Episode 4

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Granbelm ?

This episode of Granbelm starts by picking up the mecha fight from the latter part of the previous episode. It's no secret that traditionally animated mecha action is becoming more of a lost art in anime. So if you're a fan of that style, this seemingly derivative magical-girl-battle show may seem an odd place to find it, but it more than delivers the goods. The chibified style of the ARMANOX would seem at first to make the suit designs homogenized and difficult to tell apart in action, but the direction of this series does a remarkable job helping us keep everything straight. Coloring and storyboarding from scene to scene plays a big role in that, as well as frequent cut-ins to the pilots so we're always aware of who we're following.

Readability is important since, especially in this fight, Granbelm is really embracing its ‘battle royale’ aspect. There are lots of participants all pursuing their own angles in this brawl, and they all have clearly different combat styles as well! Nene's one of the more focal characters of this episode, so we get quite the spectacle out of her widespread multi-shot homing laser attack and the magic disco show that ensues. There are a few noticeable shortcuts and some bits of reused animation, but for the most part, things are still nicely consistent. We get to see Suisho's ominous sound-based magic in action and Anna's increasingly unhinged attacks. The animation and direction in this fight also communicates the characters' personalities effectively as well, like the adorable aside with Mangetsu flailing around in her cockpit, or Nene's hide-and-shoot style indicating that she might cast it aside as her resolve develops by the end of this episode. But I am getting ahead of myself.

As I alluded to last week, I have no idea how long Granbelm's production can keep this up, so I feel I've got to gush about the mecha action so long as it shines. But even as the fighting subsides in the second half of this episode, the show seems to be working hard to mitigate its previous issues. The side characters feel like they're getting more properly introduced and fleshed out in ways that make them easier to follow. This episode's arc mostly belongs to Nene, but that girl who popped in at the end of the last episode, Kuon, gets a proper introduction and some tantalizing hints of story as well. Her situation with her sister and its relation to the magic system used by the combatants feels like it could have more far-reaching impact on the story later, but for now the narrative is wisely restraining itself. This does mean that Kuon's personality and motivations still feel like they're behind an underdeveloped smokescreen, but to be fair, she just got here. For now, I mostly appreciate the way Mangetsu's trust further highlights what an odd anomaly our main character is in a story like this. Will this be the kind of show where her idealism is rewarded or shattered?

Anyway, the main arc this week is focused on Nene. Her situation was teased at previously, and while her exact story still has some blank spaces (likely relating to the reveal of her wish), the trajectory of her character development has now been laid out. She and her sisters were able to use magic, but they were frightened out of doing so by their mother. Nene came to equate her ability to use magic with her own existence, thus seeing ‘hiding’ her power as being ashamed of herself. This element is used to show how the various mages involved in the Granbelm disguise their powers from one another, including neat details that they each use different spells and materials to do so. Nene deciding that she wants to stop ‘hating herself’ by the end of the episode drives her to declare her enemy combatant status to Shingetsu and Mangetsu. Will this result in her coming out directly in the battles instead of hiding and sniping?

Nene's personality gets fleshed out a lot this episode, through how she interacts with Mangetsu's sister as well as her own siblings. They have an enjoyable rapport, and the way everyone's personalities play off each other feels more distinctive this week. Anna's becoming even larger-than-life than before, as her sanity shatters around her jealousy toward Shingetsu. But that gives Suisho something meaningful to react to, demonstrating how this ostensible attendant can calmly handle her supposed superior. And Shingetsu gives us a heartwarming moment where it's made clear she really does want to repair her relationship with Anna and the rest of her surrogate family. Maybe it's simply a case of spending more time with these characters making them more endearing them, but I feel like this episode was better at communicating information about its characters.

The hodgepodge of characterizations has become more focused, and the action is as keen as ever. Excellent execution should be enough to keep Granbelm captivating. At this point, my only concerns are for the overall direction of the story. Hopefully some of the more curious mysteries it started teasing will have equally effective follow-through. But even if it drops to truly derivative storytelling, I'll still be excited for at least a few more cool robot battles.


Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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