Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Level 5 Light Novel Review: The Hole of Surprises Isn’t Kidding

If you missed my reviews of the first 4 books, check them out here. The review below will contain spoilers for the previous books.

Review:

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.

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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.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Level 4 Light Novel Review: Thematic Consistency Makes For A Compelling Read

I’ve reviewed the first three books in this series but if you missed those posts you can read them here. The review below will contain spoilers for the previous books.

Review:

I said in my review of the third book that each story here takes us further into the rich world of Grimgar and book 4 is no exception. However, stronger than the extraordinary setting is the ongoing development of the characters and the themes of loss and the will to survive.

After the death of Manato in book 1, Grimgar set its tone clearly and also demonstrated a fairly strong ability to write real human emotions into a story. Coping with loss and death is done fairly poorly in so many stories with characters completely breaking down or just forgetting about the death as soon as they step away from the grave. Grimgar managed to show the mourning process in a compelling manner as well as portray the long journey back to some kind of emotional normalcy even while the characters were forced to continue to act because to wait would have been to die.

The death at the end of book 3 (which might have been a tease) was confirmed very swiftly in book 4 and even though I had quite a few weeks waiting for the next book to be released and to arrive, I hadn’t quite come to terms with what that death would mean for the party. Once again, Grimgar has managed to impress me with its handling of the grief process each character goes through and their recovery as a party. It isn’t a repeat of what we saw in book 1. These characters have gone through so much since then and this is the second time, but that actually makes it more intriguing.

Merry wasn’t with the party when they lost Manato but she has lost her own comrades and this death hits her hard and reinforces her fear that she is a failure as a priest. For Ranta, he has lost the one person in the party who kind of tolerated him and someone he’d actually started forming a connection with. But outside of the loss of a comrade and making so many of them feel guilty, is the feeling that without Moguzo they will die. That their party can’t survive without him.

There’s also the added emotional confusion when several members of the party are offered places in more established and potentially safer groups with more experience.

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But this book isn’t just dwelling on the past. Once again, the story manages to balance dealing with the characters’ emotions with moving the plot forward. More importantly, the characters still aren’t at the stage where they can rest as each day uses money and if they don’t fight they don’t earn. Another replacement party member is found and the group begin to explore new territory taking some risks in the hopes of getting stronger and finding a way for long term survival.

While Ranta remains a fairly insufferable character, his presence is kind of needed in this group and the story balances him well as he never crosses the line of making me hate him as a character. He is annoying and he stirs the other characters and at times he is a complete idiot, yet in every fight I find myself hoping he survives if only so he can stir Haruhiro up the next day.

Actually, I like all the characters as characters. They are all flawed people and struggle at times and I doubt I’d like many of them in real life, but I’ve grown very attached while reading this series and knowing that the writer can and will kill characters leaves me feeling quite stressed during fight sequences.

On that note, the final battle delivered in this book tops anything read so far and once again I’m wondering why the anime didn’t make it this far because books 3 and 4 would be incredibly impressive in anime form.

However, I can’t just be all lovey-dovey about this book so my small criticism would be Haruhiro’s character. After the progress he had been making before this book, now he seems to stagnate as a character and given he’s the narrator that might become a problem. Still, it seems as though the final fight may have broken through some wall so maybe book 5 will deliver some growth. Unfortunately it isn’t available on the Book Depository just yet. Still, I am very keen to read on.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Level 3 Light Novel Review: Why Has This Part Not Been Adapted Into Anime?

I’ve previously reviewed level 1 and level 2 so if you missed those, please check them out. Also, some spoilers below though I’ve tried to be fairly vague about specific plot points.

Review:

No beverage comparisons this time; the story is just worth reading.

When reviewing level 1, I admitted the writing wasn’t very good but I really enjoyed the story and the world the characters inhabited and how many possibilities that provided. Level 2 gave us improved writing and a really sharp character focus on two of the male leads. Level 3 brings us a story that wasn’t part of the anime so for the first time I went in without any idea of what was about to happen, but even if I had known, this still would have been fantastic.

It should be noted though that the writing, while improved from book 1, still has some moments where you just want to grab a pen and do some harsh editing. There’s one section narrated by Haruhiro where he gets this really repetitive thought pattern starting with ‘like’ that is used over and over again. I get what they were trying to do in this section of the book and it does make it distinct to other parts Haruhiro narrates, but it is really awkward writing.

I’m also going to point out that I felt the cover art of this one was a bit ho-hum and some of the black and white images throughout the book are so dark I can’t really see what they are supposed to be.

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That is much lighter and clearer than the print version I got of this. And while it is a really minor issue, I’m not exactly buying these for the art anyway given I’m wanting to read the novel, if you are going to include images they should at least be nice.

The other criticism I’m going to put out there, before I get on to what I really loved about this book, is the chapter narrated by another random soldier. Now level 2 explored the idea of switching up the narrator but then we moved from Haruhiro to Ranta in order to get a different perspective on a known character. It gave us more insight on someone who had been dominating a lot of scenes but had so far been painted only in the way that Haruhiro saw him and the switched perspective actually helped flesh him out enormously (though didn’t make him any more tolerable in this book).

But level 3 has a chapter entirely narrated by some random soldier (not a volunteer mind you, just a soldier) as he directs an attack. Mostly he is swearing and cursing other members of the army and the basic command structure and while that is understandable, given the circumstances, it doesn’t really do anything for the reader. We don’t know who this soldier is (we’re given his name at the start of the chapter but that isn’t really the same thing). We don’t have any reason to care about what is going on. While the events of this chapter do have flow on effects to the main characters, we would have understood more or less what had happened without this chapter. Maybe some of the characters in this chapter become significant later but for this chapter to have worked these characters needed far more introduction earlier in the story.

So what works for Level 3?

The storyline here is pretty epic (and not in the I just thought it was cool way). The main army has put out an order asking volunteer soldiers to join a campaign against not one, but two orc strongholds (yep, orc and not goblin). Previously we saw how strong some random orcs were when they attacked the town (a minor part of level 2) so this is a fairly big deal. But so is the reward for the volunteer soldiers who take up the call. Naturally after a lot of umming and ahhing, Haruhiro and crew do sign up but right from the start things don’t go exactly as expected (and which reader thought they would).

Basically the entire second half of the novel is either taken up with the battle at the Keep Haruhiro and his friends are attacking, or with the first definite sign of the world these characters came from through a flashback/dream type sequence that Haruhiro has. Even with Haruhiro’s fairly mundane and narrowly focused narration the audience glimpses just how intense this battle ends up being and the toll it takes on the volunteer soldiers. In case you read level 2 and felt that Grimgar had forgotten its promise in level 1 of gritty and dangerous fantasy world where death could be a reality, let level 3 remind you. Of course, the ending will have you screaming particularly when you realise that the only way to get level 4 is to pre-order and wait (Book Depository), which of course I did.

The other part I really enjoyed about this was Choco’s character. She was a volunteer soldier who arrived after Haruhiro’s group and she’s kind of the catalyst for a lot of the reveals we get from Haruhiro. We’re really getting our first sure signs that something is really wrong with these characters being dumped in this world. She didn’t do much in the story but her impact is fairly significant and to be honest, she brought out a side of Haruhiro that was kind of entertaining.

Renji remains an incredibly impressive character every time he finds his path crossing Haruhiro. That’s probably because Haruhiro has a bit of hero-worship going and he’s narrating, but Renji manages to make everything look cool (even losing). He is a nice contrasting character given he arrived in the world at the same time as Haruhiro did but as even Haruhiro admits the difference between them is insane at this point. And yet, this book shows us that Haruhiro and his group have definitely come a long way and it is their confidence that is lacking more than their abilities at this stage (that isn’t to say they aren’t still a little rough around the edges).

Lastly I’ll give a shout out Moguzo who quite literally steals a number of scenes right out from under our narrator’s nose.

Every book draws me deeper into the world of Grimgar and to be honest I can’t wait to get the next one. Certainly there are still issues with the writing and other points, but the story, the world, and the characters more than make up for it. I’d personally like to see the girls in the part get more development, though this book actually had Shihoru starting to develop a bit of personality so maybe we’ll get there yet.


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Karandi James.

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Isekai Stories

With my current light novel fixation and the majority of these being isekai stories I decided to look at some of my favourite isekai anime. Now this list started with just being set in another world and then clearly made a distinction of stories where someone starts in one world and crosses to another (which ruled out huge numbers straight away and that was probably a good thing). The other self-imposed rule I made was that there needed to be some element of being stuck in the new world, which unfortunately took GATE out of my list so it is going in the honourable mentions.

As always, this list is my opinion and my favourites, feel free to add yours in the comments below. I’m certain there will be some Re:Zero fans out there.

Please Note: There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions in this list go to GATE and Drifters.

Number 5: The Familiar of Zero

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I don’t really know why I like this over the top, harem comedy anime, particularly with the initial interactions between Louise (the titular Zero) and Saito (ordinary guy from Earth who gets summoned as Louise’s familiar during a high school magic exam gone wrong). She literally treats him like a dog or a slave at first and it isn’t great (and there is some highly excessive fan service throughout), however somewhere along the line an actual story begins to develop and the world Saito has been summoned to ends up being quite interesting. All and all, by the end of the first season of this I was pretty hooked even if it is incredibly bad at times.

Number 4: No Game No Life

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Again, this one has some appalling fan service moments going on in it, but once again the world itself is really interesting. A world where there is no war and literally everything is decided by the outcome of games seems really fascinating, particularly when the participants of the games set and agree to the rules so it isn’t as though you have to be good at one particular game. Shiro and Sora are siblings who play as Blank online in the real world when they get invited to play another game and end up being transported to Disboard. While some people find the predictability of the victor a bit of a let down, I really enjoyed this anime and my only real complaint is the anime ends just as the story seems to really get going.

Number 3: The Devil is a Part Timer

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This one is kind of the reverse situation to so many other isekai stories. Instead of some normal everyman from earth finding themselves in a magic world, here a hero and a devil find themselves stuck on Earth where magic is pretty hard to come by. While they do find various ways in the end to travel home, for some reason, they never seem to go and Maou finds more and more reasons to stay. This one is funny and if you ever believed that corporate culture was evil you will probably find the devil’s aspirations to take over the world by working his way up the food chain at a knock off McDonald’s hilarious. Again, the story feels unfinished, but it is a fairly entertaining ride.

Number 2: Sword Art Online

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Yes, I like Sword Art Online. This one is also a bit different from others on this list in that it is a game world and not some sort of magic world the characters are in, and they voluntarily entered it even if they didn’t know they couldn’t leave, and by the end of the first arc they aren’t trapped anymore, but I love this show. I’m putting it here. It is great fun and Kirito is awesome. If you like boss fights, some random questing and levelling, and seeing characters getting on with ‘life’ when removed from the real world, this show is great fun.

Number 1: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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It is no surprise when I decided to dip my toes into the pool of Light Novels that I started with Grimgar. I loved this anime so much and fell in love with the world and the characters and desperately wanted more. Now that I’m reading the light novels I really want to know why there is no second season of this anime. Certainly it is a much slower pace and not as comedy heavy as some on this list, but I think that is for the better in this case as it provides a darker view of normal guy being transported to a world where he’s suddenly expected to know how to fight and survive. Well worth watching but you may need some tissues mid-season. One major difference in this story is the anime never confirms where the characters came from before they woke up in Grimgar so we know nothing of who they were before they encounter this world.

So that is my list of top 5 isekai anime. Please add your own favourites in the comments below because I would love to know what is on your list.


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Karandi James.

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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Level 2 Novel Review: Like A Bitter Hot Chocolate?

Okay, I previously reviewed the first Grimgar light novel and I kind of compared the reading experience to drinking a cappuccino so I kind of wondered what drink this book would be. Which made me think that the story is no less bitter and there is some surprising depth to the flavour, but this is a much smoother read. The froth and silliness of the first book is mostly gone save for a few wispy bubbles so more like a hot chocolate than coffee.

So now that I’m done with the beverage comparison, and why I decided to start comparing books to drinks I won’t ever try to figure out, what did I think of this second book in the series?

I loved it!

My main complaints with book one was the endless and unnecessary fan service moments as well as the fairly poor quality of the writing (particularly the dialogue). This second book is incomparably better in how it reads (though there are still some issues with the writing itself and the dialogue, while improved, still has its eye-roll worthy moments). And the fanservice moments are all but completely gone. There’s one moment where one character suggests going to look in on the girls’ bathing and he is ignored so gives up, and that’s pretty much it.

For those who have watched the anime, this book takes us to the end as it deals with the fight against Death Spots in the mine, though that isn’t the only thing going on in this book. There’s once again a surprising amount of depth in the world building and the story and the characters continue to be fleshed out as they become more at home in this strange world.

I really love how simple things like their lodgings and whether they should stay where they are or find somewhere new in the town to live get discussed or turned over in Haruhiro’s mind as just one more pressing concern. It really drives home the point that these kids, and they are kids, are literally being forced to fend for themselves in a fantasy world. Forget dying in a mine somewhere, just having a roof over their heads is something of an accomplishment.

Another part I really enjoyed was that new arrivals were mentioned in this book. Haruhiro’s group we already knew weren’t the first and they haven’t been the last. Yet this is background to a larger story and even though some of the newest recruits join them in their lodgings, we don’t directly meet them. Haruhiro and his team have bigger things to worry about and really can’t spare a thought for someone even greener.

A lot of this book focuses in on Haruhiro’s struggle as he realises his personaity just isn’t suited for leadership and he agonised over every single decision and every comment or word from those in his team. His inability to work with, or communicate properly, with Ranta really weighs on his mind and this struggle comes through clearly and for the most part you can kind of empathise with him. Like everything else with this team, they are making do. Haruhiro didn’t become the leader by some sort of vote or because the others thoughts he’d be top-notch at it. The group kind of worked by committee for awhile but more and more often Haruhiro became the one who would have to make the call because the other team members just can’t (except Ranta, but no one is following him). The others acknowledge that and while they know Haruhiro isn’t exactly leadership material, they accept him in the role first out of necessity and throughout the course of this book we see Haruhiro growing into that role and the team’s growing respect for his leadership.

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What I find really great about this is Haruhiro doesn’t suddenly become some juggernaut of destruction and able to snap out comands left and right. He’s the same scared teenager with no idea how he ended up where he is that we met in book one. But he’s a scared teenager who wants to live and doesn’t want his friends to die so he’ll do what he has to do. How he figures out what that is takes a bit of trial and error and advice, but it is lovely to see him progressing.

However, this focus on Haruhiro and Ranta comes at the expense of the other characters. Merry should have had a more significant moment in this story but it seems like that kind of got buried under the boy’s personal growth. Yume and Shihoru have one or two moments but for the most part are background in this story. Same with Moguzo. While hopefully these characters will see some more development in later stories, here, other than a few skills they have learned and a general connection as a team (which has grown enormously over the course of the story) they really don’t get any independent development.

There is an early action sequence with an orc attack on the town (kind of destroying the illusion that the town is actually safe which was also kind of nice from a general feeling of hopelessness about this world) and we get to see Renji in action. Renji was the actual talented one who arrived in the world the same time as the others and formed his own group and the difference between the two teams is immeasurable at this point. Not sure where this plot line is going, but Renji is a nice bit character who makes his few moments on the pages count.

I’m kind of excited to move to the next book because this one had great pacing, some good action scenes, and I really enjoyed the character moments. Not to mention, I now have nothing more to compare the story to (not that I was trying to compare to the anime, but you really can’t help it sometimes). So everything from now on will be new to me and I’ll see how the story progresses.


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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Level. 1 Novel Review: Kind of Like Reading a Cappuccino Really.

Overview:

Haruhiro wakes up with amnesia surrounded by others who also have amnesia and they discover they are in a world called Grimgar and in order to earn money to live they are about to become volunteer soldiers. Too bad Haruhiro and the others left over don’t really have any skills to speak of.

Review (with some spoilers):

Before I get into this I should probably explain the cappuccino reference. This book is pretty light and frothy, more froth than substance to be honest, but there’s some real bitterness once you get into it. Only, the good kind of bitterness that makes you want to go back for more. Okay, I don’t actually drink coffee but that seemed like the best analogy I could come up with for my experience reading this book. And given it was my first experience with a translated light novel, I’m honestly a little stuck as to how to fairly review this given no matter how I look at it the writing is pretty dreadful. Not even just dreadful by translated story standard (and I’ve read a lot of translated books over the years so that isn’t the issue).  Yet, the story is oddly compelling. So rather than belabor this already tiresome intro, I’ll just get into reviewing and let things just kind of happen.

(By the way, though I am going to use images from the anime in this review, I am not going to compare the novel to the anime. There are definitely differences and you could do a comparison if you’d like, but I’m just going to review the book here. If you want the anime review, click here.)

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I’m going to start with the negatives of having read this to get them out of the way. There are positives coming but the negatives are definitely an issue.

Firstly, while anime is littered with bathroom sequences, girls comparing breast sizes, and guys who seem to think that insulting a girl involves commenting on the size of her breasts, and while I’m most okay with it in anime (or at least used to ignoring it), reading such sequences is a different story. If I wasn’t adamantly against defacing books I’d probably have torn a page out of this one because it literally consisted of nothing but dialogue that made me wonder if the author had ever had a conversation with a girl ever. I’ve never actually had the experience of reading such a sequence before and to be honest, I’ll pass on going through that experience again. It adds nothing to the story or the characters. It is inane filler dialogue and it went for nearly all of two sides of one page. Which admittedly meant I read it in about half a minute and could have just moved on except that for some reason my brain committed the phrase “Boing, boing, look at them bounce’ to memory – probably because it knew that the review needed an example of this appalling exchange in order to really get the point across that this was painful.

Following on from that, at least 60% of the dialogue in the story could be considered filler. Characters have more or less the same squabbly arguments over and over again. Which would be fine if any of these exchanges were progressing anything, but literally the plot gets put on hold while the characters rehash whether or not Yume has tiny tits or Haruhiro is actually looking like a sleepy cat, etc, etc.

From what I knew of light novels before reading this, I kind of expected some of the above, but the level to which it intruded on my reading was pretty intense. Once I finally sat down and read the book, I finished it over two days in four sessions. I should have finished it in a single sitting, but every now and then I’d come to one of these exchanges and suddenly have a burning desire to be doing anything else other than reading any more of the story. Clearly though, it wasn’t much of a deterrent, because it wasn’t as though I put the book on a shelf and let it sit there for a month before trying again, but still, it definitely broke my reading flow.

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The other major negative I would have for this book is just how much happens in it. I said I wouldn’t compare this to the anime, but this first book takes us nearly to the end of the anime and adds additional subplot and events. That’s a lot of content even if the final arc of the anime isn’t in this one. Ultimately it means events don’t get enough time to really be dealt with appropriately. The death of Manato works and is an excellent dramatic turning point for the group and yet is done within the space of a few pages and then we’ve moved on. Yes, we refer back to that death time and again, but the sequence itself was almost instantaneous. There are other events as well where it just feels like we are told what happens and then we’re pushed onward.

All of that would be fine, except that we spend nearly the first fifty or sixty pages of the book on world building. It is great that we’re getting a fleshed out view of the world and I’m sure a lot of those details will be important later, but an info dump  while the characters get their bearings at the start of the story shouldn’t feel like it got more time and attention than a pivotal death scene or climactic fight sequence. And yet it does.

So if I were to just compare this to other novels I’m pretty sure this one would be in the nice try department and I’d be moving on. However, this is where things get tricky. I really, really loved the story and the world. I love the set up, I love all the things the book hints at coming later, I love the many characters that appear and interact with the main group even if I find most of the main group pretty painful. I also love that the story, while seemingly full of these meaningless and light frothy moments, they contrast beautifully with some of the darker and quite depressing events that occur.

While I don’t like how the world building was handled, the world of Grimgar is really quite fascinating as even by the end of the book you aren’t certain if they are in another world or in a game or simulation. There are possibilities both ways and the final pages of this book certainly push you into mulling these possibilities over without yet tipping its hand. Okay, it is sequel baiting and it is doing it well because I really want to know the secrets of the this world.

There are also some great character moments. When the group manage to work together or even when they are falling apart, some of the exchanges between the characters feel very real and revealing about their forgotten selves (though admittedly these moments are most definitely diluted through the more meaningless exchanges). Every now and then you’ll just get a line that will make you laugh out loud or nod in agreement.

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Mostly what this book does well is while reading it I genuinely wanted Haruhiro to survive. I didn’t really care about the party or whatever goal they were working toward, but I wanted Haruhiro to survive because he has so much potential as a character and I would love to see him grow (and hopefully he does). This story made me fear for his safety, worry when he got hurt, feel bad when he was emotionally down, and want to cheer when he got things right. Basically I got swept up in his story and that is always a good thing.

Okay, this has gone on for a fair while so I’m going to wrap this up. As a book, this has issues. Big and glaring, cannot be overlooked issues. As a story and an introduction to a larger world, it works very effectively. Basically if you are a stickler for wanting good writing, give this one a miss, but if you just want to be transported to another world for an afternoon, this one is probably something you should check out.

If you’ve read the book I’d love to know your thoughts (please don’t spoil the next ones because I am planning to read on in this series).


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Characters Robbed By Plot

This is another My Hero Academia inspired list after a discussion with a few people on Twitter and this comment:

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Which got me thinking of all the times characters have lost out in anime because the plot demands they lose. There are a lot. Of course that is true of any narrative because sometimes you just have to let the protagonist win. Anyway, I made a short list of characters that I thought were genuinely robbed by the plot (robbed, mugged, gunned down and left to die, etc). I’d love to know who else you thinks needs to join the ‘they were robbed’ club so please share in the comments below.

Please Note – There will be major plot spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: This week my only honourable mention is going to every opponent in Katanagatari. Sorry guys, but each and every one of you was robbed of your chance of even getting an appearance in a second episode because the plot demanded you be met, challenged and defeated (okay, some of these guys did show up in episodes prior to their deaths and a few got flash backs after their deaths, but mostly they were all one episode wonders).

Number 5: JJ from Yuri on Ice

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You know, I don’t actually want JJ to have won because he was incredibly obnoxious (even though he wasn’t technically an antagonist). That said, I think the plot really did run him down just for the fun of it and it was kind of unnecessary. In the first skate of the grand prix, JJ choked. Horribly. Considering his overwhelming confidence and presence in every other competition and that this wasn’t his first major competition it just seemed really kind of cruel and I actually felt sorry for the guy by the end of it. More importantly, it wasn’t necessary for him to do so poorly. When you look at the scores Yuri and Yurio ended up with, even if JJ had been at his best, the result probably would have been the same. So pretty much the plot ran him over for no reason and that actually cheapened the Yuri’s victory because they haven’t beaten JJ at his best.

Number 4: Manato from Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Yes, we need a tragic death to reinforce that fragile nature of life and to highlight the real human process of grief. Sorry Manato, the plot demands your death. No you don’t get to save anyone else spectacularly or have any kind of moment of self-sacrifice. You can just get shot in the back and die. This was a really affective moment by the plot and a great character moment for everyone else in the story, but Manato really did get robbed here. He was the best character the show had and in order to help everyone else reach that little bit higher, the plot threw him under the bus. It did it well, but that was a little mean.

Number 3: Linda from Golden Time

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Love triangles always suck because someone is going to lose. More importantly, normally if the person at the middle of the triangle would just make a choice we could all be spared the heartache. The reason Linda gets a place on this list out of the thousands of losing at love characters is because technically she didn’t lose. Banri of the past chose her. Continued to choose her. Unfortunately, Banri of the past only existed as a ghost because Banri of the future had lost his memory and was a whole new person who fell in love with Koko. Seriously, that has to suck for Linda. Worse, when past Banri shows up just long enough to get Linda’s hopes up again. Seriously, plot, we get it. Banri and Koko are going to be together. Now please stop rubbing salt into Linda’s wounds for half an episode.

Number 2: Uraraka from My Hero Academia

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Yep, the girl who inspired the list. She went into a fight that she knew she probably couldn’t win with a plan. A good plan. If she’d been the protagonist she most definitely would have turned the tide of the fight and won with that plan. Okay, she would have won with even half that plan given some plans protagonists have made work. Unfortunately, cute side-character who may or may not eventually become some sort of love interest for someone, does not have plot armor and when the plot is demanding a show down between two other characters and you face one of them earlier in the competition you know your luck is out. Poor Uraraka.

Number 1: Grimmjow from Bleach

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I know, every opponent Ichigo faces could end up on this list but most of them I wanted to see lose. With Grimmjow, part of me really wanted to see him win. He was one of the most entertaining opponents ever and he didn’t have some amazingly overpowered attack that couldn’t be defended against. He was just someone in love with fighting and getting stronger. Given Ichigo doesn’t win every fight and regularly has to have a take two or three against particularly strong opponents (they beat him nearly to death, someone drags him away so that he can heal, learn a new skill, go back and try again), I really wanted Grimmjow to be one of those opponents. I wanted him to beat Ichigo up and for there to be an ongoing rivalry between the two. Alas, it was not to be and Grimmjow became yet another casualty of plot.

That’s my list. I’d love to know who you’ve put on yours.


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Friday’s Feature: Crying Won’t Help – Man vs Nature

Continuing my focus for March on conflict in stories, today I want to look at Man vs Nature. If you missed last week I had a quick look at Man vs Man conflict so please be sure to check out the post.

Right from the start I know I’m probably going to get some corrections to this post because when I talk about Man vs Nature conflicts I include all natural disasters, monstrous creatures and unstoppable supernatural forces. I don’t however include supernatural creatures that have high levels of human characteristics such as vampires. While some of the vampires from the past may have met my idea of ‘nature’ most modern vampire stories just have slightly strong and occasionally sparkly protagonists and really they interact with the plot in the same way a man vs man conflict should. I also know that some people classify man vs supernatural as its own category of conflict but again, due to the way it works in stories, I kind of lump them both together.

With that said, let’s jump into Man vs Nature.

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I think the main element of this story is that the source of the conflict is an unavoidable and unreasonable force. The characters can’t negotiate with hurricanes or asteroids or giant man-eating lizards or whatever other natural phenomenon is coming their way. That doesn’t mean that the characters don’t make the situation worse or don’t stir up trouble (you know by destroying the habitat of that sleeping horde of whatever and setting them loose). However, Man vs Nature is distinctly different from Man vs Man because there is no will or motive on the opposing forces side. It just is. Deal with it.

But this conflict works so incredibly well (particularly in major Hollywood movies that have increasingly used them in a flimsy attempt to portray the togetherness of the human race). Why does it work?

01. Most people understand the fear, anxiety, concern of natural disasters even if they’ve never directly been in one. Whether it is flood, fire, storm, earthquake, volcano, natural disasters are pretty much a fact of life and as kids we learn disaster drills and lessons about prepping for storm season. We watch the news and see the tragedy and the helplessness. And even if it isn’t a large scale thing, we all know that sometimes animals act unpredictably. Sometimes stuff just happens and we have to deal with. This type of conflict strikes a real chord with pretty much everyone.

02. This type of conflict can easily be scaled up or down. It can be a wolf terrorising a single farmer or it can be a world ending sun explosion. The basic story remains identical as does the effectiveness of the conflict allowing a diverse range of scenarios. Of course, that leaves this open to some incredibly poor writing when the characters, which are the only part of the story that can really allow the audience to connect, are not well crafted. In that farmer and wolf story, that farmer better be one compelling individual or your audience will check out quick no matter how many chickens the wolf slaughters.

03. Awesome visuals. Whether it is a monster, animal, or natural disaster, you can do some very cool things visually with this type of conflict. It lends itself to spectacle and when done well can certainly deliver.

How does this work in anime?

Interestingly enough, while there are some anime that have natural disasters in them, they aren’t as prolific as you think. Kaze no Stigma has a short arc focussed on an eruption because the family that were supposed to perform the ritual to prevent it were unable to. And of course there’s Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. However, despite the lack of world ending storms in anime, there are some excellent monster and other unstoppable forces of nature stories to choose from.

Case 1: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Grimgar is an odd anime when you think about the conflict of the story (mostly because for large parts of the story the characters are simply dealing with survival). While there are moments where we see Man vs Self issues arise, the real killer in Grimgar is the world these characters have found themselves in. They don’t know how they got there and they don’t start out with the skills they need to survive but they need to learn them fast.

What makes Grimgar particularly effective is that almost all the conflicts take place in the woods, in ruined cities or in a network of underground tunnels. The civilised locations, the town where they have their ‘home’, is relatively safe and other than the occasional inner-party squabble they don’t really face any danger there. Grimgar plays on fear of the unknown. Of venturing further out of your comfort zone and confronting enemies that you may or may not be ready to take on. It’s the excitement of exploration mixed with the fear of death lurking around every turn. In short, it plays with this core conflict and really uses it to keep the audience on edge whenever the characters aren’t in the town. It makes you aware of all the dangers you would face if taken out of the comfort of the modern world.

Case 2: Another (not yet reviewed)

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In terms of supernatural forces that are untouchable and certainly unreasonable, the curse from Another is probably the clearest cut force of nature that can be found. Like a storm it has a mappable path and you can see the trail of destruction it has left, but you can’t do much about it other than take shelter and hope you are one of the lucky ones once it has passed.

It works well because even before the audience is let in on the particulars of the curse, there is a tangible weight on all of the members of the class. You can see that something is effecting them but you don’t know what or why. Even once our main character learns more about the curse, there’s still nothing he can do about it as his classmates and the occasional family member die one after another, month after month.

Unlike Grimgar, Another has a clear end point, at least for the characters we are following. In Grimgar we never know when, if ever, the characters will escape the world or whether they are just stuck there for life. In Another they just have to survive the year. Just one year. And then it turns out there is another way to stop the curse as well which is ultimately the path taken (admittedly the price was pretty high by the time everything was done).

Conclusion

I’m going to be honest, I love disaster movies. Yeah, they are formulaic and mostly filled with one-dimensional characters and trite writing, but occasionally you’ll get one where the cast really just manages to have some real chemistry and they sell the situation they are in. Besides, regardless of bad acting and dialogue, most bad disaster movies are still entertaining as you play count the cliché or laugh at poor special effects. In anime, I find that this type of conflict tends to be treated a bit more seriously. Less flippant one liners and throwing beer bottles at storm clouds and more introspection about what it means to be a human and alive.

Your turn: I’d love to hear what your favourite Man vs Nature conflict in an anime is and why.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Visually Interesting Anime in 2016

When I made my judgements about best and worst series I make that judgement based mostly on entertainment, characters and plot. Visuals (whether good or bad) play little part in that judgement. So this week I want to look at the top 5 anime in 2016 that I found visually interesting. As always I’d invite you to add you favourites to the comments below.

How did I narrow down this list? I actually remembered something about the visuals other than character designs. Seriously, I don’t usually pay that much attention to backgrounds and the like because I’m all about story and characters so if I actually remember after watching something that it was beautiful or interesting, that usually means it was noteworthy. They also had to be in an anime that aired at some point during 2016 (either continuing on from 2015, completely in 2016, or at least started before the end of 2016).

And then for patrons, I’ve put up a post called Tuesday’s Lesser 5 where I share some of the least visually interesting anime of 2016. I’m still working on providing patrons with extra content and I’ll probably be a bit hit and miss with this until it becomes a routine (I am very open to suggestions from patrons and would be patrons about what content you would like to see). If the post hasn’t come out as scheduled I will fix it – just let me know.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below – massive spoilers for number 5.

Honourable mentions this week go to: Ajin, Mob Psycho 100 (Yes, I hated the look of this but it was interesting), and Erased.

Number 5: Assassination Classroom Season 2

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Say what you will about this show as a show, you have to admit visually it is very interesting. We have a large cast of characters who each have a distinct look and a main character who by himself is intriguing and then we have the settings which are at times highly detailed and also use a large range of colours nad tones to convey moods. Honestly, the show is a feast for the eyes regardless of how you take to the plot of students trying to kill their teacher.

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Number 4: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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I know a lot of people didn’t like the look of this show but I loved it. The water colour look about the scenes that just made everything feel kind of like a children’s story book while this incredibly grim tale was being woven really worked for me and it stood out from the strong colours and character designs we usually come across in this sort of fantasy world. I also liked how they contrasted each of the settings. We had the town, the forest, the ruins and then the caverns and each area had their own look and feel even while the art style was consistent. I also liked that the character designs blended with this environment rather than standing out sharply from it.

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Number 3: Yuri on Ice

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I know, obvious choice, but this anime swept me away with its animation and presentation from the very first opening. The storyline and characters took longer to win me over but I could have watched this series through just on the looks of it. I’ve never seen characters move like that and I honestly don’t care if they were reusing animation, it was amazing. I also liked that the costumes were all beautifully designed and moved with the skaters, the backgrounds, the way they gave us the feel of being in different countries even though we spent most of our time at skating rinks, and so on. The visuals were extremely well done and this show had instant appeal because of it.

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Number 2: Flip Flappers

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It’s probably good this show was so visually interesting given the story really struggled to come through sometimes. That said, regardless of what the characters were doing or whether you had a clue what the plot was about, there was always something appealing to look at on the screen. The rich detail, the symbolism, the abstract design at times, the various art styles, all of it demanded your attention and you kept thinking that you’d missed something and sure enough when reading the blogs of others there was a detail you’d completely missed amongst the many things clamouring for your attention while watching this show. No matter your thoughts on the story, this is a visually appealing anime to watch.

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Number 1: March Comes in Like a Lion

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This one may not be as frantic to fight for every minute of your attention as Flip Flappers but overall the visuals are far more cohesive (and more importantly are more suited to my tastes). The sharp contrasts between light and dark and the simplicity of some scenes compared with the rich detail in others will keep you watching and watching closely. Throw in the contrast between the very ‘realistic’ view of the world against the more ‘cartoonish’ view that is sometimes given and there’s always something to look for. Then again, even the opening of this one is mesmerizing and rich in symbolism so well worth checking out. That and it’s just beautiful.

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Those are my picks for top 5 visually interesting anime in 2016. I know three of them came from the end of the year but when I looked back at the other anime I loved, they just didn’t visually stand out. What are your favourites from the year?


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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Series Review

Overview:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?