by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Anna's removal from the game of Granbelm might be expected to simplify the playing field, but that's far from what happens as the survivors pick up the pieces in this episode. Sure, a good portion of it is based around Shingetsu coming to terms with the fallout from Anna's death and her own role in it, but that's but one part of the big new picture that's just being revealed here. Anna and Ernesta weren't the only sisters with a serious stake in this contest, and this episode cleverly opens up to show just how heated the fight got between Kuon and Suishou while we were occupied with the events of the last episode. It's a clever reminder of the contrasting motives of all the characters here: For as much as Suishou's manipulation of Anna factored into last week's events, Kuon has a whole separate bone to pick with her. The real meat of this episode is dedicated to getting us to question how much we actually know about who Suishou, Kuon's sister Shisui, and even Mangetsu really are.
In fact, probably the biggest issue to be taken with this episode is that it raises questions within questions without providing much in the way of answers yet. Granbelm's storytelling has always been built on the background mysteries of motivations for characters and what's really going on, but there are driving points at specifics now with no clear revelations so far. On the one hand that could be frustrating, but it also speaks to how entertaining the show is, that while watching I'm desperate to find out what's really going on. The biggest question mark at this point is of course Suishou herself. She's been a great manipulative background antagonist already, but stepping into the main villain role makes her even more engagingly enigmatic. More than ever I'm coming away wondering what she even is.
The other characters' lack of knowledge on Suishou's origins turns out to mark her as much of a wild card as Mangetsu, but with some sort of agenda she's working towards for herself rather than our plucky heroine's simple selflessness. Suishou's pointed scheming also conveys a more calculated threat level than Anna's drive as a more emotional antagonist; She's always in control in the various confrontations with the others this episode, getting particularly handsy with poor Kuon. It is perhaps unfortunate that in a Madoka-like filled with familiar setups of affectionate magical girls, the most explicitly-confirmed queer character falls into the tired trope of the dangerous evil lesbian. But to Suishou's credit she's also defined by all the other factors we still don't know about her. The next episode looks like it will shed some light on the exact connection between her and Kuon's sister Shisui, and all the hinting here has me seriously looking forward to that.
The other puzzle-box we're presented with in this episode concerns the actual consequences of Anna's death. It's not simply that she's gone, but as Nene inadvertently discovers, all traces of her have been erased from the world and memories of her gone from anyone not a Granbelm-active mage. She's even been replaced in her family by Rosa, the girl Mangetsu took out of the fight in the first episode! This is the kind of surprise world-building that has huge implications, coming right up to the edge of some sort of reveal that could turn the show's whole setting upside-down. I appreciate how they've kept Nene around to be the one to unravel this mystery. She's an entertaining character, and the whole thing with her mother means she potentially has a personal stake in this memory-messing business. She also gets one of the best low-key scenes in the episode with her headphones providing a clue as to what might really be going on; The sound editing on the noise-cancelling effect is clever, conveying the idea strongly.
And as for the potential source of that memory-interfering magic, what of our heroine, Mangetsu? She's been a bit sidelined the last few weeks while we dealt with Shingetsu and Anna, but her perpetually-present periphery point of having nothing at stake in this fight was still brought up regularly, and it's still an element of contention now. Both Suishou and Shingetsu encourage her to drop out of the Granbelm at this stage, though with understandably different attitudes. The issue I've had for a few weeks now is reiterated though, quite directly by Shingetsu this time: It does hurt the other mages to see Mangetsu just dropping into this contest at a late stage, having lost nothing getting here and with nothing to lose going forward. The unfairness of the situation is something the writing is aware of now, but all Mangetsu keeps coming back to is ruminating on the action of the Granbelm itself being her only purpose, desperate not to return to the ‘nothing’ she had before. There are some huge hints that there's more to this now, tied up in the teased un-reality of this world, and I think it would behoove Granbelm to bring those revelations to the fore sooner rather than later, lest Mangetsu's wavering become even more repetitive.
But there was so much movement just in setting up the possibilities of where the rest of this is going that I can hardly accuse this episode of treading water just because one character arc is still stalled. Coming off the huge battle last episode, this mecha-less installment was more setup-focused, but still made great use of sharp art and strong, suspenseful direction. The use of lighting throughout the episode was especially brilliant. Even with some storytelling decisions I'm questioning, my viewing of this show is still dominated by that “I gotta find out what happens next” feeling. When a show is this confident, it helps give you confidence in it.
Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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