The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide GRANBLUE FANTASY: The Animation
How would you rate episode 1 of
Granblue Fantasy the Animation ?
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How was the first episode?
As far as its story and characters go, Granblue Fantasy seems remarkably determined to check off all of the usual genre boxes. Our aspiring young swordsman starts off with a big dream and a little flying mascot, and then he promptly meets an innocent girl with a mysterious power and a battle-hardened lady knight. They get into a fight with some expendable baddies from an evil army, which forces them to unleash that mysterious power and summon a big ol' dragon. Cue the unforeseen consequences and the epic fantasy road trip.
This is all straight out of Fantasy Anime 101, but works reasonably well in these first two episodes. Despite his role as the generic young hero, Gran is mildly likable in his own blandly earnest way. He has some decent chemistry with protect-me-girl Lyria, who to her credit has yet to do anything painfully stupid. Katalina is the early highlight of the group, settling into the dual role of protector and mentor rather nicely. The weakest link amongst the good guys is the obligatory mascot character Vyrn, who I already want to stuff in a box and toss into the ocean. Pommern, the obnoxious army captain, is also pretty useless, but I'm holding out hope that he's just an expendable henchman for a more compelling antagonist.
Perhaps most importantly, the story hits the right notes once it gets going. The first episode is mostly unremarkable as it sets the stage, but the second has that classic feeling of setting out on a big adventure. Viewed as a two-part premiere, they make a much better impression than the first episode would have on its own. As a game adaptation, Granblue Fantasy at least seems to understand that the best thing it can do is tell a good story without trying to wedge the mechanics of the game into the plot at every turn.
I'm a sucker for the “grand journey” formula, but even I have some concerns that need to be addressed before I jump on board for the long haul. The plot could do with some kind of unique theme or message, and the series is in desperate need of a strong villain. While the human character designs are fine, Granblue Fantasy is also shooting itself in the foot with unconvincing CG monsters (a personal pet peeve of mine). It may be too late to find a more unified visual style, but the narrative faults are easy enough to address. Give this show some time to settle in, and it could easily grow into a solid genre title.
Granblue Fantasy is the latest example in what has become perhaps the defining trend of the last year or two - anime based on mobile games. In this case, we're adopting the gatcha-happy fantasy template Granblue Fantasy, reducing its countless characters and seasonal events to something resembling a core narrative. Does it work?
Well, no. Granblue Fantasy: The Animation's problems start with its script, which is the most generic fantasy fluff you can imagine. Pretty much every beat of this show's early narrative is a cliche executed without personality. Our main hero is Gran, a plucky boy from the countryside who runs into Lyria, the blue-haired girl with special powers on the run from the Empire. The Empire is evil, as we know because of the capital E, along with the fact that mascot character Vryn states “I've heard rumors about the Empire. They don't care about what's right or wrong.” Eventually Gran, Lyria, and Lyria's knight-defender Katalina run into a preening villain defined by a high-pitched voice and undeniably evil mustache/goatee combo. But Lyria reveals her secret power, and so the adventure of the three continues.
While Granblue Fantasy's narrative feels like a collection of spare parts cobbled from other stories, its visual execution lacks even the cohesion of cliche. I actually found Granblue Fantasy's character art pretty darn compelling - the show clearly wanted to closely echo the beautiful, ornate style of the original game, and so the character art is defined by careful shading, soft filters, variable line density, and a whole lot more sharp angles than you generally get in anime designs. Unfortunately, those detailed designs come at a cost - Granblue Fantasy looks consistently awkward in motion, and the characters feel terribly integrated with the backgrounds. It's a shame, because it feels like the beautiful world of Granblue is supposed to be one of the big draws, but the constant disconnect between character action and place makes it impossible to be sucked into the story. And that's before we get to the lousy CG monsters.
Granblue Fantasy's second episode doesn't really do much to improve things - it's still a collection of narrative cliches (fathers to chase, memories to regain, unbreakable magic bonds, etc) held down by awkward visual execution. That said, “extremely generic high fantasy with flawed but interesting visual execution” is far from the floor of seasonal anime. If you're not too bothered by its various issues, there's still a narrative to enjoy here. And if the story eventually improves, Granblue might actually turn out to be a reasonable show.
Granblue Fantasy: The Animation has a fairly generic fantasy feel to it – plucky young swordsman, mysterious girl with strange power, evil Empire out to get her…you could probably plug those characters into any fantasy plotline and get the same results that you get here. It's hard to deny that this is pretty much fantasy's equivalent of bread and butter, and if you're into swords and sorcery, that's actually part of the appeal. These first two episodes (evidence that the series was originally intended to air in January) set up a solid base for the characters' journey, paying enough attention to detail in the right places to save them from feeling like we've seen them too many times before.
Part of that detail is in the design aspects. Gran's village on the sky island is full of arches and curves in its buildings; even the wood he's chopping gets piled in half-circles rather than stacks. The forest that surrounds the town is beautifully maintained, as makes sense for a settlement that relies on it for food, wood, and other staples of life. The lack of underbrush allows for the people to move about freely – and also makes it harder for them to hide from the soldiers of the Erste Empire who show up chasing Lyria, the aforementioned mysterious girl, who has fallen from their airship. The fact that Gran and Lyria can't just duck behind some bushes gives the whole hunt a more dangerous feel and means that speed is more of the essence than stealth; there are a few scenes where we see the characters noticeably pick up speed because their pursuers are gaining on them. It's also interesting to note that when Gran initially takes off after Lyria, he doesn't bother to put the breastplate of his armor on – not only does that leave him in a stunning hoodie-and-bracers/gauntlets combination, but it also leads to his sudden death…and the fact that in virtually all the imagery from the opening and ending themes, he's got his breastplate on. Of course, this does make me wonder why Lyria never appears to get any shoes…
The intertwining of Gran's past and his yearning to find the mysterious island of the Astrals where his father is said to be and Lyria's escape and journey to understand herself is at this point well done. While the tying of Gran and Lyria together does feel both hasty and a little forced, it does feel sufficiently explained to make it work. Gran would never have been able to actually leave the island had Katalina and Lyria not shown up, something made more apparent by the reactions of the villagers, and particularly his best friend Aaron, when he announces his departure. Likewise without the meeting with Gran and her saving his life, Lyria might have lacked the motivation to truly understand her own power. If this relationship can be maintained, it could be both helpful and sweet, and we can already see that Lyria is more comfortable around Gran than with even Katalina. The only major fly in the ointment thus far is Vyrn, Gran's dragon-dog thing (it has distinctively doggy feet and a total inability to close its mouth), who makes me want to swat him every time he speaks.
Granblue Fantasy may look like a generic fantasy right now, but two episodes in, that's okay. It works well with what it's got, and fantasy adventure is one of those genres that's easy to enjoy. As long as it doesn't end up showing its game roots too clearly, this could be a nice Saturday escape.
This series was originally supposed to debut during the Winter 2017 season but (presumably) due to production issues it got delayed to this one. As a teaser the first two episodes have been offered up on Crunchyroll since January, and it looks like the regular broadcast is starting by replaying those two episodes. Properly evaluating the start of this series requires seeing those two episodes together anyway, as you can't get a full feel for what this series is and where it may be going without episode 2.
If the previous adaptation of a Cygames game (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis) taught us anything, it's that you can make a good adaptation of a mobile app game if you invest enough in establishing the characters from the beginning and focus more on them and the story than the game parallels. On that criteria, Granblue is off to a decent start. Gran may not be anything special in the personality department, but he's likable and it's easy to understand where he's coming from. Katalina has also been satisfyingly straightforward so far, while Lyria is the classic Girl To Be Protected for both of them. On the downside, a flying mini-dragon is hanging around who doesn't seem to do anything other than be an obnoxious mascot character; sadly, it's probably too much to hope that he'll get killed off in the near future. The interactions they have with the people of Gran's village in episode 2 makes for an agreeable interpersonal dynamic and shows a lot of promise for future episodes. So does the introduction of the airship at the end of episode 2, which suggests a tale built on a spirit of adventure. Something simple and enjoyable like that, which seems to be devoid of any crass elements, can be a nice change of pace for a fantasy adventure series if it holds up.
The artistic merits of the first couple of episodes are pretty solid, even if the visuals don't have a lot of flash and gloss to them. In fact, the artistry shows a penchant for softer, less distinct lines and colors which gives the series just a bit of a different look and feel compared to other recent fantasy series. The A-1 Pictures animation effort is a step above the norm, and the soundtrack by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu ably supports the content. Veteran seiyuu Miyuki Sawashiro is also a great fit as the knightly Katalina, but it was a sensible casting choice from the beginning since she also voiced Female Knight in MAOYU.
I'm hesitant to give the series a higher grade so far because I want to see it prove that it can be more than just an ordinary fantasy adventure tale. Still, it's off to a competent enough start to be worth checking out more.
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