Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions ?
Knowing that someone is dead is one thing. Coming to realize it, to truly understand it, is another. Last week may have been the episode where Manato died, but this episode is the one about his death as his friends come to fully understand that he's not just off in another tavern – he's gone, and there's no way he will ever be able to come back. In that sense, this is actually the much sadder episode, because the shock has worn off and everyone is left to cope with Manato's loss in their own ways, with no one really able to understand how it is that the others are grieving. Ranta grows ever more abrasive, Haruhiro rises to all bait thrown his way, and all three of the boys ignore the girls, as if somehow they aren't feeling the same heavy grief that they are. Even kindnesses are misunderstood, with Haruhiro refusing the money given to him by Renji as if it were intended as an insult. In reality, it was probably Renji's attempt to give them time to rest and mourn rather than having to go right back out, the fantasy world equivalent of bringing a grieving family food so they don't have to think about cooking. Haruhiro also keeps trying to push away the memory of Manato's death so that he can focus on thinking of how to best lead the group, somehow convinced that if he does everything just like Manato would have, he won't have to acknowledge that he's gone. It isn't until the end that he really allows himself to mourn in what is one of the most effective scenes, albeit one that's a little cliché, with he and Yume clinging to each other in the (symbolic) rain, sobbing. The scene escapes the stigma of an overused trope in that Manato hasn't really mourned at all yet, and his tears are cathartic for the viewer as well as the character. It also indicates a new closeness with Yume and a willingness to see her as a person and not just a semi-capable party member; by acknowledging her feelings as well as his own, Haru is taking the first step towards being able to lead.
Manato's passing does open up a gap in the party's defenses, as Kikkawa, another real-world transplant the boys meet in the tavern who is too drunk to be tactful points out. In a surprising show of goodwill, Kikkawa does introduce them to a “replacement” (in quotations because it's really just the position of priest rather than a true party member) in Mary, another trainee Volunteer Soldier. Mary has a better grasp of what a healer/priest is “supposed” to do in this kind of setting; she (and Kikkawa, for that matter) follow the concept laid out in the Flintlocke's Guide to Azeroth webcomic that “aggro = the priest dies.” This definitely takes some getting used to on everyone else's part, and Mary quickly makes herself as persona non grata as a necessary party member can be. It looks as though she's going to stick around, at least for one more episode, which makes sense both in terms of party composition and having a gender-balanced team, something which becomes more important with Haruhiro's realization that he, Ranta, and Moguzo have not been treating the girls as equals. Mary's English name also opens up the possibility that this fantasy world draws its soldiers from more than one real-world country – Kikkawa is very clear that she's also a trainee volunteer – which could help with figuring out the overall mystery of how and why they got here in the first place.
Unfortunately the episode falters in the last moments with a cheap gag. Exhausted from crying, Yume and Haru are just sitting quietly still holding each other when Shihoru looks out the bathroom window and sees them. She instantly assumes that they're having a romantic moment and the scene devolves into a lot of fluttering around protesting innocence while Shihoru apologizes. It's not only totally unnecessary, but it also destroys the mood that the rest of the episode has spent so long creating, effectively demolishing its own strength. I was willing to overlook the side-boob we got during the crying scene, because it makes logical sense given what Yume is wearing and isn't played for fanservice. Shihoru's jiggling breasts and the pat misunderstanding dialog, on the other hand, are clearly an attempt to lighten a mood that should have been left to mellow on its own.
Manato's death is not going to just vanish with his passing, and Haru clearly finds his notebook next week, which is likely to spark more mourning even as it likely informs the party's evolution. But a death like his should continue to haunt the characters. He was a major influence and source of comfort for most of them, and having them move on too quickly would trample all over these past couple of episodes. We don't always see the mourning process treated with this degree of thoughtfulness, and whatever its other faults, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash deserves praise for at least trying.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is currently streaming on Funimation.
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