Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions ?
What could possibly be worse than seeing your friends die because of your own failure? You might say the nightmares that haunt your sleep or the bittersweet daydreams that appear when awake. But as Mary finds out this episode, even more bitter is to see them walk towards you as desiccated fragments of themselves, corpses given life by the so-called Undead King.
We don't meet the Undead King; unlike Death Spots, he appears to be a part of the mythological base of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash's world, with dominion over those who die in the Cyrene Mines. I'm a bit surprised that the subtitles have gone with “undead” as a descriptor of both the King and Mary's returned party members, as the more common fantasy term would be “lich,” which differs from a zombie in that a lich retains its intelligence and generally has a token of some kind (often referred to as a “phylactery,” or “amulet”) which helps to preserve its knowledge and (un)life force. If the King is reanimating the dead, he's clearly a lich, and the fact that Og, Michiki, and Mutsumi can all still perform their attacks in a reasoned way would suggest that they are also lichs rather than zombies. This is also indicated by the way at least two of them respond when Mary casts the spell to free them from their tattered bodies – Michiki lifts his withered arm to embrace her as he melts into ash in a moment that falls somewhere between “bittersweet” and “heartbreaking.” Like the scene where Haruhiro and the rest of the original party release Manato's ashes into the cloudy sky, this is clearly cathartic for Mary, as she feels that she has finally righted the wrong she committed on the day her friends died. Sad as the fight is, there's a sense of closure when it ends. We can see this not only in Mary's quietude, but also in the way that the rest of the group feels comfortable speaking of the future after the battle. In a very real way they have helped to lay some ghosts to rest, but more than that, they've finally helped Mary in a tangible way as a party.
This is an interesting episode because unlike previous weeks, it doesn't end with the fall of the undead. This is one of the fastest-moving episodes of the season, possibly because the end is nigh; whatever the reason, it's a nice change of pace. Where previous weeks have focused on either action or character building, this episode manages to do both, with a fight against the kobolds following the lich encounter that allows for Haruhiro and Ranta to work out some of their issues. Ranta, in fact, is the person who finally tells Haruhiro what he needs to hear: that he is not Manato. Ever since taking over as leader (something Ranta truly acknowledges this week as well), Haru has intellectually understood that he's a different person with different skills than Manato, but not emotionally. Ranta's flat-out statement that he's someone else seems to hit home for Haruhiro, and we should start to see him really embrace that and use his own leadership style more confidently now. He also comes to understand that Ranta isn't just a wild card running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off – when it comes down to the wire, he's an important asset and a good teammate. When Ranta reaches his hand out to save Haru, it feels like Haru is seeing him as a person, rather than a nuisance, for the first time.
This episode has a bit less background music than has been typical, instead using the sounds of steel on stone as the kobolds mine or the shuffle of footsteps to enhance the action. It adds to the tension of the episode, particularly in the beginning, as does the fact that there's not a lot of extraneous dialogue or monologue throughout. Along with that we see some really impressive fight choreography from the two thief characters (one of whom is deceased), as well as a fast-paced race up a rickety scaffold that made me worry about more than just the kobolds behind them. (Or the fact that it was a wooden scaffold in a firey place…)
While the lich fight is the most striking scene this week in its emotional impact for Mary (and its alarming implications for everyone else), overall this is a much busier, faster episode than has been the norm, which is remarkable in itself. It's a real pity that this is wrapping up, because there's clearly a lot more to explore with this world and these characters.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is currently streaming on Funimation.
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