Grimoire of Zero
Episodes 1-2

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Grimoire of Zero ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Grimoire of Zero ?

If I had to describe the first two episodes of Grimoire of Zero in just a couple words, I'd say its “pleasantly low-key.” This animated adaptation of Kakeru Kobashiri's light novel series has all the trappings of a traditional swords and sorcery story, with just enough unique takes to make the material its own. It's not anything surprising or revolutionary, but it isn't really trying to be, at least not yet, which is just fine. Some stories try to reinvent the wheel completely, while others seek only to be an old-fashioned, perfectly pleasant fantasy story.

Grimoire of Zero's primary hook is that its hero is a seven-foot-tall man-tiger, one of many humans known as “beastfallen”, who were born cursed to live in animal form. Whatever our protagonist's original name was, he's quickly renamed Mercenary by the show's other main lead, a plucky young spellcaster who also goes by a codename: Zero. Mercenary and Zero's world is one of strict, violent division – it's humans versus witches, with each side citing wrongdoing and bloodshed on the other's behalf to justify their crusade.

Zero isn't just any ordinary witch, though. She makes up for her short stature in spellcasting power, having written a tome that allows witches to cast spells without any complex rituals or summoning circles. This all-important book, the titular Grimoire of Zero, has been stolen, so Zero needs Mercenary's help to track down her lost compatriot and get the book back. Despite his inherent distrust of witches, Mercenary agrees to help Zero under one condition – If he helps her get the Grimoire, Zero must give Mercenary his lost human form.

If it seems like I spent a while breaking down the show's premise, it's because Grimoire of Zero does exactly the same thing. The first episode is essentially all of that exposition peppered with some flashbacks to Mercenary's rough childhood. I understand that the show needs to take some time to set up its fantasy world, but Grimoire's first outing felt just a little too expository at times. We got a couple of cute moments establishing that Mercenary and Zero are already becoming fast friends, despite our furry protagonist's reservations, but the script's balance still felt a bit off.

This problem continues into episode two, where we meet the third main member of the group, a testy young witch who calls himself Albus. Much like the first episode, this second episode spends just a bit too much time laying out backstory, like the tale of a misunderstood witch named Sorena and the humans who burned her at the stake, to hammer home just how much people don't trust the magically inclined. While I appreciate this backstory being provided, I can't help but feel that it comes at the expense of more immediately relevant world-building. For all the information we're given, these first episodes lack a strong sense of place. These opening episodes take place almost entirely in the forest or in a generic-looking fantasy village, with nary any interesting architecture or unique culture to be seen. Compound that with the show's muted colors and flat animation, and you have a series that hasn't made a very strong artistic impression. If the show can't dazzle us with its looks, then it needs to pick up the slack with its writing, and while the characters and the premise have a lot to offer, they're not clicking quite as well as I would have hoped.

All of this might make it sound like I disliked Grimoire of Zero's first episodes, but that's not the case. Grimoire is perfectly pleasant in a low-key sort of way. The characters have an appealing chemistry, especially Zero and Mercenary, and I'm digging the treatment of witches and magical mechanics so far. I'd just hoped that a series starring a super-buff tiger man would have a bit more meat on its bones, so to speak. Of course, we're only two episodes in, so time will tell if this Grimoire's writing will grow on me yet.

Rating: B-

Grimoire of Zero is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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