Granbelm
Episode 9

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Granbelm ?

“Be sure to watch until the end!” the promotion for this episode of Granbelm declared. While they don't repeat the mid-lyric theme-song cutoff stunt from episode 6, there is indeed one last scene after the end credits to throw everything we know into question and ensure that we tune in again immediately next week. Not that Granbelm has ever had a problem with being compulsively watchable. This episode features multiple shocking revelations, and even though pretty much all of them come in the last few minutes, it ends up not being a big deal getting there just because the show's as perfectly entertaining as usual.

The plot's been condensed down into two major focuses at this point: The truth of the connection between Suishou and Kuon's sister Shisui, and the true nature of Mangetsu. The latter isn't quite as developed as the former at this point. It's still a lot of skirting around dialogue from those in the know like Suishou and Nene; The episode even uses the old ‘muted dialogue’ trick to keep the secret as Nene imparts it to Shingetsu, a week after they did the same thing with Shisui. It feels artificially dragged out to the point of frustration, though it would be worse if they didn't seem to efficiently be tying a lot of pending world-building revelations into it as well. It also helps that Mangetsu's actual character has grown into a better place since the past couple episodes, and I feel myself warming up to her whole deal more than I was.

That element is explored with the first half of this episode exploring the off-time training Shingetsu puts Mangetsu through, helping her find a ‘spirit’ of her own. The spirits, effective special-attack helpers for the magical mecha, were just introduced back in the final Anna fight, and like any good action-anime escalation, they come out of the woodwork with everyone using them this go-around. Mangetsu trying to find one of her own hits a lot of the same foreshadowing beats we've been retreading with her, specifically her frightened visions of a white moon, but at least they're consistent with this evocative imagery. What's really good about this is seeing Mangetsu's actual relationship with Shingetsu progress, which helps inform both their characters. Mangetsu has finally moved past only being interested in fighting in the Granbelm for self-fulfilling thrills, now declaring that she wants to do it for something, that is, helping Shingetsu. For her part, Shingetsu seems to have an earnest desire to mentor and reassure Mangetsu for now. It's definitely possible to read this dynamic as Shingetsu wanting to make up for the guilt she feels over Anna, since we already knew what a tragedy that messed-up relationship was to her. It gives the two characters strong, genuine chemistry that works well, naturally setting up the big fall we see by the end of this one.

Kuon, meanwhile, is already falling at this point. Suishou's increasing torment of her over the subject of her sister is played out with strong presentation this episode. The way the villainous mage simply moves around Kuon, with odd skips and disappearances, makes us wonder if she's even really there or if Kuon is just being haunted by the knowledge she now has. Unlike Mangetsu, who is now benefitting from the mentorship of Shingetsu, Kuon seems to have long lost the mentor her sister was. Flashbacks to the previous Granbelm that Shisui participated in evoke the same kinds of background conspiracies and vaguely-articulated tragedies we got with Nene's mom, making the point that most of the people with family members who took part in this before didn't have things turn out well for them. It lends some nice continuity to those proceedings, but is secondary to the emotional points: The worry that Shisui was tempted to intentionally let Suishou eat her soul, abandoning Kuon.

These stewing mysteries come together in this episode mecha battle, initially taking place underwater and filled with fog, doing an effective (if a bit heavy-handed) illustration of the obfuscation everyone now finds themselves at the mercy of in their situations. And of course, it turns out to all be Suishou's doing. Compared to all the plot-twist setup that makes up this episode, the fight's actually relatively straightforward to critique. It does feel a bit stiffer in places than previous Granbelm fights, with the mecha sliding around more than I'd like. Also, everyone using spirits now makes it apparent that their designs are not all created equal. As nice as the story of her finding it turned out to be, Orca, Mangetsu's special space-whale she now commands, comes off a bit underwhelming in presentation. As with that symbolic backdrop though, the battle still totally knows how to present itself on a conceptual level. The rainy effects as the ocean of confusion is washed away looks lovely, and there's an appreciable meta level to Suishou taunting both the characters and audience with the knowledge she has of forthcoming plot twists.

It's to the point that a twist Suishou didn't see coming makes for the most satisfying moment of this episode at its end. Shisui intentionally letting her soul get stolen by Suishou, not to abandon Kuon, but to help her, brings a ton of elements so far full-circle with each other. It ends up mirroring the helpful mentor relationship we've now seen Shingetsu has with Mangetsu, and Kuon's realization of the truth utilizes several visual cues that were already set up. Specifically, the piano-playing the sisters practiced clearly communicates the steady confidence Kuon is fighting with now, and provides a nifty dissonant backing track as the robot battle returns to the intensity level we expect from Granbelm. This is a trick the show has used a couple times before, but it works so well I can hardly complain.

But as satisfying as it would be to see Suishou go down right then to Kuon, there's still several episodes left, and a few more twists to dole out. The more simply spectacular one is of course that beating Suishou once just lets her deploy a next-level form-change, in an extremely cool transformation sequence. The other then is the last-second reveal of Mangetsu's doll-like nature, a swerve so ripe for engaging explanation I can hardly contain my theorizing until next week. If Mangetsu is a doll, even a small-scale ARMANOX herself, the question becomes who she belongs to. Is her search for purpose and meaning in life now explicitly tied to her striving for her own autonomy? Granbelm sometimes seems like it's working overtime just to deliver well-timed twists to make absolutely certain we're engaged with the story, watching until the end. But when they deliver like this, that's definitely not a bad thing.

Rating:

Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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