Haruhiro and other strangers wake up in a strange place with no memory of how they got there (and a whole bunch of other missing memories). They soon learn they need to earn money to survive in this new world and form a party to work together to kill goblins and other things that go bump in the forest or wherever else, however Haruhiro is in a party formed from those left over after the stronger individuals formed a group. Now this mismatched team will take on roles and try to survive in this new world.
Review: (Absolutely spoilers ahead so if you are concerned, pass now.)
A lot of people have compared this anime to Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and other anime that follow the stuck in a video game world idea. The problem with that comparison is that while it is entirely possible Grimgar takes place in a virtual world, that is never confirmed or denied. The characters therefore do not act as if they are in a game (one with deadly consequences or otherwise). They are in a dangerous fantasy world and one where they didn’t naturally gain superhuman powers so that they could declare themselves the saviour of it. They are at the bottom of the ladder and having to fight every day just to be able to eat or buy new underwear. As such, Grimgar needs to be considered in the context of what it is rather than what it isn’t.
It is a fantasy. That much is clear from the pseudo medieval setting and the classes the characters take on (thief, rogue, hunter, priest, dark knight and paladin). However, we have no prophecy of ancient and unspeakable evil, really don’t have an overall antagonist for our group to try to defeat or even that the government are at war with. All we have is that the non-human creatures of this world don’t like the humans much (I can’t imagine why that might be) and that new recruits have to go and deal with these creatures. Recruits earn money from their kills by collecting certain bits and pieces of them.
Having a fantasy with no central quest is an interesting prospect in and of itself. It might leave you wondering what the point is. And as our characters simple struggle to survive and work as a team I know many viewers did start wondering if there was a point.
Oddly enough, I found this approach refreshing. While I don’t actually like any of the characters in Grimgar (more on that later), they each represent a relatable character and you can see their strengths and weaknesses and how they work or don’t work together. The lack of driving plot allowed this anime to really let these characters experience the world. They weren’t rushing past the reflection on what this life was like and how they were getting on with someone else, or whether they made the right decisions. The audience get to see, mostly through Haruhiro, the way they are genuinely coping with being trapped somewhere with no memories of where you were before or how you got there, and having to find their own direction.
And they do. Small goals at first. Being able to buy meat. Affording a change of clothes. Hunting goblins in the ruins. Mapping the ruins. Defeating the goblins who killed one of the party members. Working with a new party member. Visiting the mines and surviving. As they achieve each goal they look to the next step and start building a life for themselves. They experience a number of set-backs on their way to each of these goals and the danger of the world is always front and centre. These characters are not the protagonists in a shonen anime. Just screaming louder does not make them stronger. They are scared and they are learning their skills from the ground up and they make mistakes and those mistakes can have fatal consequences.
I liked the portrayal of the goblins as well. While our party of would be heroes are finding and killing them, we see that the goblins are equally scared of dying and just as frantic to live. This message about morality and the work of soldiers and killing for survival might be a little heavy (they really don’t do subtle well in this anime) but as a recurring theme and an idea that very much matches the subdued tone of the story it is quite affective. While in every battle you want the main characters to survive you also don’t really want to see the enemies killed. It creates a nice sense of inner conflict while watching.
Onto our characters. Haruhiro is fine as the one we mostly follow. A little withdrawn and shy, doubtful of his every choice, he originally is happy to follow Manato’s lead. Unfortunately, with Manato’s death, Moguzo’s almost non-presence despite his size, Ranta being Ranta, and the girls being burdened with writing that was definitely skewed toward far more ‘traditional’ female roles so never even had a chance to be considered, Haruhiro was forced into a leadership role which he genuinely is not prepared to take on. This is great for his development as a character, unfortunately, Haruhiro is just not dynamic enough as a character to really fill the space.
The female characters, while each are interesting in their way, regularly get sidelines by the writing and the plot. They fill support roles and get to express the emotional melt-downs that should come with some of the circumstances. They also get used for fan-service which just seems out of place givin the rather serious tone for most of the series. Occasionally they get to be fiery or assertive but only in small doses. That was probably why Mary’s character was such a breath of fresh air even while she was a serious pain in the neck. She didn’t blindly follow along to other’s suggestions and openly challenged the authority of some of the boys. Alas, after Mary’s healing moment (where she finally got past some of her baggage) she became another fairly faded female with no real distinction.
I should probably mention the art. It’s very washed out at times and there are some interesting effects with light and weather. It’s kind of beautiful to look at and kind of strange at the same time. The music is also pretty heart-felt and dramatic but ultimately forgettable.
All and all, Grimgar is an emotional and dramatic anime that moves slowly but steadily forward. The characters grow and develop in a logical and reasonable manner in response to the challenges they face. Death is dealt with in a very real manner and in a way that feels distinct from so many other anime.
Probably my biggest complaint for the series is that it utterly and completely does not finish. Yeah, we get a boss fight of sorts but we still know nothing about the how and the why they are in this world and there is still a long way for our characters to go.
I really do recommend watching this anime. Admittedly, it isn’t for everyone and the slow pace and lack of plot direction may turn some away, but there is a real beauty to the story telling and character progression that just sucked me right in.
What did you think of this anime?