Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Anime Review
Written by: ClayDragon
Winter 2016 was a rather strange season for anime. On one hand, we had KonoSuba, a series about a guy who gets transported into a fantasy world and forms a party, only for them to not be very good at the whole adventuring thing. On the other hand, we had Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, a series about a guy who gets transported into a fantasy world and forms a party, only for them to not be very good at the whole adventuring thing. But here’s what’s interesting – they both came out at the same time, and their descriptions at the start of the series are identical, but they couldn’t be more different.
WARNING: Due to the nature of this series, it would be pretty much impossible to talk about the main themes and story beats without spoiling anything. Therefore, THERE WILL BE A COUPLE OF SPOILERS. I don’t like spoiling things in reviews, so I’ll try to keep such things to a minimum, but I make no promises.
Grimgar opens with our main character, Haruhiro, waking up in a building with several other people. Despite wearing modern clothing and occasionally using modern phrases, none of them remember anything about themselves other than their names. They’re quickly informed that they’re in a world named Grimgar, and will have to go out into the wild and fight monsters in order to gain enough money to survive.
|Not necessarily in that order.|
Therefore, Haruhiro learns some new skills and joins a party with five other similarly-minded members – Yume (an archer), Ranta (a Dark Knight), Moguzo (a knight), Shihoru (a mage) and Manato (a cleric and the party’s leader), with Haruhiro taking the role of a thief/scout. Together, the group attempts to earn money by fighting monsters such as goblins, and it immediately turns out that they’re not very good at it.
|From left to right: Manato, Shihoru, Yume, Ranta, Haruhiro, Mary and Moguzo.|
See, whilst KonoSuba was a parody of the ‘trapped in fantasy land’ genre, Grimgar is very much a deconstruction. The main characters don’t get any special treatment or anything simply because they’re the protagonists – they go days without earning any money at all, and they constantly face the threat of not being able to afford to stay in their (very basic) lodgings. It’s not really played for laughs either – the possibility of dying in this world is very real, and as such every fight is a brutal battle for survival.
That being said, the deconstruction aspect is really ramped up roughly halfway through the series. Basically (SPOILER WARNING (AGAIN)), during a goblin attack, a Very Bad Thing happens and one of the party members is killed. And this isn’t the type of fantasy universe that has phoenix downs or resurrection spells – the party member is very definitely gone for good, and their death kicks off one of this show’s most memorable aspects (don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil their identity).
|"Now, does everyone have life insurance?"|
After this event, Grimgar takes a long, hard look at the grieving process, and shows how each character deals with the death in a different manner. It’s never easy when a friend dies before their time, and the emotions that the cast go through are both understandable and completely realistic. This isn’t one of those times when an anime character dies and then pretty much goes unmentioned either – it’s made clear that the rest of the characters will never forget them, and the death really shapes the rest of the series.
|Instead of a potential spoiler, please enjoy this gif of a... well, I don't actually know what that is. It's cute though.|
Speaking of the characters, most of the party members are likable enough (Ranta is by and large an unrepentant asshole though), but only a few get to develop beyond their initial portrayal. Haruhiro is a decent enough protagonist and both he and Mary (who joins the party later on) really get some development later in the series, but apart from those two (and Yume, who is objectively the best girl in the series) I didn’t really have any favourites. The best part about the characters is their interactions with each other, and how their dynamics change after the death. Their conversations and arguments really give off the sense that they’re struggling together, and for the most part they do seem like real people thrust into a completely unfamiliar situation.
|If I tried to do that it would end with at least two broken bones and a concussion.|
Visually, Grimgar is, well…It’s stunning. The world looks like one great big watercolour painting, and it’s beautiful. Forests, towns and abandoned cities are all shown in this style, and it makes every scene look interesting, even if nothing much is actually happening. It’s an animation style that I’ve never really seen in anime before, and that uniqueness only serves to make it even more memorable. It’s the type of world that I’d like to live in, or at least visit for a holiday. Oh, and if I could get a poster of Grimgar’s night sky hanging over my bed, I would.
|It would be a nice place to live, until you realise that there's no wifi.|
The actual character animations are done well too. Subtle expressions and character tics make the cast seem more rounded, and even though they’re fairly typical (the shy Shihoru twirls her hair, for example), it’s still effective. The fights are impressive as well – whilst they aren’t flashy or stylish, each battle is very much a frenzied struggle to survive. Plus, the knowledge that death is very much a thing in this series adds an extra layer of tension to every fight. The only issue is that some battles have frequent animation cuts, which makes it difficult to follow the action and figure out where everyone is in relation to everyone else.
|Maybe if she gets a bigger hat she can hide her entire head.|
The show’s soundtrack is another highlight, using a variety of different instruments and tracks. There are a lot of insert songs – I’m talking an average of one per episode – but on the whole they add to the scene as opposed to detracting from it (although some did get a bit grating the second time I watched the show). Grimgar was also lucky enough to get a dub, and in a rather surprising move Funimation has cast relative newcomers to voice the main characters, with the only one I had heard of beforehand being Jad Saxton (Mary’s VA). Despite my initial scepticism, this turned out for the best – the dub is amazing. The Japanese audio is no slouch either, but it’s been a while since I’ve listened to a dub this good.
|Let him have his fantasies, Haruhiro.|
As far as openings and endings go, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The ending is nice, if a bit forgettable, but the opening is another story. Grimgar technically has two openings, and although the animation in each one is almost completely different, they both use the same song. Which is a good thing, because the song is great (dear Japan, please make more anime openings with fiddle solos). The first version’s animation is good too, but this gets eschewed in favour of mostly static pictures of the main cast. Don’t get me wrong, the pictures are done in watercolour style, so they look very pretty, but I have to wonder why the animation was changed at all.
|Well, besides from the obvious, I mean.|
If I have one major problem with Grimgar, it’s the last third of the show. Whilst the story and characters remain on roughly the same level as they’ve always been, the animation takes a bit of a hit. The background art becomes a lot more dull and uninspiring (although in fairness, this is because these episodes take place in a cave), and the actual character animation loses a bit of quality, with a higher rate of off-model faces and animation cuts during action scenes. It never reaches unbearable levels, but it’s a definite step down compared to the beauty of earlier episodes.
|The first two-thirds are brilliant though (as you can see from almost every image in this review).|
One other aspect that people might have trouble with is Grimgar’s pacing. The show has a very slow build up, with large chunks of each episode being devoted to simply seeing how the cast live their lives in their new home. I personally don’t have that much of a problem with this, since it helps to ground the series and develop the relationships between characters, but I can see how some people would find it boring. This is also a bit of an issue since we still don’t know how the characters arrived in this world in the first place (granted, the light novel series is ongoing, but still).
|Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and soak in the peaceful atmosphere.|
Overall, Grimgar offers a more down-to-earth look at the ‘trapped in fantasy land’ genre, as well as a level of insight into a friend’s death that very few anime of its ilk can claim. It takes a while for each character’s personality to fully distinguish itself, but by the time the series was over I felt that every character was fairly well established, and the show ends on a strong note. It’s not without its faults, but I do hope that this show gets another season, as the world of Grimgar is one I could easily return to.
|"What do you mean, you don't sell plane tickets to Grimgar?!"|
Good Things: Effectively deconstructs the expectations of its genre.
Believable and realistic portrayal of grief and mourning.
Well-developed dynamics between most cast members.
Animation is beautiful (especially the background art).
Bad Things: A couple of cast members don’t get enough focus or development.
Slow pacing can be a turn-off for some people.
Animation quality dips towards the end of the series.
Do you have a suggestion for an anime I should review? Let me know in the comments, or submit it to ask.fm/ClayDragon!
|Regardless of species, you'll always find peeping toms somewhere.|
ClayDragon has finished studying Physics at university, and understands about as much as he did when he started. The main method of contacting him is his Gmail account at email@example.com. He has an ask.fm account at ask.fm/ClayDragon. When not playing games or reading, he can be found with his head in his hands whilst trying in vain to figure out what to do with his life. Fiddle music is the best music.