The most frustrating anime of the Winter 2016 season was Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Hai to Gensou no Grimgar) (Funimation.) This show had a lot going for it: the best artwork of the season, solid writing with memorable characters and a setting that offers a lot of possibilities. I’m giving it an extra star for technical excellence.
But as a story it’s unsatisfactory, with an ending that leaves most of the big questions unresolved. It’s possible that they will add additional seasons that will flesh out the story and answer all the questions. If so this might be the start of something great–but I wouldn’t bet money on it. Anime adaptations of light novels tend to tell only the story of the first volume or two and then stop. The only example that comes to mind of a LN adaptation that told the complete story (over 3 seasons totaling 6 cours) was Shakugan no Shana, and that one managed to end each season in a satisfying way.
But I’m going to write a review anyway just to give me a starting point in case they do surprise me with additional seasons.
The story begins when a group of young people who seem to be from modern Japan find themselves in the quasi-medieval world of Grimgar. They don’t know how they got there and they don’t remember anything of their past lives.
Grimgar is physically a pretty world, similar to our own, though the moon is red and the animals look funny.
But it’s a primitive world where life can be harsh, especially if you don’t have a lot of money. That means sleeping in straw and starting a fire with a bow (maybe because flint is too expensive.)
Fortunately the inns a least have baths, since this is a Japanese show and going without bathing is pretty much unthinkable.
The new arrivals are told that if they don’t want to starve they will have to become “Volunteer Soldiers” and kill monsters for their treasure. Yes, this world is set up exactly like a Dungeons and Dragons-style role-playing game, complete with character classes and leveling-up. (Not to mention the fact that the girls wear fighting outfits that look cute but somewhat impractical.)
The new arrivals are told to join guilds (which determine their character class) and form fighting groups to hunt monsters. The story focuses on 6 new arrivals who have to form their own group because they look too unpromising to be picked by any of the other groups.
Haruhiro is the narrator and the audience-viewpoint character. He’s basically a decent guy but very unsure of himself. He decides to join the Thieves Guild (which makes him more like an Assassin in most games.)
Manato is the most mature member of the group whom the others look to for leadership. He is a gentle and conscientious man so he naturally becomes a Priest, which gives him healing powers.
Moguzo‘s great size and strength lead him to become a Warrior. In spite of his appearance he is gentle and soft-spoken.
Ranta is an obnoxious little jerk. He becomes a Dark Knight, joining a guild that worships the god Skullhell and practices black magic. Ah well, you don’t always get to pick your coworkers.
Shihoru is quiet and timid, with a voice that is practically a whisper. She sensibly decides to become a Magic User, the only character class that can fight from behind without grappling with the enemy.
Yume (Huntress) is courageous, direct and level-headed. She is probably the most sensible member of the group though she affects a cute style of Japanese speech and calls herself by her first name. She is fiercely protective of Shihoru.
Mary (another Priest) joins the group later. She initially seems cold and unfriendly. She is a higher-level fighter than the other members but she has been traumatized but the deaths of most of the other members of her previous group.
What makes Grimgar different from most RPG anime shows is that being in a RPG-style world doesn’t seem fun at all. (Seriously, if you had to live in primitive conditions and constantly risk your life in dangerous exhausting fights with monsters, how much would you really enjoy it?)
Furthermore the show makes it clear that the monsters are intelligent beings who mostly go around living their own lives and minding their own business until a bunch of humans attack them without provocation to steal their treasure. At that point they naturally fight viciously for their lives.
No attempt is made to convince us that the monsters deserve to be killed. In fact they seem rather sympathetic.
Obviously this world, whatever its superficial appeal, is seriously messed up. This is an interesting premise, but to make a satisfactory story we need more than just the adventure yarn we have been given so far. We need to have the characters somehow challenge the rules of the world they find themselves in. Only if there are future seasons in which this happens will this count as a good show.