Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Still riding high on the victory over Death Spots, Haruhiro and his party are finally feeling like they're starting to make it in Grimgar. Despite this, Haruhiro himself still questions his abilities as a leader and misses having Manato to talk to. Not wanting to face another death, he's cautious when Ranta brings word of a job from the army – to clear out two orc-held fortresses relatively nearby. The job is open to all volunteer soldiers and has a hefty prize, but are they really ready for a pitched battle? Things are further complicated when a group of new arrivals brings a very familiar face into Haruhiro's life.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash's third novel is the first to go beyond what the anime covered, and it brings with it more answers about the past and an increased brutality to the combat aspect of the series. It sees Haruhiro and his party face their first pitched battle as a job for the kingdom sends both the official and volunteer armies to clear out two small(ish) orc-held forts that are too close to human settlements for comfort. The smaller of the two has been won and lost repeatedly before the larger sent in reinforcements, so the plan this time is to have volunteer soldiers take this one down while the army simultaneously attacks the larger fort, thus preventing them from aiding their comrades. Naturally Ranta is gung-ho about the job, while Haruhiro has more reservations, and part of this novel is spent highlighting the differences in their characters.
If you were hoping to find Ranta less obnoxious after the events of the Cyrene Mines, where we spent some time in his head, you're in for a disappointment. That's the chief weakness of this book – not only is there a lot of Ranta, but he's in full obnoxious form. Haruhiro has gotten less shy about telling him off, but that does little to stop him from spewing nonsense like a burst pipe in what feels like an endless, unstoppable flow. Of course, the final scene of the novel may be the valve that shuts him off, and I suspect that the purpose of having so much Ranta throughout the book was to lead up to a major break brought about by the finale. He is unquestionably the character who has evolved the least thus far, so it would make sense that his turn is actually coming.
The character we see the most change from this time is Moguzo, albeit in a sort of second-hand way. We stay almost exclusively in Haruhiro's head for the book (the exception being a chapter from a regular soldier's perspective, giving us insight about the army), so it is through his eyes that we see Moguzo begin to assert himself and develop a real sense of self-worth. Ranta plays no small part in this – Moguzo seems to be the only member of the party who doesn't find him unbearable, and the two form an odd partnership. Ranta's approval helps Moguzo to become more aggressive in both battle and in his regular life, admitting his crush on Merry and telling people not to call him slow-witted while charging into battle against increasingly stronger foes. Moguzo seems to be taking his role as the party's tank very seriously; where the girls listen to Haruhiro's strategies, Moguzo grows increasingly willing to just bulldoze his way to the center of the fray. While it is good that he's feeling more self-confident, this could also be seen as some of Ranta's less desirable traits rubbing off on him – or possibly a sign of his own need to be seen as worthy.
The battles that the party finds themselves embroiled in are far more brutal than before. Orcs are more humanoid and far stronger (and smarter) than goblins or kobolds, something which many of the volunteer soldiers are not prepared for. Ao Jūmonji holds back very little in terms of the slaughter that follows, with soldiers on both human and orc sides falling gruesomely. Haruhiro appears to be one of the few party leaders, or even volunteer soldiers in general, who is capable of keeping his head; whether this is a skill Manato saw in him when he left leadership to him or something he developed in an attempt to be what Manato wanted him to be is uncertain, but both possibilities are brought up. Haruhiro is certainly more aware of impending death as a result of losing Manato in volume one; he keeps track of most of Renji's party while Renji is fighting an orc leader, saving their lives, as well as other volunteer soldiers he recognizes.
This is where things become particularly interesting. Among the latest group to arrive in Grimgar is a girl named Choco, whom Haruhiro recognizes. He doesn't know why, but he knows Choco; he even knows her name before she says it. In the first ever flashback chapter, we do get a glimpse of Haruhiro's life before Grimgar and learn about his relationship with her, as well as the fact that he has an older brother and a difficult family life. Things cut off abruptly, but this once again raises the question of what happened to send him to this world in the first place. One of the first things he remembers around Choco is the two of them staring at a “glowing box.” Is this a portal? The vending machine they used to meet by? Something that caused their mutual deaths? If they did die, was it not simultaneous, resulting in their different arrival times? Given the prevalence of death in Grimgar, that would be an interesting reason for them to be there, sort of a serious version of Konosuba.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash continues to be one of the darkest light novels currently in English translation. (Black Bullet is a close runner up.) With Haruhiro still clearly grieving Manato, the latest situation is likely to take a major toll on him emotionally, and the sheer horror of the battle stands to affect his relationship with Renji's party as well, especially since Haruhiro and his group arguably saved all of them at least twice over. J-Novel Club's translation continues to be very readable and smooth, and if “Choco” is an odd spelling – it's the same name as the heroine of Butterflies, Flowers, and more commonly romanizied as “Chouko” – it seems safe to assume that it was something requested by the original author/editor/publisher, as was the spelling of Merry. The book ends on an effective (and appalling) cliffhanger, one that we're pretty sure we know the outcome of but desperately hope to be wrong about. One thing is for certain as this series continues – this may be a fantasy world, but it's one where there might not be any happy endings.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Story moves at a good clip, mixing character development, clues about the past, and action. Translation reads naturally, good use of cliffhanger ending
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