Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Episodes 1-2

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions ?

It's easy for our first assumptions about Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash to be, “Oh, look. Another series about people stuck in a game world.” I had that thought at first too. But now that I sit back and think about it, and had time to watch both episodes one and two, I think that they're not stuck in a game, but rather have been transported to an actual fantasy world. The differences may seem slim, especially when you consider how Log Horizon handles the assumed genre, but the major point in favor of this just being a fantasy world that bears a resemblance to a role playing game rather than an actual game is that none of the characters have any skills whatsoever. They are quite simply modern day young adults plopped down in a medieval world and they have to adapt to a lifestyle that is utterly foreign to them. (To make it even more complex, it's a medieval European world rather than Japanese.) All they have are their names, so instructions from a random barkeep, and cloudy and random memories of what their past lives must have been.

In fact, at this point it almost seems more likely that “past lives” may be a more literal term than how I just used it – episode one gave us some hints that at least violet-haired Shihoru had an unhappy life previous to coming to this new world (largely involving what appear to be severe body image problems), and now in the second episode Manato makes a reference to feeling like he was born to be yelled at. This also implies a life that was less than happy and makes me think about a different light novel series, The Rising of the Shield Hero, where at least three of the transportees to a fantasy world died before arriving there. It's too early to tell, but between the comments made by Shihoru and Manato, as well as the feeling that Ranta's obnoxiousness (and the fact that he was drawn to a dark and violent class) are part of a front he puts up to shield himself, do make me wonder.

Theories aside, this show is not moving at a speedy pace, with episode two's plot feeling very close to episode one's. It is gorgeous – I would seriously have a poster of that night sky on my walls if such a thing existed. This makes the lengthy music video in the middle of episode two especially nice: not only does it show us how the characters are slowly acclimating to their new surroundings, but it also lets us know what relationships are developing. We can tell that Haruhiro looks to Manato as a leader and older brother figure, but now we know that Manato is attracted to Shihoru, which makes Yume feel left out at the least and abandoned at the most...which also appears to be something she may be used to, given her resigned facial expression and the fact that she quietly removes herself from the scene, which is odd when you think about the fact that she and Shihoru were out together and that Manato just stumbled upon them; again, it says a lot about her potential past. Ranta, meanwhile, is clearly having more trouble over having killed a goblin than he wants to let on, exuding an aura that makes Haruhiro, who almost approaches him several times, stay away until he sees him petting an aardvark/cat hybrid, perhaps taking it as a sign that he's ready to talk.

Ranta's reaction, and Haruhiro's, to killing the goblin are both very telling. The scene, which takes up most of the first half of episode two, as opposed to the bumbling attack on a goblin band in the first episode, is much more brutal as five humans square off against one goblin. The details of everyone slipping in the mud along the riverbank are excellent, as are the horrified expressions on most of the group's faces as they realize that they are attacking and killing a living, thinking being who just happens to be non-human. (Showing that the goblin was simply refilling his water bottle adds to its, for lack of a better word, humanity.) It's brutal, and the mania into which Ranta and, to an extent, Mogozu, descend as they try to kill the gob, is frightening in its way. Haruhiro's expression of surprise when he's stabbed, that it actually hurts, says a lot about his difficulties accepting this as reality. Almost as disturbing is Manato's lack of visceral reaction to the scene. Granted, as a priest (healer) he stays on the sidelines until someone is injured, but apart from making an odd gesture in front of his face after the goblin's death, he appears to have little to no reaction at all. To be honest, he's the character I'm currently the most suspicious of – something just doesn't seem to add up.

One of the chief issues here, as you may be able to tell, is that episode two is very similar to episode one in terms of plot. We don't really rehash everyone arriving, but other than that, both episodes one and two deal with the same issue: a group of people thrown into an unfamiliar world trying to carry out their assigned work of killing goblins. That in episode two they (barely) succeed in killing a single, solitary goblin as opposed to trying to fight a group of them, as happens in episode one, is in some ways a minimal plot adjustment. The important thing here is how they all react (or don't) to the five of them ganging up on a single “monster;” the lovely musical montage of everyone walking around the town is interesting in the character interactions, but not precisely rife with thrilling plot developments.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is clearly not going to be quick with the reveals or particularly speedy with the plot, and actually that's okay. The hints about the characters make up for a lot, as does the care taken to show how inexperienced they really are. In both episodes characters sound like they're actually speaking light novel lines, which doesn't sound hugely natural, but it may just speak to a really close adaptation of the script. In any event, this show has the potential to be a lot more than just another stuck-in-a-game knock-off. It bears keeping an eye on as the heroes, and viewers, get their feet on the ground.

Rating: B

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is currently streaming on Funimation.

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