The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

Title: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar aka Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Genre: Drama/Action
Companies: A-1 Pictures
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 11 Jan 2016 – 28 Mar 2016

Synopsis: Haruhiro and company don’t know how they got to the world of Grimgar. Neither do they know who they were before they magically appeared atop a dark tower. That does not stop them from being expected to take up the profession of monster hunting, however. Seeing no other way to survive in these unknown lands, each of the six join their respective guild in order to form a party. With no experience as fighters, the challenges that face them in the borderlands will be perilous. But what choice do they have when a few coppers can mean the difference between a roof under one’s head and starvation.

The Highlights
Setting: As deliberately familiar as a fantasy RPG world can be.
Cast: Grounded and likable, though only half get their time in the sun.
Backgrounds: Serene water colors.
Combat: Entertainment value tamed by gruesome discomfort.
Experience: Shifts focus from the global to the personal.

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is rather unusual breed of anime. It is an RPG world style anime that makes no references to whether it is a video game. The biggest caveat about this series is that anyone watching it expecting resolution for how the main cast was spirited away is going to be left disappointed. This facet of the show is ignored outright. All the better since any focus on such a mystery would rob precious time from what makes Grimgar so remarkable.

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is a slice of life anime first, and an action series second. Monster slaying is the bread and butter of this series only in the sense that it is how Haruhiro’s party can afford their bread and butter. The protagonists of Grimgar don’t have the luxury of being chosen heroes with an ultimate goal. This puts the focus more relatable challenges like adjusting to a new environment or figuring out how to scrape by. Because of this most of this series’ time is spent on the teamwork required of the characters, all of whom are compelling as individuals and as members of the group. The  chemistry among the protagonists is near perfect. There is a naturalness to how they play off each other, whether tolerating the arrogance of others, building morale atop doubts, or coming to grips with harrowing loss. The sense of accomplishment the show generates is ultimately built upon what each individual brings to the team. However, in spite of the strength of the cast, only about half feel like they experience a complete arc.

The world of Grimgar is only sparsely exposited upon, and never beyond its textbook fantasy veneer. Somehow, though, the anime accomplishes more because of this. Anybody who is the least bit familiar with RPGs, whether the original Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft, will be able to identify with the experience presented here, that of being level one. With never enough money to go around, all purchases come at a compromise. Magic is so weak it comes off as a poor investment. Even goblins keep forcing one to run back to town. Issues normally resolved within the opening episodes of an anime are not here.  The audience is with Haruhiro’s party minute by minute through every frustration, setback, and loss. So when the team ultimately overcome their first challenges, the victory is all the more satisfying.

Even though Grimgar‘s focus is not battles, the fight scenes themselves are well worth the price of admission. “If at first you don’t succeed” seems to be the primary philosophy here as skills are honed and gambits backfire. Each move is shown in enough glorious detail to make the humiliation of defeat against a goblin as captivating as as dragon slaying. Such detail also makes fights difficult to watch. The secondary philosophy here would be that death doesn’t come cheap, or clean. To land a hit is to inflict a flesh wound, to break bone even. To watch an enemy killed is to watch a creature die horribly. And since every blow is significant when dealt to an enemy, they are all the more when dealt to one of the heroes.

What makes Hai to Grimgar succeed is that it earns everything that happens in it. Conquest against indomitable beasts are built on the backs of countless small victories starting from getting a change of underwear. When characters come together, it is only after seeing them hurt. Even the watercolor rendered backgrounds (aside from being breathtaking) justifies itself by how it emphasizes the divide between the cast and their surroundings. All fantasy worlds considered, Grimgar may lack the je ne sais quais to really distinguish it. However, the sense of closeness one feels to the cast makes the experience more tangible, more visceral, than any self insert fantasy.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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