The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Grimms Notes the Animation
How would you rate episode 1 of
Grimms Notes the Animation ?
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How was the first episode?
If Grimm's Notes had just gone out of its way from the beginning to show me it was essentially a fairy-tail riff on Super Sentai tropes, I would have been much more enthusiastic about this premiere. I love Super Sentai, and anything that reminds me of it – you give me a team of heroes that use gadgets to transform into slightly stronger, more elaborately costumed heroes, and I'll give you a happy James Beckett. Unfortunately, Grimm's Notes starts off on a much more generic foot, introducing us to our heroes as they wander a rote fantasy setting looking for Red Riding Hood. Not the Red Riding Hood; at least, I don't think she is. The original RRH is the new RRH's grandmother, and the grandmother was the one who got eaten by the wolf. However, this is a world where every person is given a book that maps out their lives completely at birth, and the new RRH seems to have strayed from her path and disappeared.
Ex, Reina, Shane, and Tao also seem to be free from the whims of these story books, and they arrive in RRH's village to offer what aid they can. After getting some help from the Woodsman, fighting some monsters, and rescuing Red Riding Hood the Younger, the team eventually discovers that this RRH has been possessed by a Chaos Teller, who is determined to transform RRH into a beast herself and rewrite her story. This is where the team transform, though instead of donning spandex suits, they change into the guises of heroes from fairy tales and literature. Tao becomes Goliath, Shane becomes Robin Hood, Reina becomes Cinderella, and Ex becomes Wonderland's Alice.
This ending conflict is where the show finally gets a little interesting: Up until then the art, direction, and writing for the episode were all painfully by the numbers. The heroic team up Grimms Notes ends up providing is still a formulaic once, but there's more oomph to the action sequences, and it's fun to see the heroes take on such different forms in battle. Red Riding Hood's half-wolf design is also neat, and by the time the episode finished, I could at least see how Grimms Notes could work as a watchable monster-of-the-week action show.
That being said, nothing about Grimms Notes The Animation takes full advantage of its moderately interesting premise. The concept of everyone getting a book that outlines their entire lives is only barely introduced, and too much of the premiere felt like killing time. The so-called “Tao family” are a likeable enough bunch, but they're little more than archetypes at this point, which feels doubly weak because this entire world is already composed of nothing but storybook plots and characters. It could be that Grimms Notes ends up surprising me by going beyond what this meager introduction has promised, but anyone that dives into this series would do well to keep their expectations in check.
Grimms Notes' premise is built on some incredibly interesting ideas. In this world, every single person has a “Book of Fate,” that dictates everything that will happen to them over the course of their lives. People in this world live within “Story Zones” that each seem to play out some classic fantasy fable, with the inhabitants of those zones embracing their story as the generationally repeating folklore of their region. Our heroes enter the picture when “Chaos Tellers” start to corrupt these worlds, in order to set these stories back on their correct track.
The idea of a book that dictates all of the events of your life is a philosophically rich concept, easily lending itself towards narratives that examine the limitations of free will, as well as how our lives are shaped by the fictions we love. Shows like Princess Tutu have drawn vivid drama out of exploring such concepts, and reflecting on how all our lives are composed of narratives both self-dictated and beyond our control. We are all perpetually writing stories of our own lives, and fiction that engages with that is a particular passion of mine.
Unfortunately, Grimms Notes doesn't actually seem interested in exploring the philosophical potential of its premise - it seems more just a vehicle for episodic adventure narratives, with transforming heroes who take the forms of characters from fairy tales. In fact, our leads actually take the position occupied by the villain of a story like Princess Tutu, where they're essentially the “story cops” making sure all the characters in this world behave according to their Books of Fate. I felt far more sympathetic towards this episode's ostensible villain, whose complaints about her predetermined life felt completely reasonable to me.
That said, even if Grimms Notes is more just a story-of-the-week adventure than some big thematic treatise, it still has plenty of its own merits. A fantasy world based on classic fables inherently possesses a bit more novelty and appeal than anime's usual generic JRPG worlds, and the idea of people here coming to essentially worship their own stories is a very intriguing concept. The show isn't a visual marvel, and I was disappointed to see its monsters all assume generic magical girl enemy shapes, but its final fight was executed quite well. And there's already some reasonable chemistry across the main cast.
All in all, Grimms Notes definitely doesn't live up to the rich potential of its premise, but it's still a reasonable adventure in its own right. If you're looking for a fantasy story and like the sound of this one's classic fable twist, you might want to give it a shot.
I think I know too much about fairy tales in general and Little Red Riding Hood in particular to watch this show. That's mostly because (and please bear with my nitpickiness) it ignores one of the most basic aspects of folklore: that it evolves across time and place so that there is no one “real” or “original” version of a story. Sure there are ones that were recorded first, but with Little Red Riding Hood it's generally agreed upon that the actual oldest European variant of the tale wasn't written down until the 1880s. All of this is basically to say that the base conceit of Grimms Notes – that a group of people are traveling around fixing fairy tales that have gone off-track – is one that I have a hard time buying.
Like I said, I know too much.
Anyway, this episode does acknowledge Red's transformation as a character across variants of the tale while basically dismissing contemporary reworkings of it. Essentially her journey as a character goes from heroine (“Story of the Grandmother”) to victim (Perrault and Grimm) to villain (James Thurber and Roald Dahl), and that's the exact trajectory the character follows in this episode. That's kind of neat, and it certainly suggests that someone did some research along the line, especially with the Huntsman (an addition in the Grimms' version) outright saying that he feels like a father to Red, which is the generally accepted interpretation of the character. Likewise there's an explicit nod to Perrault when Red says that “men are wolves,” which is pretty much the moral Perrault tacked on to his 17th century version.
That bit aside, this feels fairly generic. Our group of ragtag heroes who all have the power of their Bookmarks of Guidance to turn into a weird hodgepodge of characters from myth, legend, folklore, and literature all fit comfortably into stereotypes such as “girl who loves weapons,” “no sense of direction,” and “actual blank slate hero,” and their literary personas don't make all that much sense in terms of fighting with the exception of Robin Hood. (Goliath's the bad guy of his story, so it's an odd choice.) Cinderella as a healer makes a little sense, but there are plenty of well-known fairy tale princesses who would have made more, and the inclusion of Lewis Carroll's Alice just feels like a lazy grab for a well-known character. It does look better than the last fairy tale-themed anime we got (Marchen Madchen), so there's that. If you need an Alice fix, this might work, but if you have trouble turning off your brain and know anything about the subject matter, Grimms Notes could be a hard sell.
The philosophical concept of determinism holds that all events, including moral choices, are determined completely by previously existing causes. It's closely related to the concept of man's inability to escape fate, which has been fodder for innumerable stories over the centuries. This series' fundamental world structure takes those concepts as literally as possible, because everything that everyone does is laid out like a script for their lives by their books. It's easy to understand how there could be a certain comfort to this, as you have a road map laid out for you in life and don't have to fret over complicated decisions, because they've already been made. But there are two problems with that approach. One is that any deviations from the defining story cannot easily be processed, causing consternation at best and outright panic at worst. The other is that someone unwilling to play their role can cause even greater problems.
Those are the ideas at work behind this series, though whether anything so thought-provoking was actually intended is doubtful; this is based on an RPG-style app game, after all. Still, the content of this episode, which examines the story of Little Red Riding Hood, does at least touch on these bigger ideas. It also raises the interesting notion that the story is cyclical; every generation has its own Little Red Riding Hood, its own wolf, its own Hunter, and so forth, so becoming Little Red Riding Hood and thus getting eaten by the wolf isn't necessarily a death sentence, since the Hunter's going to rescue her anyway. It's understandable that this could cause some anxiety, and adding on the twist that the Hunter wants to marry Little Red Riding Hood's mother, it's easy to see how a little girl could be twisted into a villain.
This conceptual stuff is more interesting than what the game-standard main quartet is doing. They turn into literary figures to fight battles and use special powers, but their personalities are mostly textbook in execution. This does result in some decent action scenes and the expected character banter, but nothing too exciting. Production merits aren't bad, but the brightest aspect of the production is definitely the musical score, including a lovely closer.
Ultimately, this series might have done better in a different time slot; given how overloaded Fridays are with enticing titles this season, I can easily see it slipping through the cracks.
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