by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
As a reviewer, I try not to let my expectations for an anime get too ahead of the game as I'm analyzing it on a weekly basis. It's mostly an exercise in tempering my reaction to the series as it unfolds, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an element of cynicism under there as well. Just a few seasons ago, I reviewed The Price of Smiles. I'm fairly certain everyone's already forgotten that show, but it was another anime-original mecha series that aired on Fridays, and while I started out quite taken with its potential, it ended up utterly failing to live up to any of those promises. So as much as I've found myself entertained by Granbelm and excited to see where it goes, I have nagging concerns not to get my hopes up too high.
But this week, Granbelm totally kicked ass.
It's safe to say that I have no idea how the rest of this production is going to unfold at this point. I could almost log it as a criticism that we've barely spent time seeing what the characters do in the implicit month of downtime they have between each full-moon battle, but when it means that big robo-rumbles like this happen so often, how can I complain? This is the biggest fight in the show yet (and we're still not even halfway through), serving to cap off Nene's character arc. That means she doesn't stand a chance of being the victor in this fight, but boy does she go out with a bang.
There's a whole series of escalations to our main characters (primarily Mangetsu) taking on Nene. We get an explanation of how mages find each other in battle primarily through detecting magic, just so we can get a surprise moment later when it turns out Nene is firing on them using her actual eyes. That's just one of the twists this episode uses to infuse more excitement into its action, even when that action is still being animated at a level that it could carry the show regardless. I've seen criticism from some that the chibi bodies of Granbelm's mecha make it hard to take the robot action seriously, but it reminds me of Super Robot Wars, that flagship crossover franchise whose similarly squashed suits zip around through rains of lasers and flip around swinging giant swords with engrossingly escalating action.
You could accuse this episode of being derivative and predictable, but I think that misses the forest for the trees. Sure, I totally called last week that Nene's desire not to hide would result in her coming out to directly engage in a fight, but there's no way I predicted her ARMANOX would transform into a giant robo-dragon that she controlled with martial-arts moves in the cockpit like this was G-Gundam! Mangetsu's whole character is predicated on being full of surprises, so her unlocking a super-powered berserker mode isn't too surprising to anyone who remembers that being one of the original hooks of Symphogear. But it's so danged cool and sweeps you further into the escalating fight, so for now it's just great to imagine that we'll be delving deeper into that later.
The emotional payoffs similarly work because Granbelm knows how to make the most of its beats with minimal effort. The ultimate reveal of what happened to Nene's mother still leaves a lot unanswered, in terms of how much her memory loss had to do with the consequences of the Granbelm itself, or what Nene's memories flowing into Mangetsu was all about. But it works anyway because the emotional impact of just seeing Nene's mother forget her is so raw that it's all we need.
Even working this major conflict so well, Granbelm still has time to effectively tease out B and C plots at a few other moments this episode. More context for Kuon's sister is hinted at when we find out that Suisho may have something to do with things. Suisho is an underrated character the show's playing well at this point. Aoi Yuuki is in a lot of shows this season, but her fabled excellent range gives this too-suspicious girl a great edge. And the bits of fight we see between her and Kuon are almost as strong as the main event, since both of their mecha are extremely fun to watch. We also get more of the Anna/Ernesta conflict, just to remind us that it's there. Speaking of Anna and Suisho, both are good examples of the strong facial expression game in this show. But Nene has some great understated moments as well, like her strong look of determination or her hilarious 'Eh?' reaction to getting nailed with Mangetsu's berserker sword.
It feels like Granbelm has been building up well every week now, resulting in this true action showcase of an episode. It proves that the show can work as an all-out mech-stravaganza, while still dedicating just enough time to its world-building mysteries and emotional beats to make its story more meaningful to follow. There's still that nagging, cynical voice in my head, the one that says I have no idea how the rest of this is going to turn out. But then another voice comes in to tell me to say, "Dang, this episode was just so cool!"
Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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