Grimoire of Zero Episode 6
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Grimoire of Zero ?
I have to admit, Grimoire of Zero managed to surprise me this week. Of all the ways for Zero and Thirteen's battle to conclude, I did not imagine it to be over a polite dinner. The resulting twelve-minute info dump of conversation was definitely clunky and a total pacing-killer, but then again, the confrontation it prompted between Zero and Mercenary was one of the most riveting beats this series has hit all season. Basically, this was yet another uneven episode of GoZ, but the good outweighed the bad much more noticeably than usual.
The bad parts are still pretty weak, though. Finally learning more about Thirteen and the reasons behind Zero's quest for the Grimoire is great, but the show could not have chosen a clunkier way of communicating that information. The first half of the episode is just our three heroes and Thirteen talking over dinner, reviewing the politics of witch hunting and clarifying the sides they take in the Empire's persecution of all magic users. It's useful and necessary information, but by god is it boring to watch unfold. The surprise reversal of the opening battle may have been intriguing, but a mealtime roundtable does not often make for the most compelling television.
Also, this setup kills what should be a heartbreaking scene, where Albus learns that Zero was out to reclaim the Grimoire from his master all along, and she's willing to betray his order of witches to do so. The execution of this betrayal registers conceptually, but it fails to leave any impact emotionally. The problem is that the show hasn't really reinforced the layers of Zero's deception since Albus's introduction; I'd actually forgotten this was their situation until the episode flashed back to their first meeting. Another issue is that the young witch is easily the weakest link of the cast. He doesn't have a particularly compelling dynamic with either Zero or Mercenary, and his personal story feels like padding surrounding Zero and Mercenary's quest. It might be a little monstrous of me, but as Albus was being led away to his ostensible doom, I didn't feel a thing. It's a bad sign when one of your three central protagonists feels absolutely expendable.
Fortunately, the back half of this episode was much stronger, making a more promising case for Thirteen as an antagonist and ratcheting up the conflict between Merc and Zero. Thirteen was positively Machiavellian this week, manipulating Mercenary's doubts about Zero's loyalty with ease and precision. His arguments against Zero's motives were compelling enough that even I believed she might not have the best intentions. While I'm still not the biggest fan of his design and general air of blandness, the fact that he got both Mercenary and the audience to doubt the relationship this show has spent the past five weeks reinforcing gives me hope for his potential as an antagonist.
Plus, Thirteen's scheming leads to the episode's best scene, a tense but understated standoff between Zero and Mercenary. The script easily could have devolved into histrionics and unearned pathos, but both Zero and Merc act restrained instead, the fear behind Mercenary's eyes matched only by the obvious hurt in Zero's. This small fracturing of trust hit me way harder than Albus being sentenced to death, which only proves that the real strength of Grimoire of Zero lies in this central relationship Mercenary and Zero share. Though I have no doubt that things will be on the mend by next episode, I remain pleasantly surprised at the tension this brief uncoupling managed to produce.
About half of this episode was some of the blandest material GoZ has yet produced, while the other half is some of the strongest. Averaging both halves, I have to give this episode a slight edge above most previous entries. Usually, when I finish an episode of Grimoire, I forget about most of what happened almost instantly. Right now, not only can I still remember that final scene, I'm genuinely interested to see what happens next for the first time since the series' premiere. That definitely has to count for something.
Grimoire of Zero is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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