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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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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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?