Seeing it, Ranta realizes he may have stuck his head up his own ass, and tries to apologize. Mind you, he does so with the same skill he has in fighting, which is none. Actually, he makes the situation worse.
Yume decides that enough is enough, and aims an arrow at Ranta, making him back off as she flirts with Shihoru. By which I mean all but invites her to bed. It makes Shihoru nervous, but she stops crying, and Ranta shuts up, so Yume is pretty much the hero of the hour.
Haruhiro is dumbstruck, and so is Ranta for a minute, before remembering he’s a jerk and asks them to go further, even though neither of the girls are paying any attention to him. Manato breaks this up by pointing out they need to get moving, which is when everyone realizes he and Moguzo have already packed up camp while they were making asses of themselves.
Ranta manages to make this a reason to brag on himself some more. I kinda get the feeling he sees anything as a reason to brag on himself. Haruhiro seems tired out from the whole thing, while Shihoru just appears to want to be invisible.
A bit later, they spot some Goblins, but there’s four, so it’s too many for them to take on. Yume nearly gets them attacked by yelling about how the Goblins are eating better than they are, prompting Manato to nearly facepalm.
By the end of the day, they had no luck, and are no closer to getting ahead than they were yesterday. Still, tomorrow is a new day, and a new chance. With that, we close the episode, and their thirteenth day in Grimgar.
There’s a number of things I’d like to talk about briefly where this show is concerned, but first I just want to repeat how beautiful the animation is. I mean, look at this. Just gorgeous.
It isn’t just the backgrounds, either. The character designs are extremely well done, and everyone is incredibly expressive, adding texture and nuance to everything they do and say. This is important to remember, by the way, as subtext plays a huge role in everything that happens in this show, at least, so far.
The music is often soft, and in the background, but does a wonderful job of adding flavor and character to every scene, and plays well to the characters emotions and dreams. It’s nice to see a show where the music doesn’t feel like it’s overshadowing, or totally at odds with what’s happening. While this is a less common problem in anime than it is in Western television, Grimgar really does a great job of melding the visuals, story and music seamlessly into one thing.
Now, on to to something that may or may not make me a hated person. Brittany and Barbara.
I love these two characters. I’ve no idea if we’ll be seeing more of them or not, but I certainly hope so. With Brittany, it’s because the character is clearly coded to be gay, but will absolutely kick your ass if you call him a pervert. It’s such a great change of pace from how gay characters, especially men, are often depicted in anime. Brittany can have as much screen time as he wants if he keeps being awesome.
Barbara, on the other hand, I adore for completely different reasons. I’m aware she’s going to get called out as bad fan service, but it only takes a moment of really paying attention to the character to see there is way more to her than that. It isn’t that she dresses the way she does for titillation. She dresses the way she does for herself, because she gives zero fucks what anyone thinks. These are two very different things.
Let me put it this way. Most fan service characters are there purely to play into the male fantasy. Barbara does not do this. In fact, the first thing she does is make Haruhiro beg for mercy. Barbara knows she has sex appeal, and uses it to her advantage. She dresses how she wants, and doesn’t care if people like it, hate it, stare or glare. You can tell this by the way she conducts herself during her brief scene.
Really, she and Brittany both have extremely small scenes, yet we get a lot of fully realized character out them. That’s called good writing. While I have already seen Brittany getting praised, I’ve also seen Barbara getting damned, even though she is literally the walking embodiment of female power. She dresses how she wants, and nobody can take advantage of her, because she’d kick their ass. She doesn’t apologize for her appearance, and doesn’t play it down to make others more comfortable. She embraces her own sexuality, and uses it as she pleases.
I like this about her. We need more women in fiction that are not only not ashamed of their sexuality, but embrace it fully and make it about them having power over themselves. Barbara manages that in less than five minutes of screen time, which is fucking astonishing.
The last thing I want to touch on is the scene towards the end where Ranta makes Shihoru cry. Make no mistake, I am not going to defend Ranta’s actions. He acted like an asshole. However, the subtext of the scene was so blaring, I have no idea how anyone missed out on it, much less the way the entire scene informed every single one of these six characters, in a staggering display of clever writing.
First, let’s look at Ranta, who started this all. He is possibly just a sexist jerk, but I don’t think that’s it, because of how he reacted to seeing Shihoru crying. Everything about his facial expression and body language screamed regret and realization of what he’d done. Instead, I think Ranta is terrified of the situation they find themselves in, and like a lot of guys, is trying to act overly macho to hide how afraid he is. That isn’t a defense of his action, but it is something that informs us of his character in a way that might have been heavy handed or ham fisted otherwise.
It also tells us that Shihoru is more than just shy. We saw in the Goblin battle that she’s scared, but now we also see that she has almost no sense of self worth. Everything she says is a negative aimed at herself. Shihoru believes she is dragging the whole party down, is afraid of dying, and is trapped between those two things. She can’t leave, and she doesn’t want to die, so she’s just stuck, and it’s making her already poor self image even worse.
We also see more about Yume. Specifically, that despite seeming a bit ditzy, she’s got a good sense for people, and clearly grasped just how upset Shihoru was before anyone else did. She’s not just empathetic, but compassionate as well, as she took actions to not only make Ranta shut up, but to bolster Shihoru’s self esteem, by flirting with her. Now, I don’t know if Yume is gay, bi, or straight, but I do know that she has a kind heart, and is the sort of person to stand up for others. During the breakfast scene, we saw her notice that Shihoru was trying to look at Manato around her, and leaned back to make it easier for her to not just see him, but participate in the conversation. That’s all character building.
As for Haruhiro, we see him try to get Ranta to lay off by changing the direction of the conversation, and we also see that he finds Shihoru attractive, though he clearly doesn’t know how to express that, or even what it means for him, and to him. He’s utterly lost, not just in this world, but within himself, and despite being attracted to Shihoru, doesn’t have the first clue what to do about it. In fact, he seems self conscious of the fact that he thinks it at all, which backs up what has been hinted at before, with him feeling embarrassed over his thieves outfit. Haruhiro is incredibly self conscious.
Then there’s Manato and Moguzo, who just straight stay the hell out of the whole thing. While I’m not sure that was wise of Manato, as he is the party leader and parent figure, it did show a great deal about Moguzo. Namely, that the initial impression we have him as big softy is right on target. He doesn’t appear to do well with conflict, and tries to stay out of it. We got a fair bit of characterization on Manato already, which is probably why it was written with him not getting involved, as this was to flesh out everyone else’s character, and in that, it does succeed.
We learn a hell of a lot about everyone in the course of this scene. Could it have all been done without having Ranta act like a sexist asshole? Probably. But then we wouldn’t have seen that Ranta is kind of a sexist asshole, and that’s something else the scene told us.
These are flawed characters, not just because they are bad at being adventurers, but because they are kind of bad at being people in general. They have no memory of who they were, and odds are, don’t even really know why they act and react to things the way they do. They have to not only learn how to fight to survive in this world, and work as a team, but they have to learn who they are, and what that means to them.
The writers explored all that in a very brief scene, and that is good writing. Yes, Ranta is a sexist ass, and I make no excuses for that, nor should I, as that is what we were suppose to see. That’s how writing works. It informs the characters without resulting in lengthy exposition or monologuing. It shows, rather than tells.
I never thought I’d live to see the day when a show could do that, and be called bad for it. Yet, I’ve seen a few places call this show total shit, for actually showing instead of telling.
Ugh. The world confuses me these days.
Next week, episode two: Long Day of the Trainee Soldier