Funimation provided us with a review copy in preparation for this article.
A group of strangers awaken in a tower with no memory of their former life. Dazed and confused, they are quickly introduced to their new world by being inducted as soldiers in the volunteer army. They form parties, join guilds to declare their professions, and train briefly before setting out into the dangerous world around them. Their mission is simple: kill monsters, loot the body and sell their treasures for money to get better equipment and skills and pursue bigger prey. You know, standard RPG stuff.
The trope of people being drawn into a fantasy/game-world is certainly not new. Titles like Overlord, Sword Art Online, and Log Horizon have re-tread this path from different angles, but Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions sets itself apart with a simple departure: nobody remembers the life they had before. This subtle difference, combined with stellar animation and compelling character drama, results in producing a quality fantasy title that somehow flew under many people’s radar. I’m here to put you on high alert, because Grimgar is not to be missed!
Series Review (Slight Spoilers Ahead)
Grimgar does a lot of things right, but I will kick this off with one element of the story that kind of bothered me. At the start of the series, the main characters wake up with no real memory of their former life. There’s some alarm and confusion, but within a matter of minutes everyone is forming up parties and setting out for adventure. What? I would think mass amnesia would trigger a bit more concern than just “Huh, guess we just live here now…who wants to join my team?”
They do a good job of hinting to the world they came from, with characters using words like “Cell Phone” or “Video Game” unwittingly, only to wonder what the heck that word means and where it came from. Even though the rather quick acceptance of their circumstances struck me as odd, this tenuous connection to their old world was executed well: rather than go down the rabbit hole of “Let’s spend 3/4ths of the season trying to figure out what happened and then wake up from this nightmare by the finale”, we instead get to see a party of misfits and leftovers struggle to make a living.
Taking the helm is Manato, an assertive young man who is the party’s healer and secondary tank. Haruhiro is the quick-moving thief, armed with daggers and a seemingly supernatural ability to sometimes see the quickest and deadliest path to an enemy. The loud mouthed and arrogant Ranta becomes a Dark Knight (fittingly), focusing on swordsmanship and a casual contract with the devil. Moguzo is the hard-hitting tank of the group, a towering man clad with armor and wielding a large broadsword. Rounding out the group is Yume, the party’s archer, and Shuhiro, the soft-spoken mage. Together, they stumble through their first battle against a single, low level goblin in the opening scene of the series.
Unlike other fantasy series such as Sword Art Online, it’s never a given that the heroes will come out on top. After a devastating encounter in episode 4, they come to the realization that every encounter is a life or death battle, and that their time with comrades is precious. I want to leave the impact of this episode for you to enjoy, but I will say that unlike other series that feature a fairly significant death in the storyline, it toes the line between two common extremes: either a series enjoys beating the viewers over the head with it, reminding them of the tragedy at every opportunity, or the death is quickly forgotten. Grimgar certainly understands the gravity of what happens, and the impact it has on the party is raw, powerful, and long-lasting. That being said, it’s a catalyst for quality character development and a change in the party’s dynamic when it comes to battles.
Speaking of battles, the action sequences in Grimgar are a real treat to watch. As the party grows in skill and camaraderie, the viewer gets to enjoy some fantastic combination attacks and tactics, with everyone getting an equal opportunity to shine. The integration of each party member’s “Skills” is also seamless – bringing us into the world of an RPG and showing us how these various skills are taught, learned, and used in practical combat. Haruhiro’s mentor is…eccentric…but their relationship is a fascinating glimpse into how guilds function in the world of Grimgar.
Another standout element of Grimgar is the audio. From the thematic background music in the forest and mines to the vocal performances that help to conclude a few particularly poignant episodes, not to mention the sound effects during the groups numerous battles, Grimgar’s vibrant visuals are well-complemented by a quality soundtrack.
I have a few more things to say, but first let’s take a look at the box set.
Box Set Review
Funimation definitely put a bit more thought into the Grimgar release, as it features a solid outer box with gorgeous character art on the front and back. Within the box is the case holding the discs (2 blu ray discs and 2 DVDs), as well as a box that contains 6 pieces of character art and a poster of the heroic party. The character art is fantastic, but I can see some of the more picky collectors not appreciating the numerous fold-lines in the poster. A shame, really, because the poster is great too. With the quality of the soundtrack I would say bundling in the OST would have been a stellar addition.
In terms of extras, there’s commentary for the impactful episode 4, “Sky Dancing with Ash”. To help balance out the drama, the set also includes a humorous OVA titled “Youth Hung on the Bath Wall – One More Centimeter”, which takes place between episodes 2 and 3 and showcases an (unsuccessful) attempt for Ranta and the gang to peep on Yume and Shuhiro in the bath.
Overall, the box set is certainly on the higher end of production quality and perks. I’m a firm believer that the more people invest in these collector box sets, the more willing Funimation will be to produce even better releases with plenty of collectible goodies for those who enjoy that sort of thing.
Grimgar is an impressive piece of work. The 12-episode series packs in plenty of drama, character development and action in a fantastical world that begs to be explored further. The shadow of the life these adventurers had before lingers on, and promises some exciting plot opportunities should that path be pursued. The nature with which Grimgar wrestles with mortality, as well as the ever-present danger in day to day battles, really heightens the viewers excitement and anxiety even when the party is pitted against seemingly lower-level monsters. There’s a fantastic video on Grimgar’s fight scenes here , which I would definitely suggest if you want another angle on why the battles work so well.
If you enjoyed shows like Sword Art Online or .hack, do yourself a favor and pick up Grimgar. It’s a terrific and impactful series that deserves a spot on any anime lovers shelf.