Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions ?
For a moment,
he became smoke.
the cloudy sky.
Heian poet Izumi Shikibu wrote those words in 1007 after the death of her lover, Price Atsumichi, and they hold not only her still tangible grief but also a link to this week's episode of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. Up to this point we haven't really gotten an explanation for the inclusion of the word “ash” in the series' title, but now with the not unexpected death of a major character, it becomes clear: ashes are what is left when you cremate a body.
This episode marks a turning point in the series, not just because of the death, but also in that it is the first episode to vary the plot. The story starts out just the same as always – the group is improving their goblin hunting skills, incorporating new ones recently learned, and they've clearly become more comfortable with each other and their new lives. An opening moment shows Shihoru and Manato growing closer as she finally is able to open up to someone besides Yume, and there's even the now-requisite shot of Yume's backside as she hides waiting to attack. (Legs are definitely the fanservice focus of this show, for better or worse; I personally find it less annoying than physics-defying boobs.) Goblin hunting itself has even become more palatable as they've gotten used to taking lives.
That new comfort level is actually quite clever set up for the events of the second half of the episode. There's a jovial air to the killing this time as they revel in their success and tease Ranta about his demon, but underneath that there's something sort of disturbing about the scene. Ranta dives in with glee to get his vice for the kill; we see a stabbing action and hear a “squish” before he pops back up into the scene, spattered in blood with a big smile on his face. No one even comments on this apart from to rib him a bit – the terror and sadness they used to feel when taking a life seems to have disappeared. While we really can't fault them for that – this is how they survive, after all, and they don't eat if they don't kill – it's still a little disquieting how mundane it has become. It's almost as if they've forgotten the value of life and that the goblins aren't just “monsters.”
These facts come rushing back to them about halfway through the episode. The goblins stage a sneak attack, spotted by Haruhiro, and the toll of it is deadly. By becoming too comfortable with the goblins as prey – and seeing them as easier prey, since Manato mentions happily how they can now get three at once – they've forgotten that these are creatures capable of thought...and planning. This proves a deadly mistake.
As I said above, it's not that this particular character's death was unexpected – in fact, I mentioned back in episode two that he practically had “bait” written all over him. It's more that it happens so quickly, and yet with a chilling inevitability that slowly spreads as you, and the other characters, realize that this is really happening and cannot be reversed. The slow collapse, the final words, the trip to the healer-priest...even though the death itself is relatively fast, it hits in slow motion. It isn't until the final scene, with ashes being released into the sky, that it truly becomes real.
Interestingly enough, the cremation is when we see the other people who first came to this world with the group we've been following. It's clear that they know what has happened but aren't quite sure what to do; it looks like this is their best way of giving their respects. It's a bit more subtle than the rest of the episode which, while effective, pretty much waves a death flag with every pre-death moment for the victim. That it is sad anyway (especially for those of us prone to tearing up) is a major plus for the atmosphere of the show, because it really is telegraphed beforehand. This week's insert song enhances that atmosphere by not having words, and the background for most of the rest is sounds of the woods rather than actual music, which makes the wordless song more like a eulogy than it might otherwise have been.
Things are going to have to change now. Grimgar had lulled us into a false sense of security (albeit one with some niggling doubts), but things are going to have to start moving from this point on. You can only linger under the cloudy sky for so long...no matter how intimate it may be.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is currently streaming on Funimation.
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