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The Spring 2024 Anime Preview Guide
The Grimm Variations

How would you rate episode 1 of
The Grimm Variations (ONA) ?
Community score: 4.0

What is this?


Once upon a time, brothers Jacob and Wilhelm collected fairy tales from across the land and made them into a book. They also had a much younger sister, the innocent and curious Charlotte, who they loved very much. One day, while the brothers were telling Charlotte a fairy tale like usual, they saw that she had a somewhat melancholy look on her face. She asked them, "Do you suppose they really lived happily ever after?"

The pages of Grimms' Fairy Tales, written by Jacob and Wilhelm, are now presented from Charlotte's unique perspective. She sees the stories quite differently from her brothers.

The Grimm Variations is an original series loosely based on the Grimm Brothers' fairytales with character designs by CLAMP. The anime series is streaming on Netflix.

How was the first episode?

James Beckett

The Grimm Variations” is the kind of anime I live for. Any series that combines the descriptors of “overambitious mess” and “genre-bending anthology series" gets my rare seal of approval for running with double-length episodes. When a show uses all of that extra time for mood, atmosphere, and spooky-ooky vibes over mind-rotting exposition, then I'm all for it! At least, so long as the execution is good.

In that respect, The Grimm Variations is a success…though not necessarily an unqualified one. About ten minutes into the premiere, I was convinced that I would be head over heels for this show; by the time it ended, I merely thought it was “pretty good". This is mostly because this first episode, a sinister retelling of the classic Cinderella Story, falls into the trap of valuing — and I usually hate using this term — style over substance.

Here's the thing: While this is hardly the first property that has tried to turn the classic Brothers Grimm stories on their head by switching up their settings and genres or by cranking up the “Dark n' Edgy" knob up to eleven, it's still a fun premise, so far as I'm concerned. Focusing in even closer, I think there is a lot of potential in turning the wicked Stepsisters of lore into our perspective characters, while Cinderella takes the stage as a conniving and manipulative sociopath; the spooky talking doll is a nice bonus, to boot! Studio Wit is hardly slouching when it comes to the production values, either, which means that this story is lush with atmosphere thanks to its transposed Japanese setting and turn-of-the-century aesthetics.

And yet, this sordid take on the old familiar story just didn't click very much with me. The problem with making the wicked stepsisters into the main characters of the story is that, well, they just suck as people, and not in a way that is interesting or compelling. The two girls are the same shallow, spiteful brats that they've always been, except now they have a lot more screening. On the other hand, Kiyoko, our Cinderella proxy, is too far removed from her underdog origins, seeing as she now serves as a completely hollow psychopath who lives only to scheme and lie and contort the lives of everyone around her. This is a perfectly fine conceit for a horror story, but it leaves us without any human core to connect to or empathize with. What's left is a slick and stylish one-off about two terrible people being tortured by an even more terrible person.

The episode almost starts to get at something of substance right at the very end, when the sisters realize that being banished from their home and cast out onto the streets is the first tagste of freedom they've had in years, but the moment gets swallowed up in the Kiyoko of it all. Again, don't get me wrong, this is a very good episode of a show that I am very interested in watching more of. I just think that, if it had more moments like this quietly haunting beat, it could have been great. That's the wonderful thing about anthologies, though. If one of the chapters doesn't hit quite right, there's always the chance that the next one will be the story that feels made just for you.

Rebecca Silverman

In this Cinderella, there is no fairy godmother. All that means is that it's adapting (or rather, playing with) the version of ATU510a recorded by The Brothers Grimm in 1812 and revised into the better-known 1857 version over the course of the 19th century. The fairy godmother is a character from Charles Perrault's 17th-century variant; in the Grimm version, Cinderella is helped by a magic tree she plants on her mother's grave. And in this variant? Cinderella more or less does the work herself, although she does have a highly suspicious living doll who is likely intended to represent both Perrault's fairy and the Grimms' tree.

Set during what appears to be the very late Meiji or early Taisho periods, the key difference between this and more traditional retellings is that Cinderella is nobody's victim; she's the villain. (Interestingly, this is a change frequently seen in Little Red Riding Hood retellings. We'll see if that's the case for this series later.) A charming little sociopath, Kiyoko (Cinderella) enjoys manipulating those around her for her amusement. Thus, she sets up stepsisters Makiko and Sawako to look wicked when, in reality, she's causing her own "problems" so that she can play victimhood. She's the poor little rich girl who lost her parents and is tormented by her sisters, and while it's not quite as chilling as it's meant to be, it's still disturbing. By the time her father dies and her stepmother becomes ill with the always-popular wasting disease consumption, it's hard not to think that Kiyoko had a hand in both things – and from there, it's an easy step to wonder if she also killed her mother and what she has planned for Prince Charming.

The implication is that Kiyoko is fully aware of the Cinderella tale type. By the early 20th century, folklorists would have made it well known, and a major study of ATU510a specifically was conducted by a folklorist in the 1890s. As a nobleman's daughter, Kiyoko would have had access to at least Grimm and Perrault translations, if not Andrew Lang's color fairy books. She's deliberately mimicking the story, setting herself up as the heroine because she knows that people will buy it – Cinderella stories are extant in virtually every known world culture, after all. It's a tale type that speaks to a lot of people, and that's something Kiyoko can use to her advantage in her games.

Who the living doll is meant to be and what role she plays is unclear. I'll be interested to see if the doll pops up across the other stories told this season (and you'd better believe I'll be watching them) and whether or not she's meant to represent Charlotte from the frame narrative. In any case, this is a fascinating retelling and is faithful enough to the actual Grimm version of the tale to make me happy. It adheres to the truth that the sanitized Disney versions of folklore are rarely the most interesting stories.

Nicholas Dupree

"Dark" twists on classic fairy tales are one of those ideas that basically everyone comes up with at some point, and as a consequence, they can feel incredibly played out. So, I honestly wasn't expecting much going into this series outside of the novelty of seeing CLAMP character designs in motion. Yet through the first episode, a Taisho-era version of Cinderella that flips the script on the titular heroine, I found myself pleasantly surprised.

Rather than going for the obvious and simplest twists, the first episode turns the classic story into a slow-burn psychological horror, where Cinderella – here, Kiyoko – is not a mistreated step-daughter but a devious manipulator who casts her new sisters as selfish monsters to the rest of the world. While the stepsisters in this version aren't exactly the nicest people in the world, it's harrowing to see them slowly nudged into Kiyoko's web, only getting further stuck as they lash out and plead for sympathy against her feigned innocence. It's familiar ground in terms of horror – a seemingly innocent figure pulling the strings and gaslighting those around them for sympathy to some dark end – but delivered with just the right verve and pacing to work as a double-length episode.

My only big question mark about the whole thing is the framing device of The Brothers Grimm and their younger sister, Charlotte. While the opening presents it as if the brothers are showing Charlotte their latest collected tale, the ending of this episode suggests the sister is actively interfering with the tale, here in the form of Kiyoko's creepy talking doll. That raises some questions about whether or not the framing device is hiding some larger plot and if this mini-series might eventually break away from its anthology format.

For now, this introduction is more than enough for me to check out the next. It's not exactly breaking the mold, but so far, The Grimm Variations has shown a firm grasp of horror fundamentals and a willingness to go beyond the most obvious twists for these tales. If it can keep that up, it'll be a damn good time.

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