Weird Context Aside, Did I Just Watch a Coin Hunt?
Gleipnir was an anime that was repeatedly recommended to me when I asked Twitter what I should catch up on from 2020. However, the lack of any consistent or clear response when I asked what it was about definitely caught my attention and on finally deciding to watch it I asked whether or not there was any resolution to the narrative. The answer was as expected in that this season of Gleipnir does not complete the story so we’re left with either a read the source or wait and hope for a season 2 kind of ending. That isn’t necessarily the end of the world for a well made anime but it does diminish the rewatch value until we find out if another season is coming. So armed with limited knowledge and accepting that things weren’t going to get tied up in a neat little bow I embarked on my journey of watching Gleipnir.
The first three episodes of Gleipnir are an absolute trip. Each one introduces characters and questions and leaves you with a vague sense that events are moving toward something but you aren’t really sure what. Throw in a couple of very nicely animated action sequences, including a very fluid and dynamic fight with an ultimately throw away character, and some interesting visual effects thrown in for good measure, and honestly these episodes are great to watch even if I couldn’t have pinned down a specific goal for the anime or characters at that point in time other than to find out what was going on.
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There’s some definite moments where you have to wonder just how far things are going to go as Shuuichi, are somewhat purposefully bland main character who seems to be going out of his way to live an ‘ordinary’ life (in the way that anime protagonists never can) has a few questionable moments in his monster form after apparently rescuing Clair (a very nicely written female anime character with some real nuance to her personality) from a fire. While Shuuichi does stop himself from crossing the line into becoming a completely unforgiveable creep, there’s some definitely eyebrow raising moments here even before we later find out that Clair had actually intended to commit suicide and Shuuichi’s heroic act mostly just interrupted her plans. Not that she isn’t flexible and now that she has been saved, and by a monster no less, she’s set her sights on a new goal and Shuuichi is going to help her whether he wants to or not. We soon find our main characters embroiled in a hunt for golden coins and there’s a whole bunch of other people who can turn into monsters who are also looking for them as they grant wishes and getting enough of them together is apparently going to lead to something potentially really bad.
Clair and Shuuichi’s developing relationship throughout the series as a catalyst for moving Shuuichi into the actual plot of the story this is great. In terms of recommending this anime, it kind of leaves you having to put a few caveats on the story given we have both suicide and a near sexual assault appearing pretty much in the same episode. And that’s before we get to the whole part where Shuuichi’s monster transformation actually is the form of a costume and Clair literally inserts herself inside of him to assume control of his form to fight other monsters. Naturally, due to the heat and general slime factor, she chooses to either be in her underwear, swimwear or naked prior to entry. If that isn’t going to bother you, and the high body count and occasional blood splatter aren’t an issue either, then it should be noted that Gleipnir somehow manages to remain fun to watch even while it doesn’t seem to be trivialising some fairly heavy subject matter.
Balancing that tone between being enjoyable but not making light of events that really require some weight behind them is incredibly challenging and while Gleipnir definitely glories in its darkness, death is never treated as something easily dismissible. The reactions of the main and supporting cast to deaths feels believable and, in what felt like something fairly original for an anime story, various supporting characters actually decided that enough was enough and they weren’t going to involve themselves any further in the crazy.
Now, other anime bend over backwards not to give characters an out such as WIXOSS and every trapped in a video game anime ever. Leaving is not an option. However, Gleipnir actually works because the alien at the core of it isn’t forcing anyone to participate. He has simply set things up and is now sitting back and watching how they unfold. The only time he really threatens anyone was to ensure they didn’t expose him to the general public. Giving characters a choice adds a lot more reality to the whole situation as those that continue on have genuinely chosen to continue seeking the coins in spite of the horrors faced and while their motives vary, they all feel a lot more solid as individuals because of it.
Likewise, the alien’s personality and temperament, mysterious though it may remain, is another real plus for Gleipnir’s otherwise reasonably ordinary story of find the magic thingy before everyone else (oh and killing the competition is allowed). He doesn’t remain simply the quest giver but interacts with characters as they seek answers and also gets flash backs and back story. While little is known about him prior to the ship’s crash, that seems almost irrelevant, as it is far more interesting to see what his time on Earth has made him into. Though he doesn’t get a name, he remains an intriguing character and his mercurial form and responses to characters only makes you more curious. While a potential motive for his actions is established in these 13 episodes, you can’t help but feel there has to be more to the story. What we get though is enough to help the audience feel there is some purpose to the madness.
Of all the 2020 shows I’ve currently caught up on, Gleipnir has visually been the most impressive. There’s some very smooth animation, fights each have a unique look based on the powers of the characters involved, and character designs are largely distinct and interesting. Where there’s a small criticism to make is of the mob monster characters who ae decidedly on both the unoriginal and repetitive style. Given the unique visualisations more major characters get, to see multiple monsters that are essentially black or green generic shadows or blobs, really just seems a little on the tired and lazy side, particularly when you find out more about the nature of the character transformations. It is a petty criticism and if we look at older anime, such as Soul Eater, half the time mob characters didn’t even get drawn in properly at all.
The OP really works for this anime. It kind of reminded me initially of the OP for Another, but on closer listening to both, they are only really superficially similar. What Gleipnir’s theme really succeeds at doing is building a sense of mystery and tension as well as really giving us a sense of who a lot of the characters are. It is one of those OP’s I chose not to skip even once despite binge watching the show because it really just enhanced the episode that followed it.
Overall, Gleipnir starts out near incomprehensibly, but has enough charm and energy to keep you watching. Once the search for the coins begin, familiar narrative patterns emerge and while it gets a little less excited, the mystery element isn’t forgotten as slowly little bits of information about the characters and the coins emerge. It leaves you with a sense that nothing here is going to waste. And no, we don’t see the end of the adventure in this series, but they certainly did draw us to a logical resting place with enough answers to feel there was a sense of progress but enough questions to really want another season.
How did you find Gleipnir?
Images used for review from: Gleipnir. Dir. K Yoneda. Pine Jam. 2020.