Thursday, April 14, 2016

Grimgar Of Fantasy And Ash Complete Series Anime Review

There are wounds that even magic can't heal.

What They Say:
Fear, survival, instinct. Thrown into a foreign land with nothing but hazy memories and the knowledge of their name, they can feel only these three emotions resonating deep within their souls. A group of strangers is given no other choice than to accept the only paying job in this game-like world—the role of a soldier in the Reserve Army—and eliminate anything that threatens the peace in their new world, Grimgar. When all of the stronger candidates join together, those left behind must create a party together to survive: Manato, a charismatic leader and priest; Haruhiro, a nervous thief; Yume, a cheerful hunter; Shihoru, a shy mage; Moguzo, a kind warrior; and Ranta, a rowdy dark knight. Despite its resemblance to one, this is no game—there are no redos or respawns; it is kill or be killed. It is now up to this ragtag group of unlikely fighters to survive together in a world where life and death are separated only by a fine line.

The Review:
Content: (Please note that the content portion of the review may contain spoilers)
What would you do if you woke up in a mysterious land, surrounded only by others in the same exact predicament? It's a generalized story that has been pulled out for generations now, but it never seems to lessen the impact and urgency in terms of the grand scheme. They say that fear is the most primitive human emotion out there -- that it surpasses even joy or desire. That being said, fear of the unknown may, perhaps, be the most commonplace mindset to ever find its way inside us. Needless to say, when Haruhiro wakes up in the uncharted land of Grimgar, he is stricken with not only fear but the complete and utter need to survive. And how can you survive in unknown territory? By teaming up with others.

And so begins the tale of "Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash." Right off the bat, Haruhiro falls into line with who can be assumed to be the misfits of the initial group. With many of the stronger, more brazen members breaking off into units of their own, we are left with a small group of people more confused than determined. But, I mean, who can blame them? No one even knows why they're here at this point let alone where they even come from to begin with. Without any money or a means of survival, Haruhiro and the others make it a priority to do anything it takes to survive. Luckily for them, the inn nearby is able to provide a few tips for new adventurers looking to get out into the world. After receiving recruit badges and choosing their respective combat classes, Haru's party sets a course for their new lives, lead by a priest named Manato.

At first glance, this series seems like just another adventure/fantasy anime. (MAJOR SPOILER INCOMING) But after Manato dies in battle one day, both the party and the viewers receive a bit of a wake-up call. Death isn't specific to just humans, it can be felt by all living things. What makes our party different than the goblins and other monsters they are trying to combat? With major tinges of Darwinism and even broken economical structure, Grimgar launches headfirst into a beautifully animated depiction of society, war, and loss that parallels everything good and evil in this world. In my opinion, the most hard-hitting line of the show came in just the first arc when Haruhiro and the others are trying to lay rest to Manato. After bringing his body to an elder priest to try and have him resurrected, the priest states that the dead can not be brought back and that they must perform a burial for their fallen comrade -- to which Haruhiro replies, "And I guess that costs silver too?" This single line perfectly demonstrates the harsh realities of this world. Even though their friend and leader just died right in front of them, the dual problem of having no money to even perform a proper burial for him creeps up and plunges the series toward a path that seems devoid of all hope whatsoever. Haru's party is left in shambles.

After this, everything in Grimgar is just about redemption -- how if the group is going to survive, someone needs to step up and take charge. Eventually, Haru falls into the place of the leader, despite being inexperienced and extremely unsure oh his own ability. In addition to this, the party takes on a priest with baggage of her own -- Mary (Or Merry as some people call her). Mary, being accompanied by the traumatic experience of having her previous party slain due to her lack of mana, struggles to break free from her shell and be the priest that Manato was. This, of course, leads to a series of mental breakdowns as our main characters come to terms with the abruptness that, at many times, rushes in alongside death. It is evident that everyone has their own problems and that these problems will never be put to rest without the help of others. And even though this seems like such an obvious solution, nothing remains obvious in the face of peril. Instead, our party struggles just to get by and has an incredibly difficult time for what seems like months.

Instead of detailing the content from the final arc (Which was absolutely phenomenal if you want a two-word synopsis), I'm going to talk about a method Grimgar consistently uses to further the emotional impact of the series. The use of music is a surprising tool Grimgar pulls out to better expose the nature of the world. At several times throughout the series, things basically turn into a sort of music video that slowly details the calmer parts of the world over the course of a few minutes. And I don't mean the characters break out into song -- it's a lot more subtle than that. Essentially, the characters break up for brief periods and just go on with their lives, whether it be shopping, eating, or drinking. But whatever it is, there's a short period of solace accompanied by expertly selected music to better illustrate the mood. This, in itself, begins to contrast dark with light -- showing that there is no sorrow that comes unaccompanied by joy, even if said joy is shortlived. These moments, though hated by some, are an extremely important part of the series that I firmly believe were executed flawlessly.

There is a lot to be praised about Grimgar, I think I've made that clear. But one more thing that needs to be noted before we wrap this up is just how real some of these characters are. In terms of having actual feelings, it seemed like the cast of Grimgar was a few leagues above a lot of other anime. When tragic things would happen (Which they do rather frequently), each character would deal with it in a fashion anchored to no one but themselves. It's weird, these drawings felt like real people that were actually being affected by these things instead of just characters written in to showcase artificial feelings. And even though each character had their own unique take on the world, when things got bad all of the sorrow would become congruent and coalesce into a single idea -- that sadness is universal.

In Summary:
With an enchanting soundtrack and beautiful, watercolored backgrounds, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is an endearing adventure series that is a thematic colossus. So many of the lessons jam packed into this anime parallel our world as a whole while, at the same time, raising many thought-provoking questions. In a way, Grimgar itself may be a symbol for purgatory. This theory is just one of many that can be brought up in an effort to describe what the show means to a specific person. But just the fact that viewers can devise their own take on things and pull their own meanings out of everything makes Grimgar something special. With a brief course of only 12 episodes that stays interesting and important throughout the entire duration, I would go on to recommend this to anyone. This is a sleeping giant.

Grade: A-

Streamed By: Funimation

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