I am producing a brand new show called Anime Streaming Showcase (or A.S.S. for short). I take a look at the massive amount of anime scattered among the internet across various streaming site and say if it’s worthwhile. Is it binge-worthy, should you add it to your queue, or should you hide it and bury it?
Another ‘trapped in a videogame’ anime, oh boy! But perhaps this series deserves your download and install, it’s Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash.’
It seems every year we’re always treated to several “trapped in a fantasy or videogame world” anime series, and they’re always popular or successful enough to keep the genre afloat. Recent years saw series like Sword Art Online and Overlord make the biggest splashes, but 2016 featured a series that topped the genre for me personally: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. Taking the already bloated genre’s ideas and applying a pleasant sense of urgency and reality to the character’s world has almost made this the “Dark Souls” of the genre. Ah, at this point, that might be quite trite to even say about Grimgar, but that was my entire mindset while watching it.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash follows a group of people who awaken in a world of fantasy retaining nothing from their pasts, and must endure everything thrust their way and survive. The proverbial black veil placed over the characters eyes, deepening the ferocity of the unknown world, adds a layer rarely seen in these kinds of shows. Our main ‘player’ is Haruhiro who walks the line of apathetic but concerned, and naturally grows over the course of the series. His growth feels genuine, along with the other players; the group dynamic flows very well and offers a number of welcome moments from each. The team slowly braces their new roles and world and they find themselves taking up quests and battles to provide currency for the required foods and lodgings their new lives necessitate. Small touches of what’s deemed important and their handling of those matters in Grimgar help it stand out from the norm. Sword Art Online was all about brooding protagonists, who were solely out to survive and escape the world, but the hero was almost always so overpowered fights and battles rarely lacked danger. That’s not the entirety of SAO, or other shows like it, but Grimgar casts a lot of danger and earnestness on this team enduring.
The roles are still foreign to them, so they must learn, grown, evolve, and power-up to even stand a chance at low-level enemies. It’s a slow pace, but Grimgar like showcasing many montages with insert-songs to showcase the team’s growths and cut through what could essentially be unnecessary fluff moments. Grimgar’s pacing benefits from the staff at A-1 Pictures (who funnily enough also handled Sword Art Online’s adaptation) have seemingly learned how to handle two different projects of similar ideas spectacularly. Haruhiro’s growth is specifically worth note given his predominately apathetic nature at the start. As events unfold and trust in the team grows, he becomes more and more comfortable opening up and becoming attached to these ‘strangers’ he’s surviving with. Without spoiling too much, the series will quickly remind you of the danger and severity of talking its world for granted.
Grimgar will constantly showcase the strength of its world and the consequence for second-thinking what it contains and over-thinking yourself. Tragedy and loss can be around every corner, and Grimgar has done such a terrific job of presenting both without heavy melodrama and being too cliché. Each character knows their limits, and even if there’s a cocky, hot-headed member, they’re soon reminded that it can all end in an instant. They’re not overpowered masters of their classes filled with infinite HP to fight nonstop; they must rest and recover same as an ordinary human. Battles are meticulous and require a matter of strategy and wit. Haruhiro’s team soon learns that cockiness and rushing into battles is a death sentence, as well as ensuring every member’s safe. It’s an invigorating take on the genre which has now spoiled me for any series going forward. I won’t try to hold this expectation for older series, but anything I see in the future has a high bar set for it.
Additionally, Grimgar is a very pretty anime a majority of the time. Backgrounds and landscapes are a gorgeous watercolor presentation that the characters seem to float upon at times, but despite how jarring it might sounds, in motion it works. Naturally, with any series, there are plenty of ugly or cost-effective shots created to save the budget, but in this series, where fighting is often limited to a few scenes, expect a lot of expository shots and scanning views as characters move the plot along. Combat shots are beautifully animated and presented and are a joy to see, perhaps due to their relatively rare occurrence. A-1 Pictures have something special in their hands with Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, and I hope we can return to its world sooner rather than later.
If you do end up checking out Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash and would like more, again it’s based off of a light novel series. Thankfully other anime nerds have made in understood that Grimgar’s first series approximately adapts the light novels’ first two novels, so there is a chance for more anime content. But if you’re impatient, the light novels are being translated and brought stateside, with the first two volumes already available for pre-order. Otherwise, feel free to find it subbed on Hulu and Crunchyroll, with Funimation handling the dub and US release. I have not had the chance to check out the English dubbing, so I cannot comment on it, but Grimgar is a show that requires a competent cast that I imagine a company like Funimation can amply supply. Grimgar won’t necessarily scratch that Sword Art Online itch you may have, but it is a solid show that explores some finer points other shows fail to delve into. I’d go so far to say that Grimgar was an under-loved show that has almost faded away in the ether after such a short time. I recommend it as a streamable show that you could enjoy over a weekend.
Like most people here, I’ve been watching anime for many, many years. I owe blocks like Toonami for getting me into the medium. Shows like Dragonball Z and Ronin Warriors shaped my beginning years, while shows like Neon Genesis Evangleion and Cowboy Bebop showed me that there’s some true artistic ability and expression found within anime (moreso than big burly dudes punching and screaming for hours on end). I now try to watch anime showcasing many genres and storytelling. Anime is just another great, creative medium for telling stories, and I’m happy to share my thoughts on the series I enjoy with you!