by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
At this episode, I find myself at a crossroads with Granbelm. Not necessarily in terms of how I feel about its quality; it's still exceedingly well put-together from a production standpoint, and everything seems to be holding up structurally. But halfway through, the show's ultimate shape and themes have begun to come into relief, even though it's still too early to say where it's all going.
Coming off the knock-down, drag-out, episode-length battle from last week, this episode resolves to finally explore the deeper consequences of the Granbelm battles. When you're watching a modern Madoka-like, there's always concern over grim misfortune befalling those who lose duels, so there's a wry sense of self-awareness when Nene pops back up at the beginning of this episode, chastising the characters and audience for thinking she might be dead just because she lost a magic robot fight. Instead, the show seems to posit that a loss in the Granbelm is a great misfortune on its own. Granted, Nene herself isn't afforded much introspection on how she might feel from missing out on her presumable wish to get her mother back, but that general concept is vocalized by Mangetsu. The idea that depriving others of their deeply desired rewards is brought up as a sin to bear for participating in the Granbelm, but Mangetsu's particular position throws a wrench into that. She admits that she currently has no great desire she's participating for, and she's even come to enjoy the fighting itself for its own thrills.
Given other events in this episode, I can't say I expect that worldview to continue unabated, but it still puts Mangetsu's main-character status in an odd place at this moment. Characters like Nene and Anna had deep personal reasons for entering the Granbelm and dealing with its hardships for the long period it's been going on. Mangetsu just tripped over a first-episode contrivance to find herself exceptionally talented in the arena with little explanation yet. At this specific juncture, it calls into question her otherwise-motivating ‘nobody’ status, giving her what feels like an unearned advantage compared to all the other characters she'll presumably defeat on the way to the story's finale.
What makes that judgement tough to reconcile is that the bigger question posed in the same breath about the true nature of the Granbelm remains unanswered. We get an explanation that there's enough power in the magical dimension for all the mages to share equally if they wished, yet they're driven to compete because the motivating magic castle of the contest wills it. There's obviously more to that story, hovering invisibly to be deployed in a later twist that will resolve and perhaps mitigate some of the unsavory interpretations viewers could bring to the table.
Finally getting the full story on Anna is my biggest sticking point with this episode of Granbelm. The ultimate revelation for her deposed status in her own family is that she simply lacked the inherent magical talent to serve as their representative in the Granbelm. The explanation given is framed in a ‘cruelty of the truth’ sort of way, which just makes it feel more reductive to have Ernesta and even Anna's own mother insisting she accept that she'll never be good enough to do the one thing she wants to accomplish. It almost places Granbelm's own ideals at odds with itself, with Mangetsu having her desires handed to her while Anna's demonstrable efforts are treated as unhinged and dangerous. The climactic discussion in her home is heralded by her bursting forth screaming and swinging an axe at Ernesta. It's over-the-top even by Anna's standards, as its outrageousness undermines how sympathetically the story could have characterized her instead.
The current balance of these odd directions for Mangetsu and Anna at least show the potential for interesting trajectories going forward. In spite of the talent for ARMANOX fights she now revels in, this episode subtly indicates that Mangetsu's true contributions to the world may lie simply in being there for people. She somewhat self-awarely invites herself into the homes of Kuon, Shingetsu, and Anna over the course of this episode, providing hospitality and discussing issues with girls who are technically her enemies. Even by the end of the outrageously violent confrontation with Anna, her presence seems to have helped this brandishing of the ‘cruel truth’ lead to a new understanding.
Of course, then Granbelm hits one of the hardest post-credits shock-stingers I've seen in a while. It's a cut that actually stops the ending sequence mid-line to reveal that Anna's gone off the deep end, committed bloody matricide, and stolen a magical super-crystal to bump her up to boss-level threat for the next episode. It's a sign of this show's strong presentation that I have to praise its effectiveness, even as it runs into those issues with potentially confused thematic intent. No matter how sympathetic Anna's powerless plight might have been, this action firmly pushes her over the edge into ‘the bad guy’ that our heroes must now defeat. But the fact that she had to jump off this slippery slope to reach that status at all proves that her situation was more murky than it was being treated. Granbelm is heading for another blowout battle that I'm sure will be great fun to watch, but its not-so-unexpected twist toward a deadly-serious dark magical-girl direction is on shaky ground. Confounding matters is that these actions by Anna weren't even entirely her own, spurned as she was into them by the manipulative Suisho, who's cemented herself now as the Real Villain.
Suisho's turn in this episode is another one that makes me want to rate it higher, if only from a presentation standpoint. Aoi Yuki is still absolutely killing it in the role, always finding new places to flaunt her range. The scene of her taunting Anna is loaded with great cinematography, character acting, and even a brief burst of well-animated action. But the whole scene reinforces ideas in the story that I'm not yet totally sold on. There are still a ton of other places this could go, but rather than getting me totally excited for the intense action to follow, this episode of Granbelm just had me nervously shifting, worried about where the story is taking its turn into darker melodrama.
Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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