by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 13 of
I pretty much had faith in Granbelm to take itself home effectively after all this time. Despite some doubts in the middle it's proven through this last section to have a remarkably solid handle on exactly what it does so well: Gorgeous magical-mecha combat scenes and dense philosophical musings on the nature of humanity. Probably the most interesting adjustment this finale makes is how cleanly it breaks those two halves apart for its big finish. The result is as much about showing off how adept it's become at its components, but does also mean we get a peek at some of the seams here in the eleventh hour.
The big fight part in the first half is Granbelm reaching for the top of its game, especially in showing off how much the ARMANOX battles have escalated as the show has gone on. The chibified mecha-fights started at zippy Super Robot Wars-level extravaganzas of the lost art that traditional robot animation is. They're a serious selling point of a show that already has too many reasons I've been begging people not to sleep on it. So this last clash between Shingetsu and Suishou is a culmination of how outrageous things have gotten to this stage, with Suishou herself spelling out that it's the result of Magiaconatus siccing these two super-strong mages on each other just to see what happens. Shingetsu having all the magic in the world directed through her gives her an awareness to handle Suishou's myriad mass-attacks, signaled with some clever use of color-shifting to communicate how she's gotten a handle on that flow. We're just four minutes into the episode and it's been the characters countering and one-upping each other repeatedly, culminating in Shingetsu getting the drop on Suishou with the absurd trick of abandoning her mecha only to puppeteer it externally as a sneak attack.
It's worth noting that while last episode saw Mangetsu engaging Suishou in a pretty verbose philosophical shouting match alongside the robo-battle, a lot of Shingetsu's engagement here happens rather wordlessly. It is a key way of illustrating how serious things have gotten at this stage, with even background music being used sparingly. Of course the major idealistic stakes still have be spelled out before things really pop off, so there is a momentary respite for debate between the last two magical girls standing. It's mainly here for Suishou to set up one last complication she foresees in Shingetsu's ‘Wish for no more magic’ plan, that being the folly of man itself- that humans simply don't have the willpower to truly seek peace at the expense of other things they want. While this is setup for the ending of the show itself, it also gives us one more window into Suishou's frustrations, that she's known everything but peace in testing humans in pursuit of that power. It's a classic crossroads even those of us who aren't evil magical constructs have found ourselves at: Wondering what sense is left in trying to deliver to abusive power structures what we don't even understand they want from us.
That's the one blending of the fighting and philosophizing this episode gets into, and then it starts raining neon pink, a magical ghost Mangetsu shows up to encourage Shingetsu and give her a powered-up new ARMANNOX, and the theme song kicks in so you know things just got real. This last stage of the fight, to its credit, makes the best effort at communicating the huge scale things have to be happening on now, with Shingetsu and Suishou's attacks on each other amounting to trying to block out each others' space with their massive magical attack-spams. However it gets to the point a couple times where it feels like we're just watching an (admittedly pretty) abstract super-magic light-show. Keeping its ridiculous fights straight has always been one of Granbelm's strengths, but here it almost feels like they stretched a little too far even for their practiced abilities. Overwhelming as it is, it still looks super-cool though.
In true anime finale form though, that big battle is wrapped up just halfway into the episode, and then it's onto the written portion of this final exam. It does turn out to be an actual test too, as Shingetsu's walk up to Magiaconatus is marked with several last temptations in the form of force-ghosts of her fallen friends, tempting her with what she'll lose if she makes the choice. It's actually impressive in that it shows that Magiaconatus, as an entity, has learned from watching Shingetsu and Mangetsu that temptation through our treasured connections with others can be a valid tactic. One that may work out too well, as I'll discuss in a moment when I come to the very ending. But at this point, Shingetsu's philosophy in the face of what she's told will result in her own empty, unacknowledged existence in a world without magic lines up with the resolve her friend Mangetsu had already instilled her with. Her reaction to this consequence is a delightfully benign “I suppose so. I expected that.” followed by a resolution to just eat pork cutlet buns and enjoy observing the world as it is. And she acknowledges that magic or no, humanity will continue to make mistakes, but can still learn from them and grow. As we will see.
To its credit, the remade world Shingetsu emerges in is quite satisfying as a resolution to all we saw come before. The mages who were killed are still gone and forgotten by all but her, but Shingetsu can observe the simple lives of the people they left behind and be secure in the knowledge of how she worked for that. There's cute touches like Nene finally getting to be tall or seeing Shisui as a high-strung office lady. It's a nice wrap for a story that seemed like it earned it. And then Shingetsu insinuates that she only properly understood Mangetsu's exercising of her free-will as a result of one last vision of her ghost in Magiconatus, and may have chickened out on excising all the magic after all at the last minute.
So that very ending is an extreme exercise in ambiguity that, this soon after, I'm not sure I'm 100% sold on. The flowers being made to bloom and the transfer student heavily implied to be Mangetsu, along with Shingetsu's cut-off narration, to me imply that she did in fact fail the final test of Magiaconatus, as all others before her. Did she get closer than anyone else? Perhaps, but it still leaves uncertain if humanity gained anything or played right back into the vicious cycle that Suishou was so infuriated by. To be fair, it's an immediate affirmation of that final philosophical point: Humans will always be inclined by their sentimentality and swayed will to make mistakes over and over again, but we still learn from them every time.
Shingetsu seemingly took far too long to come to grips with Mangetsu being entirely her friend with her own wants and desires to act on, and paid for it by not realizing her own dream for the whole of humanity. But as Mangetsu herself articulated in the previous episode, humans perhaps need not be bound by the weight of the world itself: Rather our connections to others are the most precious things for us to save, even at the cost of our dreams or anything else. Does that mean Shingetsu's choice was ultimately the right one, and her knowledge and the support of the friends she made along the way will be enough to fight again if the Granbelm starts up all over? I can't say and I don't know if the show wants to either. People are the choices they make and how those affect others in their lives. If those lead to bad things, we have to take that to keep the good things we made them for.
There's a ton to chew on here at the ending of Granbelm, and while I might have appreciated more definitive clarity, I can't say it's out of line with what the show has done all this time. It's still an absolutely excellent series that certainly knew what it wanted to do, and I think everyone should check out given the chance. For better or for worse, this finale was Granbelm pushing its presentation and pondering to their absolute limits. And I can't fault a show like this for doing its best. And even if it's to turn over those final choices in my head for a long time, I'll appreciate the series for finding that way to stick with me like that afterwards.
Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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