by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
I think I owe Mangetsu an apology. As the weeks in Granbelm have gone on and I've tried to grasp her characterization, it's become clear by this point that I was simply approaching it from the wrong angle. I had regarded her desire to prove herself in the magical mecha-battles purely for thrills as ‘selfish’ and viewed her feeling like she had ‘nothing’ otherwise as reinforcing that. After all the discussions of her motivation and origins that have led us to this episode, it's become clear to Mangetsu and the audience that she definitively never wanted the world to revolve around her. Discovering that it doesn't means so much more than just the revelation of Shingetsu's role in all this that we got last week.
This episode is incredibly low-key in how it explores what Mangetsu's existence means to her, and in doing so it hits on a few ideas that captivated me. The first point is that in learning the truth about Shingetsu and Mangetsu we get the full picture of their roles in this story. Though the focus seemed to be on Mangetsu for much of this show, it turns out it's actually Shingetsu who owns the ‘main character’ slot in this series. Shingetsu's the one with the big magical destiny this whole Granbelm system exists to serve that she's determined to rebel against, and the lessons Mangetsu has internalized are ultimately meant to be imparted to Shingetsu in motivating her final goal. It's an effective turnaround from a criticism I had of the series earlier, that characters like Anna seemed only to exist in service of developing pathos for Shingetsu. The series does fully commit to that interpretation of all those who have come and gone before these final mages, but it does so in a gentler and more thoughtful way than I initially gave it credit for.
The other departed characters like Kuon are implicitly included in this thesis, but it's mainly Anna and her connection to Shingetsu serving as the clear illustration of it, parallel to Mangetsu herself. Weeks after I brought up my issues with the narrative offering Anna few options outside of magecraft, we get a flashback to Ernesta actually asking her what she would want to do with her life outside of magic. There is no answer, because in spite of having the talent and resources to do anything else she wanted, Anna wanted only to be a mage. While we already knew about how that wish was diametrically opposed to Shingetsu wanting to do anything but magic, her reflection emphasizes that her recognition of how that power imbalance affects people and their relationships drove Shingetsu to her goal of ridding the world of magic altogether. Anna was effectively a motivating casualty for Shingetsu even before she died, and that effect carries her spirit in this story as much as Mangetsu's intangible existence is still hanging around.
That's the other storytelling device I'm a big fan of, the idea of characters who have departed the narrative but still have major impact on it. Anna is just one example; the concept is hammered on at every turn by this episode. Shisui has forgotten her sister Kuon, but the name still evokes emotions in her. Mangetsu can't be seen by more than a handful of the main cast, but her classmates can still recall her because of the lunches she made for them. Anyone gone is not forgotten, the people who affect our lives live on within us and the impacts they made, no matter how small. It's actually summed up beautifully by Mangetsu just a few minutes into the episode, as Shingetsu comes running to find her: “There's no such thing as someone who has nothing.”
It's a point this episode repeats often, but given how many moving parts the show manipulated to get to this idea, I'm fine with the story slowing down to ruminate on this point with no hint of robot battles. I presume that's partially Granbelm conserving its resources before the big blow-out finale next week, but even then the direction remains as top-notch as ever. There's a clear narrative theme of Mangetsu ‘bowing out’ as her existence fades. It's almost too effective, because the evocative framing and cuts around her disappearing act made me think she was really gone a couple times this episode, fully ceding her focal role to Shingetsu. It probably says a lot about my love for finality that I was ready to accept Mangetsu being gone in either of these instances, but treating it instead as more of a curtain-call for all those she'd affected worked better with the story's ideas. It also communicates how that concept works in reverse; all the connections Mangetsu made with people, even if they don't remember her when she's gone, have helped her stick around. She stayed simply so she could say goodbye.
Conceptually and emotionally, this is probably the strongest Granbelm has ever been. It's not just a ‘calm before the storm’ pre-finale episode, it's here to fully deliver on all the themes the series has been building up as our heroes fight one last time next week. It feels like this was calculated for maximum impact after stuffing so many potential ideas into the preceding ten weeks. I think later rewatches of Granbelm, without breaks and with foreknowledge of where it's going, will be kinder to the series than I was over the past few episodes. It deserved the benefit of the doubt all along, and that was quietly yet powerfully articulated by episode 11.
Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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