Reviewby Theron Martin,
Record of Grancrest War
Blu-Ray Part 1
In a world where the right to rule manifests in the form of magical Crests, the Archdukes who lead two opposing factions – the Union and the Factory Alliance – use the marriage of their scions Alexis and Marrine as a step towards creating the legendary Grancrest, which will supposedly rid the disruptive and damaging Chaos from the world. However, the appearance of a demon interferes with both their effort and the marriage, an occurrence which recent Mage graduate Siluca senses coming but lacks both the time and power to stop. As the political situation devolves and Marrine abandons her fiancée to pursue the Alliance's interests in uniting the land's Lords and Crests by Force, Siluca finds herself traveling to be a contracted Mage for Lord Villar. On her way there she encounters a young man named Theo, who has both a Crest and a highly idealistic goal, and becomes intrigued enough by him to both join him and guide him in a rise to power. As she eventually discovers, both the path to battle and the path of the heart are treacherous.
Prior to 2018, Ryo Mizono was primarily known as the novel writer for Record of Lodoss War (and the Dungeon Master of the RPG sessions on which it was based). The 1990-91 OVA series based on those novels proved deeply influential on fantasy anime for the next couple of decades but was also a fairly raw effort, one which had many rough edges and did little to smooth out the impression that viewers were just watching a series of RPG sessions play out. Mizuno made some efforts over the years to add to and refine the original work a bit, but even the later sequel/re-adaptation Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight still retained a lot of those rough edges. Based on how similar both the title of this 2018 series and some of its story elements are, I have to think that Record of Grancrest War is intended to be what Mizono actually wanted to accomplish with earlier works but didn't have the sufficient animation support and experience to pull off.
Without question, Grancrest War is a vastly more polished creation. It doesn't just look sharper; nearly every aspect of its storytelling and characterizations are better-defined and more thoroughly developed. Its first half alone does a far better job of capturing the sweeping sense of an epic story playing out, one where the fate of an entire continent is at stake as assorted powers vie for the right to unite the world. The ultimate goal here is more compelling than just ruling the world; the task is necessary to create the ultimate namesake crest which can put an end to the Chaos plaguing the world in a literal, rather than just metaphorical, sense. The story also does a much better job of establishing the setting as a distinct world rather than just Generic Fantasy World A and wholly divorces itself from any tabletop RPG feel.
Perhaps the biggest improvement, which is wholly evident in the first half, is how the assorted romances are handled. Record of Lodoss War's biggest weakness was how it struggled to justify its romantic pairings, even if Parn and Deedlit still make one of the all-time-great anime couples. Contrarily, the first few episodes of this one make it quite clear how its Parn and Deedlit stand-ins – Theo and Siluca – fall in love. One other romance which lies behind the story (that of Marrine and Alexis) also gets firmly-established by one critical flashback episode, and a lesser but still very evident romance involving one of the lords and his contracted mage practically radiates the sense of affection between the two. This is every bit as much a collection of love stories as it is a sweeping epic loaded with tragedy and bloody battle scenes.
However, that more polished nature also has its downsides. The refining process makes it feel very much like one of the plethora of video game adaptations which have come out over the past decade; Tales of Zestiria the X in particular comes to mind for its many stylistic and thematic similarities, though that one has nowhere near as developed a sense of romance as this one does. The first half presents a number of colorful and clearly-defined characters, many of which are entertaining to watch, but only a couple are memorable; years down the road people might remember Siluca and perhaps the ruthlessly ambitious Mirza, but that's likely it. None of the characters in this series are ever going to achieve the enduring fame of a Deedlit or (to a lesser extent) Parn. For all of the effort to make the cast colorful, too many of the characters play into common anime archetypes.
That all being said, the first half of the series does not fare as badly when evaluated independently of any potential legacy. Aside from being the series' biggest bad-ass in a fight, Mirza makes an impression as a man who does not seek to rule himself but only respects uncompromising ambition to rule; he bears utter disdain for those content with what they have. Marrine strikes an equally interesting character study, though more problematically so. In the wake of the Great Hall Tragedy, she seems determined to believe that her duty to Waldlind and the Factory Alliance necessarily precludes love, then seems intent on justifying her choice through actions and rationalizations which prove (at least to her) that she is not worthy of the more pure-hearted Alexis. The storytelling is clearly trying to cast her as a tragic figure, but that's hard to buy when everything she's involved in is her own doing; no one forced her down this path, and many would rather see her take a different one. Not staying with Alexis, and thus working together to complete the task their fathers started, is the defining blunder of the story. Siluca stands as a stronger character for the way she pushes Theo into action and makes him the heart of her scheme, though she loses some of her edge as she falls in love. A number of other colorful characters pop up, though Theo is not one of them; he's rather bland as the good-natured idealist that everyone is gradually rallying around.
The plot of the first half forms a grand tale of empire building, with various small kingdoms and fiefdoms gradually being brought together through waves of military action. The whole crest system provides an interesting magical manifestation of the principle of Divine Right, with occasional purely supernatural elements like vampires, werewolves, and chaos creatures thrown in to spice things ups. Like with many of the more epic fantasy tales in anime, the weak point of this presentation is how much it oversimplifies the process and conflicts involved; bloody battles are fought on a regular basis, but practicalities like casualties and logistics are wholly avoided in favor of moving the chess pieces around, and in general there is little real sense of the costs involved in waging such constant warfare. Hence it's best to look only at the broad strokes of what's going on here. At least named characters are not immortal; several die over the course of the first half, including at least one minor surprise. (That character did have death flags pop up beforehand if you know what to look for, though.)
Because this is a kingdom-building story, the action component is regular and substantial, including a mix of small-scale duels and large-scale battles. These can get surprisingly graphic for a series of this type, especially when Mirza is involved, with severed heads and impaled bodies being regular features. The battles are most interesting when showing large-scale troop movements in battles, while smaller battles struggle to distinguish themselves. Though fan service is mostly limited to slightly racy costuming, the first half does feature one sexual encounter which serves as a major plot point and shows one other female leader in unexposed nudity, with the strong implication that she spends a lot of her time cavorting with her studly male loyalists; they love her physically as well as in a leadership sense, you see.
The technical production, courtesy of A-1 Pictures, starts off strong but struggles with quality control issues with increasing frequency as the episode count increases, which saps some of the elegance from certain key scenes near this half's end. It also uses a looser animation style for certain late battle scenes, which I do not personally find appealing but may work better for others. Its greatest visual strengths are in the pretty character and clothing designs, on both male and female characters; Marrine is every bit as much of a convincing great beauty as Mirza is a swarthy hunk, Theo is classically handsome, or Alexis and Villar are 18th century French aristocracy-styled bishonen. Some of the background art, especially of strongholds and mansions, also looks sharp, though efforts to make the vampire character and his castle look Gothic come off as cheap imitations. CG used for massed troop movements isn't great overall but among the better efforts of its type, while CG effects elsewhere are more typical. Battle animation and magical effects are nothing special for the genre.
The musical score is provided by Yūgo Kanno, whose other major works include the Psycho-Pass franchise and later installments in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. The mostly-orchestrated sound achieves a suitably epic feel, especially in the grandest scenes. However, it never much distinguishes itself from the sound of similar series. Neither the opener “starry” nor the closer “Pledge” is especially memorable.
The English dub for the series is provided by Bang Zoom! Entertainment and features a mix of newer and long-time voice actors, with a lean more towards the former. Brandon Winckler, whose only other major role to date is as Eugeo in Sword Art Online: Alicization, acquits himself well as Theo, while Jeannie Tirado successfully gives Siluca a distinctive and fitting sound. Other roles mostly sound fine, with the one other stand-out performance being Imari Williams' somewhat gravelly sound as Lassic David. The Blu-Ray release it comes on, courtesy of Aniplex of America, spreads the episodes out over three disks but adds little for on-disk Extras; only clean opener and closer and Web previews for each episode. The Blu-Ray case comes in an artbox which also includes a 38 page booklet featuring an assortment of extensive character profiles, concept art, and translated credits. Easily its most valuable feature is a world map which lays out the locations of all featured nations on a map which looks suspiciously similar to that of Europe. The one quibble about the physical release is that the box carries a 13+ age rating but some of the content is definitely more graphic than that.
On the whole, the first half of Record of Grancrest War does its job at establishing itself as a fantasy epic that should satisfy hardcore genre fans. It just doesn't do anything all that special or memorable in the process.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Memorable character designs, epic scale, makes a serious effort to develop its romance plots
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