The Fruit of Grisaia
Episodes 1 - 3
by Rebecca Silverman,
Yuji Kazami is in the police station. We're not sure why, exactly (although we will find out in episode two), but he doesn't seem all that upset to be there – just kind of annoyed. He's apparently in town to start a new school, and he'd really just like to get there, thanks very much. He's soon released into the custody of a woman who turns out to be the sum total of both faculty and administration at his new school, which she assures him is a perfectly ordinary place of learning. Yuji doesn't emote much, but it's still plain to see that he isn't sure he believes her, and within moments of our introduction to the school, we know that something is up. For one thing, with Yuji's enrollment, the student body now numbers six, with all students living in luxurious dormitories. The student body president, Sachi, dresses like a maid and builds pipe bombs. Michiru is a self-professed tsundere and tries just a little too hard to fit the character type. Amane strips in Yuji's room, Makina may or may not have some immaturity issues, and Sakaki...well, almost every time she appears onscreen in these first two episodes, she's trying to straight up murder Yuji with a knife. In fact, that's basically the plot of episode two.
The Fruit of Grisaia is fascinating in its oddities. There's always a sense that something is just a little bit off about the characters and the setting, even when we're being reassured by tropes like maid costumes and high school girls who talk like toddlers that keeps us edge, watching for the crack in the glass. The first episode goes out of its way to establish a sense that “there's nothing to see here, folks” until it reveals at the end that Yuji's older sister is dead and that somehow this means something to Amane, giving the whole thing a sort of Higurashi: When They Cry feel. Unlike in that story, however, there are some real hints at the dark story underneath a typical harem set up. A flashback of a horrific bus accident at the end of the first episode leaves us plenty of room to speculate as well – especially since it looks as if the girls on the bus are all wearing the same school uniform the cast is wearing now. Are the five girls the only survivors of the accident, brought back to the school with another victim's brother for some mysterious purpose? Is this an After School Nightmare situation instead? The shot of a girl in a cage in the opening theme seems to bear that out, as well as indicating a link to the Kagome Kagome children's rhyme. Episode two continues to raise these questions as it becomes apparent that only Sakaki has been staying at the school for quite some time. It also is worth pondering if she hates all men in general or Yuji in particular, to say nothing of why everyone at school seems to have such a mysterious past. At times this can get overwhelming, but thus far only two things feel really contrived: the panty shots in the first episode and Yuji's boss, who shows up in episode two and looks and acts very much like a cliché.
It's clear that there is symbolism at play here, from the first shot of an apple to the various ways the fruit is used in episode two. We get to see it both as the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, representing knowledge you shouldn't have and the fall from grace, and as Snow White's apple, poison hidden in something good. This latter, which uses the (seemingly) innocent Makina as a Snow White/Wicked Queen hybrid, is particularly interesting and shows that attention was paid to the original Grimm tale, with Makina biting the apple before handing it to Yuji, which is how the Wicked Queen convinces Snow White that it is safe to eat in the tale.
And then we hit episode three. This episode seems to take all of the careful symbolism and air of mystery that the previous two episodes were cultivating and just tosses them aside as it embarks on a series of wacky and fanservicey escapades that, while amusing in their own right, feel like a major letdown in terms of what was building up to be an interesting show. Whether or not you enjoy watching Amane masturbate on Yuji's bed after picking the lock to his room (yes, it's censored), it's hard to deny that it is drastically different in tone from what came before it. Now it is mentioned that Yuuji hasn't had a lot of sleep up to this point, and we also hear tell of potential mental illness due to traumatic brain injury (at least I assume that's the cause post-traffic accident), so it's possible that episode three takes place entirely in someone's fevered brain. I like to tell myself that to make it seem like less of a shark-jumping episode.
Episode three aside, the mysteries are still quite thick at this point, but both solving them and paying attention to the symbolism is thus far pretty fun. The Fruit of Grisaia is playing its cards close to the vest, but there's enough to keep you watching. If it stays too mysterious or devolves into too many bizarre fanservice and gag episodes, it could start to lose viewers, but right now, if you like a mystery that may or may not involve violence and tortured pasts and aren't averse to some fanservice, this is a good way to go.
Rebecca Silverman teaches writing and literature at the university level and is the author of the fantasy novel A Tale of Apples.
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