Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Novel 5 - Hear Me Out, and Try Not to Laugh
While exploring the dungeon known as the Wonder Hole, Haruhiro's party discovers a strange new tunnel. Teaming up with another party to explore it, Haruhiro finds himself not only the object of a woman's affections for the first time, but also questioning his own role within his group. Is he really a capable leader? When the other party gets themselves into trouble, Haruhiro may be able to find out.
Although it may not be strictly true, this feels like the first volume of Ao Jyumonji's Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash where the entire story isn't overshadowed by death. There's grave peril to be sure, and the threat of death looms ever-present, but it isn't the sole preoccupation or subject matter that Haruhiro muses over. This may be significant for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it speaks to the characters' growing comfort with the harsh environment they find themselves in. By this point with the losses of Manato and Moguzo for the majority of the group, Merry's first party, and Choco, everyone has had first-hand experience with the subject and emotional impact of loss. For many of them, it's been more than once. The result is that they've grown, if not precisely accustomed to death, then at least used to walking in the Grim Reaper's company. They understand that death is a constant threat, and if nothing else they've more or less made peace with that.
This leaves Haruhiro's anxious brain time and space to fill up with other concerns. He's had his doubts about his worthiness as party leader from the moment the role was handed to him, and while he's stopped comparing himself constantly to Manato, he's still very much unsure of his fitness for the task. Now he's also looking at himself in comparison to Moguzo, who wasn't really understood to be the glue that held the party together until after his death, and every time he thinks about it, Haruhiro finds himself lacking. He isn't a poor leader when we look at him from our outside perspective – even Ranta ultimately agrees with his decisions, and the rest of the party seems to trust him implicitly. His thief skills are also undeniably useful, especially as he grows more confident (or at least more used to them; “confident” isn't really a word to use in conjunction with “Haruhiro”) in their use – he's often the main advantage that the party has in a battle simply because the enemy can't see him. But Haruhiro is plagued by low self-esteem, and when he compares himself to others, he always sees himself as somehow lesser.
This makes the subplot wherein Mimori, a woman in another party the group teams up with, falls for him particularly interesting. Partway through the novel Haruhiro starts musing about whether or not he'd like a girlfriend, and if he does, why exactly he would want one. He doesn't seem to have any romantic feelings for any of the females he knows (or males, for that matter), and he values his alone time as a way to recharge and think. He decides that the main reason he's even thinking about romance in the first place is because he wants someone to hug him, with the implication that what he's really looking for is a person to comfort him and tell him that everything's going to be okay. That can be a romantic partner, certainly, but it can also be the role of any close friend or family member. This implies that what Haruhiro wants is someone he can feel fully at ease with, a closeness he came nearest to having with Manato, who he found very reassuring. But he also wants to be on equal footing with that person – part of the reason he's not entirely comfortable with Mimori is that she tries to coddle him, more as if he were a pet than a potential boyfriend. Haruhiro may not feel particularly confident in himself, but he does want to be seen as a person, and that implies that he may be on the way to gaining a more balanced self-image.
We spend most of this novel in Haruhiro's head, which means that while we're privy to his self-confidence issues, we also get to know who he finds the most annoying. The answer is an unequivocal “Ranta,” whose character seems to be devolving by the moment. Since this is largely a development of books four and five, the two after Moguzo's death, that would seem to indicate that it is a deliberate choice on the part of the author and a direct result of the loss of a stabilizing influence. It does, however, make him a chore to read about, and he's got some stiff competition in the form of Anna, another member of the party the group teams up with. Anna speaks in what is supposed to be broken Japanese interspersed with a foreign language, and the translation does a decent job of implying this. But it also renders her incredibly irritating, especially since her team seems to enjoy both it and her harsh personality, giving her free reign to annoy the rest of us. It is a very nice indication of how everyone really does have a place and that her party finds her idiosyncrasies endearing, which gives us hope for Ranta, but it also makes her a chore to read about and gives the book more obnoxious characters than it strictly needs.
This is the first volume of the series I have read in print format, and the transition from e-book is good. There are a few pages where it feels like italics were lost in the text, which makes it difficult to realize that we're reading Haruhiro's thoughts instead of narration, but with its good-sized font and clearer pictures, it's a very nice reading experience. Eiri Shirai's images still don't always fit the descriptions, but Jyumonji's pictures of the new characters aren't particularly clear either, so there's certainly some blame to be laid on both sides. Jyumonji is much better at setting a scene or describing a fight scene (and the one in the ruins is particularly good) than at character description in general.
The fifth volume of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is as much about Haruhiro's interior journey as it is about the discovery of a new area to explore. While it would be too much to draw a parallel between the two, the new territory offers a chance for Haruhiro to at least prove to us, if not himself, that he is learning to be an effective leader of his party. As he learns to walk in a world where death is always nearby, the only person he still has to prove his worth to is himself.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Good insight into Haruhiro's character, everyone is growing more accustomed to their new circumstances
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