Damn it, Grimgar. Even when I can see it coming, you find a way to make it hurt.
In this weeks episode, everything changes, and our heroes are shaken to their very core.
The episode opens the way they always do, with those lovely establishing shots of Ortana in the wee hours of the morning, the clock tower ringing out. Manato and Shihoru are returning home with breakfast supplies, neither saying anything, but both obviously wishing to.
Manato pauses on the bridge to give a bit of grain to some birds. Their reaction to him shows he has been doing this for a while, another of the little practices the people who find themselves in this world likely adhere to in order to stay stable and sane. It is telling that for Manato, feeding some birds is his comfort, as carving is Moguzo’s, and bragging is Ranta’s. Everyone has their way of dealing with things, after all.
Shihoru is impressed with Manato, though this is hardly a surprise. She finds almost everything he does impressive. He asks if she’d like to feed the birds, and despite her fears, gives in to his encouragements and takes a bit of grain. A bird lands right in her hand, startling her, causing her to lose her balance and fall.
Manato catches her so she doesn’t hit her head, because that’s the kind of guy he is. He helps her to her feet before expressing his gratitude that the two of them are back on speaking terms. Shihoru, naturally, is nervous as hell about this, but decides to take a step forward in overcoming her own problems and actually asks him a question.
This might not seem like a big deal, but for Shihoru, it really is. Ask anyone with crippling social anxiety how much effort it takes just to speak, and you’ll get a better idea of how much courage and strength Shihoru displayed here, just asking if Manato likes animals.
He does, by the way, and after a moment, he says they should get going. Shihoru has a bit more spring in her step as she goes to follow him, and it’s easy to see why. Much as we saw with Haru in previous episodes, Manato has a calming influence on others, making them feel safe and relaxed. It’s no surprise someone like Shihoru would want to be in his company. With the kind of poor self image issues and anxiety she grapples with, being around someone who makes you feel calm would be like a drug.
I’ll have more to say about the Manato/Shihoru shipping that is rampant at other sites when I get into the afterthoughts, so for now lets move on.
After the opening credits, we join the party in the abandoned city as they hunt Goblins and see that they have improved in a lot of ways. Not only are they a great deal more confident in their own fighting abilities, and much better at teamwork, they have earned enough money to learn new skills from their respective guilds, gaining a much needed advantage over the average Goblin.
As near as I can tell, the skills Haru refers to are like minor magic effects. Yume, for example, can slash an enemy at a distance, while Haru himself has learned how to deliver more force when hitting an enemy in the back. More impressive is Shihoru’s new Shadow Magic, which allows her to bind and hamper enemies. The confidence she displays when using it is equally impressive.
While Grimgar has been compared to SAO since episode one, this is another example of why that’s an unfair comparison, but I’ll get into that more later, as well.
Lots to talk about after the episode recap this week. I’m sure you guys already know why.
We also learn that the demon Ranta earned back in episode two has a name, Zodiac, though for some reason he calls it Zodiaco. The more he invests in it, the more it can do, as he gets another kill that will let him improve Zodiac, granting it the ability to whisper to enemies and distract them in battle. No matter how you cut it, that is actually a really useful ability. It’s no wonder Ranta’s always out to improve his Vice.
Having taken out a couple of Goblins, the party decides to take a break for lunch, and we learn a little more about the God of the Hunters Guild, the Great Wolf Elhit. We also learn that Yume sometimes has dreams about riding around on Elhit, and calls him Dear, all told in the most rambling, drawn out, pointless manner possible. I’d be annoyed by it, but it’s so typical Yume, and kind of adorable, that all I can do is smile at how absurd she is sometimes.
Ranta doesn’t agree with me, and gripes at her for telling a story even she admits had no point. Haru found it engaging enough, but I think that has more to do with Yume’s infectious personality than anything. For his part, Manato finds all of them kind of funny, and has a bit of a laugh before saying what a good party they’ve become. They can easily take on up to three Goblins at once now, after all.
No matter how you cut it, for this bunch, that is incredibly impressive.
Manato begins extolling the virtues of each member, starting with Moguzo, their shield, tank, and all around reliable fighter. Moguzo gets a bit flustered by this, leading to Ranta having fun at his expense. Manato tuns the tables on Ranta, though, by pointing out that it is Ranta’s aggressive nature that keeps them all from coming to a standstill. For a change, Ranta is startled into almost complete silence, both taken aback by, and immensely moved by Manato’s words.
I said before that Ranta was seeking approval that his life mattered, validation that he craves from Manato more than anyone due to Manato’s role as the parent of the group. Here, he has gotten that, and is stunned almost into total silence. Ranta, of all people, is at a loss for words.
After she gives Ranta shit, Manato tells her that she is the bravest of them all, completely unafraid of anything. As the healer, he often has to exercise great caution, and it’s good to know she’s there, ready to step in and do what needs to be done. She takes this with her usual affable charm, mostly just happy to be getting praise, cause she’s Yume, and she’s freaking adorable.
Manato even praises Shihoru, saying that she is always aware of her surroundings, and learned Shadow Magic specifically to be of more help to the party as a whole. She takes his praise with her usual shyness, but for a change, offers up no argument against his kind words. Hell, even Ranta notices this and finds it odd.
Clouds block out the sun for a moment, and Manato realizes they have been sitting in one spot for longer than they should. Haru kind of wanted to hear something nice said about himself, but knows Manato is right and they need to get moving before they get ambushed. He figures there’ll be time enough later.
There won’t be, of course, for this is where Manato will fall.
The party is gathering their things as Manato steps out of the enclosure they used to rest in, Haru right behind him, glancing up just in time to catch light glinting off something. He realizes it is an archer, aiming for Manato, and dives forward, shoving his friend out of the way, taking the arrow meant for him.
As everyone scrambles to react, the incredibly agile Goblin manages to get another arrow through Haru’s ankle, hobbling him. Moguzo jumps out to gather him up, dropping Haru’s dagger as he does, while Manato shields them as they fall back so Manato can heal Haru’s shoulder. He doesn’t get a chance to deal with his ankle before another Goblin, way more massive than it has a right to be, closes in on them from the rear.
This is a Goblin party, and they have managed to arrange an ambush that catches our heroes completely off guard. With Manato trying to heal Haru’s ankle, Moguzo is tied up an a deft sword wielding Goblin, and Ranta goes for the big one, but can’t get past the monsters massive weapon. Things get worse when a fourth Goblin shows up, wielding a capture pole.
With no choice but to retreat, the party begins looking for options. Their mapping from earlier pays off as they manage to slip away through a small crevice in the wall, regrouping on the other side to flee. As they do, one of the Goblins gets off a final shot with a crossbow, hitting Manato. He shrugs it off and they flee into the woods.
It isn’t until they stop to catch their breath that the full extent of the injury is known. The Goblin hit him full in the back, and rather than risk the lives of the party while they dealt with it, Manato urged them on until they were safe, then collapsed, succumbing to his injuries and dying. With his final words, he struggles to give leadership of the party to Haru, who he knows can do it, but Haru doesn’t understand.
They rush him back to town, taking him to the Priest’s Guild, not realizing it is far too late. Once there, their head Priest tells them Manato has passed, and grieves his loss as the others stand in shock.
Manato said before that all the old man who trained him did was yell at him, and I am certain Manato would not exaggerate something like that. Yet here we see that the old man clearly believed Manato would go on to do great things, and is saddened beyond words to see he has fallen. His affection for and faith in Manato is something we can easily understand, for just as his party shared it, so to did we.
As the others stand, too shocked to move or think, Haru comes apart, begging with the old Priest, trying to reason some way Manato can be saved, until Moguzo finally has to hold him just to keep him from shaking the Priest. The old man understands, though, and doesn’t chastise Haru, instead letting them know they need to tend to Manato’s funeral quickly.
Why? Oh, ya know, cause if they don’t, he might come back as freaking zombie. What the hell? There’s a zombie curse going around? That seems like something Brittany should have mentioned way back in episode one. Not to mention that the proper funeral the old Priest is talking about is cremation.
Shihoru collapses at that, both physically and emotionally. Haru regains his composure long enough to ask if such a thing costs money, since everything else here does. The old Priest offers to cover it for them, but Haru refuses, at first violently, then with grief, telling the old man that Manato was their friend.
This is their burden to carry, and while the old Priest’s offer is kind, they cannot allow him to do this. Manato was part of their family, their leader, and his earthly remains shall be their responsibility.
Nothing less would ever be acceptable. Not for them.
This is what this world has made them into. Hard creatures, full of love. Merciless people, overflowing with pity. Remorseless in their grief.
This is what this world has made them. Not heroes, but soldiers. Not teenagers any longer, but adults who know that terrible and grim difference between the two.
There are only three things really that I want to touch on here, the first of which is the Manato/Shihoru shipping I see at other sites. While I’m certainly not one to tell anyone not to sail their ship right around the world, this particular pairing never seemed legit to me, personally. There’s a few reasons for that.
Like I said above, Shihoru is drawn to Manato’s calming influence. For her, it’s like being a moth to his flame. The same can’t be said of Manato, however, who last week told Haru he was grateful just to have friends. In that moment, it seemed to me that he wasn’t romantically interested in Shihoru, so much as he was just trying to be a good friend to someone he saw as a friend.
Now, that said, let’s move on to the next topic.
We all saw Manato’s death coming pretty much from the first episode, didn’t we? At the very least, since last week, when they signaled it so hard you could see it from space. So, his death wasn’t surprising, but I don’t think it was meant to be, either. I think we were meant to see it coming.
Manato’s death was less about the shock of a main character dying, and more about how the other characters reacted to it. He didn’t die in glorious battle, but making sure his friends were safely away from danger, because that’s the kind of person he was, and when someone like that is lost, it hurts, whether we saw it coming or not. That’s what makes this work, because it wasn’t intended as a surprise, but rather an exploration of how his death affected the others.
An exploration that seems set to continue next episode, by the way, which brings me to the last point I want to make. The comparisons to SAO.
Aside from modern people finding themselves in a fantasy world, this show is about as different from SAO as you get. The similarities are purely in the broad strokes, which is hardly enough to levy any kind of fair comparison. Even how the abilities they develop work is vastly different, as is the nature of their circumstances.
In SAO, it was people trapped inside an MMO. In Grimgar, it’s people brought to what appears to be a real world. SAO had no magic of any kind, while Grimgar features heavy use of it. SAO was about a singular hero rising up to save everyone, while Grimgar is about the actual people struggling just to get by.
Sure, there are similarities, but as I said, they are purely in the broad strokes, which does not make two things enough alike to bear anything more than the most brief of comparisons. It’s like saying that Star Trek is just a ripoff of Star Wars, because they both happen to be sci-fi.
The reason I bring this up is because I’ve seen recently that Grimgar is getting dismissed out of hand as yet another SAO knock off, which everyone is sick of. This usually comes with a hefty dose of droll mockery and demands that for something original instead of retreads.
Hate to tell people this, but there is nothing original out there, and there hasn’t been for a really long time. The only way your going to see something new is how an idea is presented, and in that, Grimgar does succeed. My apologies to all the hipster douchebags out there that can’t be assed to say anything nice about anything, but even you aren’t original.
How about you try enjoying something instead of hating everything for a change? Or is that too much to ask?
Point is, Grimgar is wildly different from SAO, and episodes like this showcase just how removed the two are from one another. Death in SAO was done with glittering lights. Death in Grimgar comes with having to deal with the remains, and the extra layer of grief that brings.
That, and for these characters, there is no way out of this world. Not now. Not ever.
Next week: Crying Doesn’t Make You Weak. Enduring Doesn’t Make You Strong.