This Week in Anime
What the Hell is Happening in Granbelm?

by Nicholas Dupree & Andy Pfeiffer,

The hybrid magical-girl/battle-royale/mecha-war series Granbelm has largely flown under the radar this season, but not for lack of twists, turns, and ambitious ideas. This week, Nick and Andy break down everything you might have missed over the series' crazy trajectory so far.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

You can read our weekly coverage of Granbelm here!

Y'know Andy, I'm still riding high from finally getting to discuss Symphogear, and I think we oughta keep this train rolling by talking about some equally kick-ass magical girls duking it out in mechs and--oh no it's all gone to hell.
I don't know what you're talking about, this shit is great.
I just want my girls to be happy, okay?
And all I want is to watch them struggle for that happiness. When we last checked out Granbelm, I was a little intrigued by its setup, but it had yet to prove that all its Madoka/FATE/SD Gundam referencing had a purpose, but boy howdy are we in the thick of it now. Once you ignore all the proper nouns being thrown around, Granbelm turned out to be extremely my brand.
It's been a ride since we last visited this story. It feels like forever ago that the stakes of this whole thing were just "will Nene ever get taller?"
Spoiler: she doesn't, but her mecha does!
Pretty cheap that she's the only one in Granbelm Royale who gets a mobile armor if you ask me.
I'm glad someone else thought that. I also have to slightly retract my insult in the last column about her wanting to abandon her long-range style, because that was before we learned that this would turn her mech into a mobile armor with a giant orbital death laser.
It's rad as hell, and against just about anyone else, she'd have come out on top. Unfortunately, she wound up fighting the one person in this tournament with a mech powered by existential distress.
You know something has gone horribly wrong when your mech sprouts Resident Evil eyes.
For as slick as Nene's big fight is, it also suffers from being the last "low stakes" bout before Granbelm starts digging into its darker aspects. That makes it feel a little more perfunctory, but thankfully it means Nene gets to stick around as the team's resident computer nerd.
It's during her final outing that everyone solidifies their dance partners. We already knew Anna and Ernesta were paired off, then the hell of the ride that is Kuon vs Suisho kicks in, and that leaves Nene to get blasted by Mangetsu so that she can start piecing things together from the sidelines with the absolute best in magical technology. I love this feng Shui Gamer Gremlin.

I love that she just throws this at Mangetsu without bothering to tell her what it is.
That shot killed me. If there's one complaint I have about Nene, it's that her family as side characters of a side character don't get enough screentime, because they're also very good.
She's a fun support character! Which is good because as soon as her arc's done, we need as much levity as we can get while we're dealing with Anna.
I don't know why you think this precious child could do any wrong.
Anna is a lot. In the opening episodes, she was mostly there to be an immediate antagonist and show off the animators' Face Game. But once we start digging into her character, it becomes clear she's got enough baggage to overburden a 747.

It would probably help if anyone addressed her emotions instead of completely shutting her down at all times. Shingetsu taking Anna's hate onto herself is one thing, but her mom should have more tact than this.
"Hey, it turns out the scraps of talent you've clung to under the crushing weight of your inferiority complex were a lie. Also, the girl you hate is the only reason you thought you were worth anything!" Great parenting from Ms. Fugo.
The poor girl has been raised to believe that becoming the one true mage is the only important thing in this world, and then she's continually told "too bad you suck too much to do that". This is also where we start getting Aoi Yūki's Suisho showing her true colors and becoming the absolute worst in order to push Anna even further. The voice change while panning from one side of Anna to the other is A+ direction.
I'm impressed that they managed to make me hate a character for shit-talking the angriest, most volatile antagonist up to that point. I also appreciate how well the show manages to weave Anna's story into the overall mysteries of the story. Her own family gaslighting her in a misguided attempt to spare her feelings folds well into the growing questions about the Granbelm as a whole.
Yo, I think Magiaconatus might actually suck.
What's not to trust about the giant floating castle under a blood red moon that seemingly devours the spirits of fallen magical girls? It's fine.
And though Granbelm does tend to focus on one major character at a time, the way it uses the rest of the cast to supplement those feelings is great. I mean, look at Mangetsu delivering some sage wisdom as Anna is losing her damn mind and locking herself in a basement.
It's also a testament to the show's writing that I'm not put off by Shingetsu's role in this arc. Usually I'd roll my eyes out of my skull at a character complaining about being too special, but Granbelm puts in the work to establish that Shingetsu being blessed by magic has only ever made life worse for her and everyone around her.
And that's what makes this Shingetsu/Anna strife works so well. While Anna sees Shingetsu's innate abilities as responsible for stealing her purpose, Shingetsu sees them as having stolen Anna away from her. Her goal to destroy magic forever is the simple wish of a girl who misses her best friend, and it's hard to argue against that given what comes next.
Yeah the other half of the equation is how far they go to show that Anna's jealousy and her family's deception has festered for so long that she can only cope through anger and violence. By the time she's stolen her family's super magic stone, even she admits she doesn't care about winning anymore. It's just about getting some kind of twisted validation.

Anna straight-up locks herself in the basement trying to make her claim for the family's super crystal. The resolution to this is her little sister convincing Shingetsu to talk her out, and well, it half-works. She's so overcome with rage upon hearing Shingetsu's voice that she Jack Torrances the damn door rather than unlock it.

Frankly, that one's on her mom. The lady should know better than to leave sharp objects around a gender-swapped Bakugo.
Her mom also decides the best way to deal with her Axe Crazy daughter trying to murder her adopted chosen one daughter is to deliver yet another verbal smackdown, which causes Anna's brain to finally break.
In a world without magic, they'd be able to sit down and talk this out, or at least Anna would have more options than "accept a meaningless life of being the family disappointment" or "Go Crazy".
(Guess which one she chooses.)
It's fine. Everything is fine.

Don't believe the lies Harry Potter told you, magic freaking sucks.
If you want to see some animation and direction flexing, their ensuing fight sure doesn't hold back. Especially once Anna loses the upper hand and goes all-out, embracing her own destruction.

It's as intense as it is heartbreaking. The entire fight is Anna throwing herself into a pit of spikes to find some kind of victory, all while Shingetsu's desperately trying to offer her kindness that she can only see as pity.
Shingetsu pleading for Anna to surrender obviously continues to make things worse, but she can't help it because at the end of the day, the last thing she ever wants to do is hurt her friend.

It's rough to watch, but that twisted irony makes the conflict work. Granbelm smartly grounds its tragedy in the nuances of its characters' emotions and relationships. Where other dark magical girl shows might reach for shock value, Anna's demise rings like a grand tragedy in the traditional sense. It's a terrible outcome borne from the characters' own human flaws, intensified by powers greater than they comprehend.

The credit overlay as Shingetsu "celebrates" her victory sure captures my feelings on the whole situation.
The other thing that makes this work is that plenty of time is still devoted to the other characters in the process. Mangetsu is running interference out of respect for Shingetsu, and Suisho is trying to enjoy her Per-Pay-View seats while dealing with another upset teen on the sidelines of the big duel.
Yeah, it turns out Suisho isn't content with just manipulating Anna. She's got a whole Olympics of mind games ready to go for the rest of the girls too.
But before we get into that, Shingetsu has to break the news about Anna to her family. It's sure to be a difficult, painful task but at least they'll all be there to support each other in this time of mourn--oh wait no it's time for more Existential Terror instead.
Bird Girl is back, and she's got a new family! Shame about Shingetsu's photo collection, though.
This was the moment where Granbelm flipped from "tragic magical girls" to "eldritch horror show", turning everything on its head. Anna's entire existence is erased from history by Magiaconatus, and only the remaining Granbelm fighters can recall her at all. Suddenly the question becomes—if it can just wipe people out of time, what else could this force be hiding?
The first thing that came to my mind was Mangetsu's mysterious power.
If known powerful families can be magically forgotten, that gives us a hint about her potential origins.
Suddenly, the scale of this fight is way bigger than ever anticipated. It's not just two girls fighting to destroy a corrupt system, it's two girls fighting the inscrutable will of the universe that governs everything they know.
That's terrifying enough without another antagonist delighting in all this confusing horror. Suisho takes her villainy to a whole new level by introducing pseudo incest via soul vore.
I've watched this entire show and I still don't feel qualified to parse that sentence. But yes, Suisho's gets inside Kuon's head by revealing that the "curse" her sister's been under is actually due to her begging to be devoured by Suisho, to escape the pressure of being a mage. And she's more than happy to offer the same to her imouto.

The flex of using her sister's face to say that! Even more so as she's already used it to troll her over text.

Using magic to make personalized LINE stickers is maybe the most evil thing in this whole show. That said, I am put off by how physical Suisho gets during this arc. I get that she's meant to be a snake, but it's questionable how much the show dips into the sensual coding, especially when everything we see of Kuon's relationship with her sister suggests there wasn't any actual incest angle to exploit.
I get that. Suisho's complete lack of boundaries is probably unnecessary to their conflict, and it does have the unfortunate implication of coloring a normal relationship in a twisted manner. I think the show should have drawn a harder line on that being one of the reasons Kuon is so upset rather than playing into its salaciousness.
It's a minor issue overall, and it's worth sitting through for the revelation that even the seemingly omnipotent Suisho can be tricked.
I love the bullshit 4D chess of getting your soul vored so that you can set up your own sister to avenge you. Shisui hadn't given into despair as Suisho hoped. Instead, she played the most awkward long-con I've ever seen.

It's worth it for Kuon's Asuka moment though, with that wonderful piano sequence of elation when she realizes the whole plan and just hurls herself into the fight.

Nothing says sibling bonding like delivering the killing blow with the sword your sister left you before she sacrificed her soul to guarantee your victory.
But just like Asuka, this sadly doesn't end well because it turns out her enemy is immune to stabs.
Faking death screams just to literally taste that sweet drama. Have I mentioned how much I love Suisho?
She also gets a transforming robot because the Granbelm is the most blatantly rigged battle royale ever.
And hey folks, if any of what we've said sounds cool to you, then please stop reading and go watch, because it's time to bring up the other big twist that concludes this fight.
Anybody remember that Courage the Cowardly Dog episode with The Great Fusili?

It turns out that Shingetsu took her self help books way, way too literally.
Going in, I was very sure we were getting a Dokes rehash, but I did not assume that our secondary protagonist had made her own Dokes.
Between this and casting Aoi Yūki as Suisho, I'm certain the creators knew exactly what they were doing by mapping the Moon Girls' color schemes to Madoka and Homura.
I was very upset that all the shots of Shingetsu's doll up until now were made to hurt me.

The game is rigged in favor of our hero! AND IT SUCKS!

Congratulations, Shingetsu. You're God's favored child. There's nothing you can do to make it stop loving you. Nothing.

It turns out that collecting all the world's magic in one spot doesn't make it that much safer! Maybe it's always had a will of its own, or maybe it grew one after we locked it up! Who knows! All we do know is that it thinks fighting for its attention is super cool, but anyone who wants to fight for it isn't worthy. So thanks to Shingetsu's childhood sadness of losing her friend over magic and making an innocent wish...
Magiaconatus has decided that her life and everyone else's should be turbo railroaded into this nightmare. The saying of "only those who don't seek power should have the responsibility of wielding it" takes on a whole new meaning when you're an eldritch horror who seeks to make that ideal into reality.
Shingetsu gets saddled with the terror that the will of the universe has been guiding her life for years, coupled with the guilt of having inadvertently created a sentient being to support her. It's a bad time all around, and that's not even getting into Mangetsu's own breakdown.
Magiaconatus: Oh you figured out what you are? Fine. Guess we don't need this fake family stuff anymore. Do your job, doll.
Right after watching this episode, I found out they made a life-size figure of Mangetsu. For only several thousand dollars, you can have this nightmare in objectivity in your room, so you can always question God's intentions.
For as much as this reveal is earth-shattering, it's to Granbelm's credit that it doesn't just wallow in the ensuing misery. It gives the characters time to process and consider their feelings, but in keeping with Mangetsu's personality, she eventually finds a sort of hope in her situation.

You say this, but I am absolutely terrified by this outcome as well. It's sweet and heartwarming, but viewed through a different lens...
Mangetsu being able to enjoy her existence despite being a construct is exactly what a construct meant to reassure Shingetsu is meant to do.
I mean yeah, the whole situation is screwed up, but I'm a sucker for characters finding comfort in discord, and that's basically what Mangetsu is doing. Accepting her identity as Shingetsu's imaginary friend allows her to choose something for herself. Though in this case it's uh, kind of her own death.
This scene hurt.
While Granbelm's taken its own unique path to get here, it wound up in a remarkably similar place to Dokes going into its finale. Shingetsu is now tasked with choosing between saving the only real companion she knows or tearing down the system that's put her in this position. And it's to the show's credit that I can't guess which way it'll go.
As much as it horrifies me, I do like the direction this final battle is headed, because I love our antagonist's own logic in the face of this nightmare. Suisho knows the game is rigged, that Magiaconatus has been prepping for this moment, and she's the final obstacle put in place to fall, but despite playing along, she's actually believing none of this bullshit.
Oh right, there's also the lingering question of just what the hell Suisho is, because apparently she ain't human.
Whatever she is, she's quite the unruly pawn. It's not so much that she wants to win, as she wants to rebel by keeping Shingetsu from fulfilling Magiaconatus's desires. I totally get that; it's gotta suck to be pulled into this grand game where everything is stacked against you. Normally that's the kind of development we only see for protagonists!
It's a wild ride, and I'm more than ready to see where Granbelm wants to go in the end. Even before all its twists, the show has had some of the most gripping and thrilling episodes of the year, and I'm sure the final one will be a stunner. Just don't make it too painful, please?

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