by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Poor Anna. It's been obvious for a while now that she was pigeonholed as Granbelm's tragic villain for its first half, and this episode sees her firmly closing the book on her own chapter. My misgivings about motivations aside, this episode absolutely succeeds at communicating that tragedy, and it begins and ends with Anna herself. Her seiyuu, Yoko Hikasa, was absolutely killing it in her swan song for the role this week. She has a great time finding new and interesting ways to scream Ernesta's name, and she sells the breakdown every step of the way down to the end, when she's just yelling the names of brain chemicals. It's a testament to her performance and the execution of this episode that I found Anna such an engaging and sympathetic character, even if I still wasn't completely down with the hows and whys of her turn.
This episode tries to put a new spin on the story we got last week, the idea that Anna's inferiority complex is rooted in her naturally low magical aptitude. I like one major point that comes up late in theory—that Ernesta saw Anna as being in an enviable position for not having to participate in the Granbelm at all. It's an effective contrast coming off last episode, where Mangetsu expressed how fun and exciting she thought the magical battle-royale was. This is a good counterpoint to bring up, especially in light of how wrong we see a fight go by this episode's end, but it feels shortchanging for Ernesta to only voice it late in the game, to say nothing of how she spins it as some sort of raw deal for her to have been born with such a naturally awesome magic power level. Otherwise, the overall motif of Anna's breakdown echoes any number of tragic villains—she was someone who couldn't be happy with herself, who has to hurt and drag others down in order to feel better. In doing so, Anna hurts and loses more and more of herself, all supposedly in the name of proving herself worthy to people who already love her.
The problem is that the previous episode didn't really sell any conflict in Anna's self worth beyond everyone telling her what a lousy mage she was. From what we saw last time, her mother and Ernesta were less about feeling proud of Anna no matter what she did, and more simply accepting her lack of aptitude as the only thing everyone in this show cares about. This whole aspect probably would have hit in a more meaningful way if they'd at least tried to present an alternative route Anna could have gone that may have actually made her happy. But simply living quietly as a pampered rich witch, cozy a deal as that is, doesn't satisfy as a missed opportunity for a tragic character who simply wanted the wrong thing too much. Adding insult to injury, it becomes clear by the end of the episode that her eventual death was ultimately just to provide pathos for Ernesta's character instead. Ouch.
Thank goodness Granbelm shows no sign of slowing down in the giant robot department. I thought that the final fight with Nene was already a high point, but this one pulls out even more stops for a skyrocketing sisterly smackdown between Anna and Ernesta. The lava-baked arena is a cool new place to see the fight take place, and the necessary escalation of this battle means we get to see some extremely cool new tricks pulled out by the ARMANOX. More madcap mid-battle mecha upgrades happen, like getting to see Anna's robot bust out a mane of super-mode energy, manipulating flames and ice and creating an army of doppelgangers for Ernesta to carve her way through. Ernesta believably proves that she has the ample ability to defeat her sister, but she's keeping things in-check as much as possible. One appreciable element of an original anime production like Granbelm is seeing the crew's enthusiasm for all the stuff they get to completely make up to animate. For as much as the subject matter of this show is the most serious it's been, it's good to know that won't stop them from showing off stuff like gigantic fire-axes, mecha that summon even bigger mecha to fight with them, or robots yanking themselves around with shadowy tendril hands.
There's a kinship between Granbelm as a series and its depiction of Anna this week, as I feel kind of bad for both of them in their desperation to be noticed. Last week's shocking cliffhanger scene felt like it was engineered entirely to get people talking, yet I scarcely saw a peep about the show in my own social media-sphere. Anna's attempted mom-murder turns out to not take (she just ends up in a coma), but even shortchanging that shock leads into this showcase of robot battles. There are so many magnificent cuts of imaginative excitement in this episode that even if I disagreed with its ideas completely, I'd still at least stay on for the thrill-ride aspect. Ultimately, they got me to sympathize with Anna, and the final direction of her death scene hit as hard as any of the other major moments Granbelm has delivered so far (to say nothing of the posthumous pathos of finding out that she was the one who encouraged Ernesta's magecraft in the first place). Granbelm clearly has entertainment chops, and now that it's done depicting the prevalent issues with Anna, we can see if the ideas it embraces moving forward will be more balanced.
Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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