The review below contains spoilers for the previous books.
Level 5 is an interesting entry into the Grimgar series if only because it seems to be forcing the direction of the story and the characters down a slightly different path. Prior to now day to day survival and the grief of losing friends has stayed first and foremost in the characters minds. They are newbies in a vicious world where mistakes get you killed and that kind of dominated the first four books.
Needless to say, by book 5 a change was needed. Not because what came before it wasn’t good, but because there’s only so many hunting trips where the characters caution each other, or pitched battles where they rely on others and feel regret, that you can read through before it starts to become repetitive. These characters are no longer the newbies in the world and they realise they have to step things up. The end result isn’t flawless and certainly as a story this chapter is probably weaker than the previous entries, and yet the possibilities it presents for future instalments makes me want to keep going.
Let’s look at some specifics. Level 5 sees Haruhiro and the crew still playing in the Wonder Hole and getting into a kind of routine. All of that changes when they discover a new shaft in that isn’t known to the other recruits and they decide they want to claim it as there’s. Unfortunately for them, team Tokimune also stumble upon the discovery and so an uneasy alliances is formed.
This premise has some great potential. For the first time Haruhiro and the others aren’t just following along with the directions they are given. Initially they started goblin hunting in areas they were directed to, and then Mary led them to the mines. The pitched battle was organised by others as well and even their forays in the Wonder Hole were always following the advice they were given about the different areas and dwellers. Moving into unknown territory is a huge step for this group. Also, pairing with another team, while they’ve kind of worked with team Renji before during a battle, allows new characters and interactions and a general shake up of the group dynamics. There’s really a lot of scope being opened up at the start of this book.
Unfortunately there is a major problem fairly quickly. And that is that team Tokimune is made up of nut-jobs and not the fun kind. While one or two eccentrics would be understandable and could even be fun in this setting, an entire team of people who seem like they shouldn’t have survive a week in Grimgar is asking a bit much. Then as these characters dominate a lot of the interactions part of me is almost wishing for Ranta to start shouting again. Oh, but he does that anyway. So we’re left with the worst interactions from the original crew and a new team that aren’t all that interesting (because they are trying to hard to be quirky) or likeable.
Where this volume manages to save itself is that it presents a genuinely interesting challenge for the teams. And as team Tokimune are the ones blundering into things unprepared for once, it makes Haruhiro and his team step up and take the lead, which is quite satisfying to see. While they aren’t instant juggernauts and the threat of death continues to seems very close at all times, these characters are quite pleasing in their new role as the stable support and later the rescue squad.
There’s a very weird series of interactions between Haruhiro and Mimorin from the other team that seem to be indicating that she’s wanting to either adopt him as a pet or maybe she’s falling for him. I’m not really sure but their interactions are weird and the book ends with these two which makes me wonder about how significant this character is overall or whether she’s going to fade away after this one volume.
Overall though, while the book has its good points and weaker parts, it is a very satisfying continuation of a story that I’m pretty engrossed in and I’m looking forward to buying the next books and finding out where it goes.
If you’re interested in reading Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Volume 5 it is available on the Book Depository.