Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 12 (Fin)

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I’d gone on record stating that Grimgar could have ended at eight episodes and I would have been perfectly content, and whatever Grimgar did in its final four weeks, it wasn’t going to mar from that first eight. I likened it to having four “bonus” episodes.

How gratifying, then, that the Cyrene Mine arc, while necessarily more rushed than the Goblin arc, turned out to be pretty damn good anyway, both by expanding on what the first eight had established and showing us a few new sides of our six party members.

When we left off last week, Haru made the sensible decision not to squander Ranta’s staying behind by attempting to rescue them in their current state. Ranta, for his part, doesn’t expect anyone to come, and ends up making some surprising allies in the livestock he mocked before.

He also summons a demon, Zodiark, who isn’t so much an ally as something annoying enough to ground him in the task at hand; the demon is constantly telling him to die-die-die, and Ranta isn’t about to accommodate it.

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Meanwhile, there’s well, not dissension in the ranks, as Haru wants to go back to save Ranta, merely an argument for why to go back, from the person he least expected: Yume. Mind you, we’ve known for some time Yume and Ranta have been a bit of an item—more “charm-irritate” than “love-hate”, but to see Yume break down when she thinks about how scared she’d be in Ranta’s position, it’s more than enough to convince everyone to make a U-turn.

This isn’t bad leadership by Haru, who is determined to keep everyone alive; it’s merely good fellowship by everyone. They don’t think it’s suicide to try to save him.

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Of course, while Ranta does pretty well for himself all alone, it is good his comrades return to him, because he can’t stay a step ahead of the kobolds forever. I like how not two minutes after lamenting how he never groped Yume’s boobs (guys still a piece of work!) that girl, who’d surely come to miss being called a flat-chest by him, is the one who puts an arrow in Death Spots’ eye for Ranta’s sake.

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It’s also nice to be shown yet again how strong a unit everyone has become, with Mary doing some offensive work, Moguzo being his usual steamroller, and Shihoru laying epic waste with her magic, even twirling her staff and flashing a dark look. Haru’s also as quick and precise as ever, killing two kobolds with a minimum of wasted movement.

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Once Ranta is safe and the party is away, they take a breather for Mary to heal Ranta, who in his elation at being saved and reunited, lets slip that he wanted to see everyone again.

He partially mentions feeling something in his chest, which Yume picks up and runs with, leaving Ranta no choice but to unleash a few more “flat-chest” remarks, spurring a bickering fest between the two until Mary (to whom Ranta’s always been submissive) lays down the law.

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Both Mary and Shihoru are low on magic (I’m glad MP isn’t unlimited in this show), but Death Spots doesn’t care what condition they’re in, he’s going to keep coming.

Haru knows this, and even if they run, he could catch them, so he makes an executive decision to take the big guy on himself, giving the others time to escape, putting Ranta in charge.

When he successfully spiders the kobold king off a cliff, a panicked Mary starts to climb down in a rush to help him, but Ranta stops her (though Mary reallydoesn’t want to be stopped), then warning Haru he’d better not die.

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What follows is an encapsulation of the show and the overall struggle of Haru and the others. Grimgar, like his duel with Spots, is a battle of life and death.

As long as he’s still alive, victory is in sight, so he won’t give up on trying to stay alive until he’s dead. I know, that all seems kind of obvious, but whatever!

Time slows to a crawl for Haru, who follows a stream of light with his dagger until it finds Spots’ weak spot: his other eye.

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After beating Spots, Haru blacks out and collapses, but he does not die with him. Instead, he wakes up to an upbeat Mary humming to herself, then leaning in close when welcoming him back.

Everyone else is in good spirits, with Moguzo making lunch, Ranta counting the cash they made for beating the giant kobold, and planning to take his sword to a blacksmith to forge it into something more useful than a trophy.

Later, Mary puts Haru’s repaired dog tags back on him, and the weight of them make him feel like at home, which is where he now knows he is. “About time,” says Mary.

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While celebrating at the tavern, Renji approaches Haru once more—to apologize. Instead, Haru, who is grateful for Renji giving him the nudge he needed, thanks him. He and Renji exchange looks of mutual respect before Ranta orders a round for the house.

Afterwards Haru visits Manato’s grave (another hauntingly beautiful, quiet scene, to ask him if being a leader was hard. Manato throws the question back at Haru, then tells him he’s grown.

He’s not the Haruhiro from the beginning of the show…but then again no one is who they were at the beginning. For one thing, they’re to a person, far more badass now. They’re also a family now.

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Notably absent is any kind of explanation for how any of the party members arrived in Grimgar, nor any exploration of the lives they led or the shadows of memories from that other world they still carry. And let me be clear: I was totally okay with this. 

I felt there was a possibility those things would be addressed in the finale, even if it wasn’t very likely, but I’m glad they weren’t (seeing the world almost “pause” when Haru faced Spots was a close call though).  Frankly, I like the mystery; not all questions need to be answered. Not for us, and not for Haru and his comrades, either.

As the days go on and he keeps living and surviving and creating new memories with his friends, his family, he feels more and more comfortable in the world and life he’s in, and less and less concerned with the one he’s originally from.

Whatever he forgot, from that life isn’t as important as the fact he’s in this life now, with these people, in this world, and he doesn’t want to forget any of it.

A lovely ending to a visually and emotionally beautiful show with a deft touch. It marched to its own beat and demonstrated that there were still many promising veins to explore in the “Lost in a Fantasy RPG” mine.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 11

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Hey, I’m back from visiting a Mayan pyramid during the equinox to watch Hai’s penultimate episode of the Spring, which begins with a beautifully-rendered flashback-slash -dream in which Mary is suddenly awakened by one of her fellow party members, before heading into the mines that will claim three of them.

It’s no accident that this scene is highly reminiscent of several similar scenes of her present party shooting the breeze during their downtime. When she’s awakened from this happy, mundane memory by Haru, and with “Death Spots” stalking them, it’s definitely not downtime.

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Since Mary’s the one with mine experience, even the ostensible party leader Haru must rely on her to show them a way out of their predicament—which is why more and more she and Haru have looked something like co-leaders. To her credit, she doesn’t let her fear or guilt overcome her, and leads everyone into the mines’ fifth level, where the kobolds do a lot of metal smelting.

After a successful and nifty stealth attack, they continue into a former temple of Luminaris, who just so happens to be the saint whose power Mary draws from for her new Dispel skill. The reason she acquired that particular spell is revealed here, as this was the site of her three comrades’ demise.

The thing is, they’ve become zombies, something that came as such a creepy shock that not only does Ranta draw back in fright, but in her moment of fear Yume embraces him tightly, something Ranta does not complain about!

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That aside, it’s Mary’s solemn duty to exorcise her three friends so that they can be freed from their wretched existence as shambling ghouls; quite similar to the way FFX’s Yuna sends fiends. The only problem is, Dispel is a very close range spell; she has to be right up in someone’s personal space to pull it off.

The problem is, while they may look like the dessicated corpses of her friends, they aren’t her friends anymore, and they attack the party with the same ferocity as the kobolds would. And this is where this episode becomes about more than just the party helping Mary; Mary is also helping the party.

This is their first fight against opponents who are neither goblins nor kobolds. They may be zombies, but they’ve retained all the skills of the humans they used to be, and they’re tough.

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Moguzo has trouble with the more acrobatic zombie tank; Ranta’s theif opponent can fight him off indefinitely; and the mage’s spells outclass Shihoru, who quickly runs low on magic, but thankfully doesn’t become a sitting duck, because Haru observes everyone long enough to determine the proper way to deal with the zombies, who at the end of the day are outnumbered 2-1.

First, Haru backs up Mary as she goes to the front to deal with the mage, punching through her firewall and performing the spell. She briefly reverts to the girl Mary knew before crumbling into a pile of ash. Then Haru gives Ranta an opening to lop off the theif’s leg, whereupon Mary comes from behind and performs the spell on him.

Finally, after Yume’s arrow bounces off the tank’s armor, Haru pounces on him and exposes his arm for Moguzo to hack off with all his might, cutting so close he takes some of Haru’s hair with it. Mary performs the spell and poof, job done. Weight lifted. Did I mention that the combat in this episode rocked? Well, it did.

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Mary is relieved, and thanks her new party profusely for their help, but they’re all thankful too. They never got to meet her friends, but they did learn how those friends could fight, and it helped them identify the shortcomings they all still have, whether it’s Shihoru’s lack of offensive magic, to Ranta’s lack of a sufficiently cool finishing move.

What had been a harrowing battle, then, becomes another great scene of downtime where everyone is just sharing a little more about themselves and bouncing off each other, enjoying each other’s company in various ways. It also demonstrates how good this show is at slowing things down and giving episodes room to breathe. It makes the moment the casual rest scene is blown up by the raging Giant Kobold all the more impacting.

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Death Spots is smarter than he looks, or at least a far more determined hunter than the party gave him credit for, but out of respect for his formidableness, Haru’s order to the party is to simply GTFO, briefly tangling with the boss to give his people a head start.

Ranta relieves him when the Kobold sends waves of subordinates after them, and after Moguzo uncharacteristically grabs Shihoru when everyone has to jump a great distance, Ranta offers her a hand up.

Finally, after the Kobold simply decides to start bringing the wooden scaffolding the party is using down, Haru nearly falls to his highly-possible death, but his Manato-ing is prevented by—Ranta, who tells Haru that the leader can’t die.

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The annoying selfish contrarian isn’t really redeeming himself by staying behind and fighting so that Haru and the others can get away, because he has nothing to redeem. This is who Ranta always was, the situation just never called for this particular brand of desperate heroics.

And I daresay Ranta is every bit as cool as he thinks he is at episode’s end, never letting the Kobolds see him sweat (though he does condemn their crossbow bolts as unsporting!).

Furthermore, both Mary’s and Manato’s experiences help inform Haru’s decision to not send the party back down to try to rescue Ranta. That’s not what he wants, and it’s not what’s best for the party.

Haru’s deep affection for all of his comrades (even Ranta) can be a fatal weakness in a leader, but here he makes the right decision for the right reasons, and the rest of the party concurs with it. We’ll see how it pans out.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 10

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Haru’s party takes to the mines, and their skills and teamwork shine in their efficient dispatching of the first level’s lesser kobolds, which aren’t really much tougher than gobs. Sure, Ranta spends a bit too long fighting one-on-one without asking for help, which irks Haru, but so far so good!

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Actually, as they trek deeper into the mines, Ranta goes off about how he’s a badass dark knight who doesn’t subscribe to ideals or morals they way everyone else does, because at the end of the day no one can escape death’s cold embrace, or something. Like most Rantaness, it’s irritating, butnot harmful to the party.

Still, Haru simply doesn’t like it. The lack of respect for the dead kobolds, all the talk about being amoral and beholden to no one, saying it’s lame when they back out of the mine after a good day’s hunting. Ranta is a skilled warrior, Haru can’t deny; but he remains as bad a team member as ever.

It doesn’t help Ranta that everyone else is “on board” the way Haru is; considering the party to be more than just a collection of soldiers doing their jobs, but a family of people who care about each other. Ranta doesn’t seem to care, or at least is always talking about how he doesn’t.

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As leader, Haru knows he has to at least try to address this, as much for himself as anything. He thinks Manato would have similarly tried to do something as the leader, though he doesn’t know what. In fact, he remembers Manato didn’t seem to like Ranta much either.

In his one-on-one talk with Ranta that night, he learns Ranta went to the trouble to take a kobold on alone because he’s preparing for the very real possibility he’ll have to, say if the rest of the party is injured or busy with other foes. It’s a smart move, but he did it without saying anything. “Doing things his way” means not communicating, just acting.

Haru wants to communicate, but isn’t able to get remotely all of what he wants to say out, so it’s almost irrelevant. Ranta also says the “I’m not here to make friends” speech to Haru, which has got to hurt because Haru has been operating under the assumption that they are all friends.

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Not to mention just because Ranta says he doesn’t want to be “pretend friends” with the party, doesn’t mean that he isn’t friends. After all, they consider him more than just a party comrade, and Ranta is well-known for saying overly-harsh things he may not mean.

I liked the contrast between Ranta stalking off and Haru waking up under a blanket provided by Yume, who then practice knife-throwing. His exchange with Yume—and their exchange with Moguzo—is the day to Ranta’s night. But maybe, Haru thinks, there’s simply no way around that.

The clash with Ranta is nothing particularly new, but it’s at least not the whole story: there’s also the fact that Mary is doing pretty well in the mines despite her past trauma there, and Haru is thankful that everyone (save Ranta) has learned valuable new skills in order to help each other out.

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Before long, they’re able to reach the lower levels of the mines, where they’re surprised to find subterranean crops and livestock. Here, Haru executes his plan going forward with Ranta in miniature: when Ranta points his sword at a rat mole-like animal, Haru backs off, accepting Ranta’s line of thinking, and moves on.

Confronting him on every little thing or trying to bend him to his way of thinking is a waste of time, effort, and focus. Better to let him be who he is. Haru has to realize he’s not a bad leader just because one of this comrades isn’t the best fit.

Of course, Ranta’s carelessness with his surroundings end up sounding the alarm for the kobolds, and the same giant kobold that Mary’s team failed to defeat makes its appearance.

As Mary goes through any number of emotions—shock, fear, guilt, regret, panic—I was hoping Haru’s hand would come down on her shoulder to calm her. It doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Mary’s alone in this.

Considering they haven’t gone over how to tackle a beast like that yet, I’d think retreat would be the best option, though that might not be possible now. But if the party sticks together, and Mary watches her magic level, things can and will be different.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 09

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This week wasn’t under any illusions about what it was: a day off, slowing the life of Haruhiro and his party to a crawl as they all take to the day in different ways. Ranta is off early to fish; Moguzo makes breakfast like he always does, and plans to see to his armor and sword maintenance; Shihoru feeds the birds (like Manato used to do); Yume sleeps in.

Haru is a little restless. After all that fighting and action and the routine they had established, he’s not sure what to do with this sudden glut of free time. So he visits Mary, who he finds resplendent on the balcony of the women’s lodgings, where men are okay to be.

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Mary recommends if the party members move out of the ratty default volunteer lodgings, the girls should come live with her. It’s hard to argue; it’s a sweet place. But she still thinks fondly of the old lodgings as the place where she started out with her previous party.

While waiting for a bite in the river, Ranta spots a figure on the cliff face: Yume is mountain climbing. Is this a skill she picked up as part of her hunting job, or is this a relfection of a hobby she had in her previous life? Regardless, Ranta looks spellbound, and along with Haru’s newfound comfiness with Mary is more evidence of how the couples would pair off.

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After wordlessly admiring the sun setting into the sea, Mary and Haru join the rest of the party at Sherry’s Tavern to plan their next move. Demuro is out for various reasons, and Haru is worried too much of the same thing could breed boredom and carelessness.

He’s thinking like a volunteer soldier: don’t get too comfortable, don’t get soft; find new challenges and become stronger. However, the place that comes to mind as a suitable new hunting grounds is the Cyrene Mine, and the mere mention of the place gets Mary upset to the point she has to leave.

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Whereas many times before he would have let her go, Haru is now in the habit of following Mary, not letting her think she’s alone in anything. When he comes, she’s clearly glad, but worries she’s become a burden to the party. Like Haru with the place where Manato was killed, a part of Mary wants to forget the mines ever existed.

But she also wants to move forward and face the mines, for herself and for the party. She just doesn’t think she can do it alone. If she had help from others, she might be able to do it. And she wants it to be him and the others. When she says she’s just causing trouble, Haru actually starts tearing up, though not, he thinks, because he’s sad.

Rather, he’s happy Mary wants the same thing he does, and she’s only mistaken if she thinks it’s not possible. When he brushes the tears away and says he feels stupid, Mary tells him he’s “fine just like that,” and thanks him for his support. Sorry shippers, no hug or kiss.

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The bulk of Haru’s physical contact this week, rather, comes from his master, Barbara, who beats the hell out of him in order to teach him her Spider technique. In the process of all the wrestling (and while sitting on him even as he takes a breather), Barb tells him to make one of the girls in his party his, preferably all of them.

Haru changes the subject to his ability to see enemies’ weak spots, and perhaps out of frustration from his inability to candidly talk about love, she goes at him even harder. Presumably some time passes and he masters the Spider skill, because the next we see the whole party in the mountains, poised to enter the Cyrene Mine.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 08

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is a little counter-intuitive. You’d think that its penchant for building slow, careful, gradual atmosphere meant it would need all twelve (or more) episodes to properly tell its story. And yet, despite taking things slow and easy and letting its characters breathe and exist in the world it created, this eighth episode could have been the finale, with four episodes to spare.

This was the culmination of nearly everything the seven episodes had cultivated, including my emotional investment. It achieved a tremendous amount without abandoning or compromising the style it’s stuck with all along. In fact, in the end it actually doubled down on the long quiet, contemplative, emotion-rich scene of rest.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a show so patient and diligent and deliberate that at the same time was able to move so fleetly and efficiently. It kind of had its cake and ate it too.

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Things start simply: a pre-game huddle in which Mary–the priest who let her party die who joined the party that let their priest die–adds her hand to the pile and promises to protect everyone. Then everyone gets into position, waits for the right time, and the most ambitious and dangerous battle yet fought commences.

The breathless, bloody action is set to upbeat (rather than desperate) music, reflecting everyone’s positive attitude and determination entering the fight. No longer is there any doubt that they will have each other’s backs. The goblins are initially surprised by their ambush, but quickly regroup and exhibit that they’re just as capable of learning about their enemy and adapting to their tactics.

At times, things get a little dicey, but just when you think one party member is in trouble, another one bails them out. When Yume and Moguzo get wounded, Mary quickly heals them, and it’s not a waste of magic because without numbers, they can’t afford the pace of the battle to wane due to injuries.

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After infiltrating the goblin stronghold and clearing the lower levels of all enemies, they reach the top, where the leader is sitting, apparently bleeding out and close to death. It’s here, so close to victory, where the party lets its guard down, just as it did when they took down their very first goblin but didn’t cut deep enough. Despite being indoors, they neglected the fact the roof was open, and a goblin snipers puts an arrow in Mary’s back.

Dear God, not again raced through my head as I held my breath, and as the others tended to Mary, Haruhiro (who Mary is now calling “Haru”, like me, or “Hal”, depending on your translator!), goes after the sniper, who happens to have his old dagger. After a vicious struggle, he uses that dagger to deliver the killing blow, Yume slides down the roof to meet him, and the battle is over.

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I was a little worried for a second that Mary died, but part of me assumed this time she had enough magic to heal herself, and so she did. After that battle, Haru and the others acquire their badges and finally become volunteer soliders. Their first stop after this achievement is the grave of their former leader, Manato, not just to show him that they did it, but to give him his own badge as well.

During this extended scene, which I liked very much, Haru thinks a lot about what to say. He notes how he and the others didn’t actually know Manato that long; how he didn’t get to see all the sides of him, how he may have well hid many of his flaws in that time. Haru wished he could have gotten to know Manato better, as did the others, but they can take solace in the fact they were still able to become a good party without him, channeling the pain of his loss to motivate their steady improvement.

As Haru talks about how far they’ve come Ranta says something nasty out of turn and gets admonished by Yume, Shihoru cries, and Mary keeps a respectful distance, though grows closer and closer as the scene continues. It also begins to snow, covering the scenery in white, indicating this is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a fresh new one.

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After the ceremony, Haru walks Mary home (I was wrong last week about her moving in with the party right away). They lament that magic can heal wounds, but not mend clothes or hearts or erase the pain of loss. As they enter the town, he admits he knows about three friends she lost, but she’s okay with him knowing, just as he’s okay with her having a name for him–Haru–that only she uses.

Their last exchange here is infused with a fair share of romantic undertones, but more than anything its just nice to see how far these two have come since Mary first arrived on the scene. Haru has become a good leader of a good party, and Mary has found new friends and a new purpose.

I imagine the party is in store for a time of rest after gaining their badges. I also wonder if the show will ever address everyone’s past lives or the mechanism that brought them to Grimgar; not that any of that is necessary. This was Hai’s best episode, considering the careful work needed to make this such a powerful, cathartic arc conclusion.

I don’t see how it will be topped with only four left (unless a second season is forthcoming), butthat’s okay; the show could have ended right here and I would have been content. This show has already far exceeded my expectations going in; everything that’s to follow is a bonus I’ll graciously accept.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 07

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Ranta believes that the party now knowing about Mary’s past doesn’t change anything, at least in a practical sense. You can’t be friends with someone who simply doesn’t want to be friends with you, and he doesn’t see why they need to go out of their way to accommodating her because she had a tough past. They’ve all had tough pasts.

But that last point is the hole in Ranta’s logic: they’re not so different from Mary, so they can find a way to connect. They lost Manato, their leader, but Mary left a part of herself down in the caverns where her friends were killed. Haruhiro and the others managed to pull out of a similar tailspin because they were still together, and were able to work through the pain.

Shinohara and Hayashi also live with the pain of losing friends they cared about, but didn’t realize until they were gone that they had to treasure those bonds while they were still around. When Haruhiro hears Ranta’s grievanes about always being dismissed or ignored, he listens and takes it to heart: Mary isn’t the only one he hasn’t been attentive to.

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After the party tentatively agrees that they’re all friends, and that they should embrace Mary as one as well, it all comes down to execution. Haru is clearly apprehensive about the conversation; so much so Yume has to jump on him so he doesn’t reveal their position to a goblin (albeit one who has his dagger). By the way, I liked how Yume acted to protect Haru, their leader, from his own emotional desire to get back what he lost, since a dagger is far easier replaced than a comrade.

When Haru asks to speak to Mary, she seems resigned to the fact he’s about to kick her out, just as she’s left so many other party’s after her trauma. There’s the underlying feeling she’s contributing all she thinks she can, but it isn’t enough, and that frustrates her. She’s trying to find the Mary she left behind.

Obviously, Haru doesn’t want her to leave. Instead of pry into her past, he gives her the past of their party, painful as it is. He tells her how important Manato was and how hopeless things seemed without him. He admits he agreed to her joining the party because they needed a priest to survive, period.

But now, after some time, he’s decided, and all the others agree, that she’s become more than a hired hand. She’s become a valued friend, one he wishes to cherish as much as all his other comrades. Shihoru, Yume and Moguzo share the same feelings. And yes, even Ranta relents, buying into the generous atmosphere in the room – leading to one of present-day Mary’s most expressive looks.

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Now that Mary knows the score, and knows that her new comrades also carry pain with them every day, she softens a little more. She doesn’t join them in shopping for Moguzo’s helmet, or any of several subsequent meals, but not because she doesn’t want to, but because she’s easing into a new situation. “Not yet”, she says, which isn’t “no”.

Like all things in Grimgar, Mary’s coming-around takes time, not because the show is stalling, but because such things take time in real life. It’s great that they think of her as a friend, but she still needs to process that and figure out how to have friends again.

Haru takes the party out to fight goblins in the city ruins day after day, creating a strict routine. Each time they go out, they get a little better as individuals and as a team, and rather than spend on better accommodations, they invest in better equipment. Soon, Haru notices it’s getting easier to kill goblins – the spot where he needs to cut is now lighting up in his head.

Repetition strengthening muscle memory, and increasing the efficiency of his motions. They make the most of their newfound skills, and fill each other’s shortcomings. They also include Mary in on their downtime chatter, including Ranta tactlessly asking Mary which guy she prefers (she doesn’t answer).

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After taking things one day at a time for many days, Mary finally agrees to come to the tavern, and it’s a wonderful moment to see her in the middle of the party, sharing in the glow of the fire. Shinohara and Hayashi are also relieved to see her finally looking like she belongs in a party.

Before long, the time comes when it looks like Mary is going to move in with the others. On the last night she’s on her own, Haru is out in the courtyard, where Manato comes to him once more, likening the excitement and anticipation Haru feels to the night before a field trip (a rare look into their unknown past lives).

I don’t see Ghost Manato as a real ghost physically there, but the memory of Manato who appears when Haru is alone with nothing but the calm of night and the crackle of the fire nearby. But that doesn’t lesson his importance as a presence Haru treats like Manato.

The new leader wants to show the old leader what kind of party they’ve become. Other tavern patrons may be half-mocking in calling them the Goblin Slayers, but it’s a name Haru intends to wear with pride.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 06

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Grimgar simply keeps knocking it out of the park with its quietly ambitious yet nuanced character work. Ranta grows more likable by the week. His reaction to Shihoru’s misunderstanding of Haru and Yume’s long tight hug is true to who he is, but balances the jealousy with playfulness (wanting all the details; disappointed when Haru gives them to him).

But Shihoru’s apology, public and early in the morning as it is, is a crucial step forward for her, too. The misunderstanding gave her an excuse to go to and talk with the boys, and the less isolated the genders are from each other, the more cohesive and efficient team they’ll become.

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But the star of this week’s episode is unquestionably Mary, followed by Haruhiro. Haru and Yume have decided to try to reach out to Mary more, and Shihoru and Moguzo are also game (Ranta is the lone holdout, blaming Mary for isolating herself).

Naturally, it doesn’t go perfectly; attempts at small talk with Mary are swiftly batted away. She’s in the party, but apparently only to do her job by the limited parameters she herself has set.

Then again, in the midst of battle as she’s hanging back as usual, Mary finally pipes up, scolding Moguzo for falling back after such a minor wound from a goblin. She’s absolutely right, too: Moguzo is a warrior, he has to keep slashing and smashing forward to be effective – and survive.

Her observation helps Haru realize Mog needs a proper helmet so he can go all out. Mary also heals his head wound, only after the battle (Ranta’s scratch goes address only by a warning that he’s almost hit her last nerve). Haru’s takeaway: Mary made a contribution beyond her strict role as healer. It’s progress.

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That night, Haru, Mog and Ranta finally invite the girls to join them at the tavern – another important gesture in building team cohesion, but also an acknowledgement that the five of them aren’t just party members: they’re friends.

They care about each other, and hanging out while not fighting is only natural. They freeze up, however, when Mary enters. No one calls her over, or even says hi. They just stare at each other, and Mary takes a lonely seat at the bar.

The group wrings its hands over the failed encounter, but before long Ranta starts underestimating Yume’s bust, and Mary is forgotten…until they see her talking to Shinohara, master of Orion. Could he be a source of info on Mary they can’t get from her?

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In the episode’s best scene, in a place where Haru and Manato often talked over the fire, the night noises fade away and Manato appears before him, just as he’s doubting both his ability and will to lead the party.

This Manato “ghost” tells Haru not to waver, and rather show him what the party is made of. While Haru may not want to be the leader, he cannot simply forsake the faith Haru put in him, even if there was never an overt promise to take over should he die.

The sound and camerawork create a hauntingly sad yet also calm warm atmosphere (thanks to the fire and Manato’s presence). When Haru “returns” to the “now”, the night noises are brought back up, and Manato vanishes from the shot.

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Whether being “nice” to Mary is working or not, Haru and the others see even more change in her the next day, when she not only protects Shihoru from a charging goblin (after which Ranta protects Mary), but fights on the front line, demonstrating her staff skills for the first time.

Still figuring out how to communicate with Mary, Haru offers her a simple thanks, which she nearly seems to say aren’t necessary. The episode makes sure to linger on Mary after everyone else has turned away, to see delayed responses in her face and voice that suggest she’s keeping a lot pent up inside her.

That evening, Haru invites Mary to join them for a bite, and rather than turn her nose up, she politely declines. Haru decides to go to Shinohara in order to learn more about Mary so he can understand her better. Shinohara refers them to Hayashi, who was in her previous party.

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As we learn, she was his party’s Manato: making everyone around her better (and more importantly, feel better), while keeping everyone at 100% health at all times and keeping them on the right side of the razor-thin edge between victory and defeat. More than that, Hayashi & the others were her dear friends.

Bright, cheerful, and strong, her party rose quickly…and fell even faster. Rather than run from a major boss, they decided to challenge it. Mary ran out of magic early in the fight, and they lost three comrades, thus destroying the party. After that, Mary “stopped smiling”.

No doubt blaming herself for the tragedy that befell her party, now she’s far more reluctant to form close bonds with her new party. From her experience, being too close to and being too nice to them gave them undue confidence, causing all including her to drop their guard, which was enough to shift them to the side of catastrophic defeat.

It all makes sense now. Now Haruhiro understands Mary’s attitude and manner with them. It’s the flip-side of their party: they lost their Manato, but she lost her Haru, Moguzo, and Shihoru. Haru & Co. Mary then, it would seem, simply needs time, understanding, and the knowledge that it’s alright to survive, to make new friends and care about them.

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P.S. There’s a new OP with Mary as a full member. I liked it! (The ED stayed the same, but I love that drawing of the original party of six, so it’s fine).

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 05

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After effectively portraying the immediate effect of having a huge Manato-shaped hole in the party and its surviving member’s hearts (along with the quiet outrage of Manato’s funeral expenses totaling one measly silver), this week deals with the aftermath. Surrounded on all sides by reminders of what they’ve lost, Ranta is the first to peace out, and the other two boys follow him into the tavern where they try to drink away their sorrows…shutting the girls out of what should be a shared grieving process.

Haru and Ranta are about to come to blows when Moguzo shouts them down in a rare display of anger. When Kikkawa hears they’ve lost their priest, he recommends a new one, which Haruhiro, by default the new leader of the party, hires without consulting Yume or Shihoru, simply because, well, they need a darned healer! Mary is a very no-bullshit kinda gal who doesn’t like messing around, which is to say she’s immediately a bad fit in our (usually) tight-knit band of misfits.

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They continue their battles against the goblins in Demuro, but Haruhiro can tell Mary is throwing off what little cohesion the team had prior to losing Manato. She even refuses Haru’s field order to heal Ranta because she deems the wound not serious (which it isn’t). Her uncooperative attitude isn’t helping matters, but she’s under no obligation to help out. It’s up to her “leader” to get his shit together.

Back in the tavern with just Ranta and Moguzo, Haru is approached by Renji, who started in the same place as their party but has done a lot more in the time they’ve had since. He offers a gold coin (worth 100 silvers) as a “gift” after hearing of Manato’s death. It’s charity, plain and simple, and Haru doesn’t take it. Buying their volunteer army badges with alms won’t help the underlying problems with their party. And it’s up to him to start fixing those problems.

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He begins by waiting for Yume after her evening bath and asking if she’s angry because he hired Mary so quickly without asking her and Shihoru. Yume is troubled for a far more basic reason: they’ve been shut out altogether. Haru, Ranta, and Moguzo were at the tavern when the party of five should have been together. What Yume is upset about is the possibility Haru & Co. weren’t the friends she thought she had, who would be there for each other when things went bad.

Yume grabs Haru and the two embrace for a long time, and soon both are crying in each others’ arms, then calm down and feel more at peace, having finally shared in each other’s grief. Yume points out how good it feels to be held by Haru, which is obviously welcome red meat for shippers like me.

But I like how the two of them confronting the fact they’re not great at expressing their feelings led to doing just that. It’s the kind of scene we see a lot in romantic anime, but rarely is it done so well. The show refused to ignore the lasting impact of their mutual loss or the fact that this is a boy and a girl who are attracted to each other.

It helped Haru to realize that while Manato was integral to the party and will be impossible to fully replace, it was Manato himself who pointed how how he alone would never have been able to do anything without the rest of the party. That means the party, as it is now, with Mary, will be able to move forward, survive, and maybe even thrive. Big props to both Komatsu Mikako and Hosoya Yoshimasa for their passionate performances here.

Of course, when Shihoru spots Haru and Yume in a deeply compromising position, it kinda kills the moment. I would have been fine with the episode simply ending with their embrace, but adding Shihoru and her “misunderstanding” underscores the fact that these five friends need to be honest and open with each other if they’re ever going to find success on the battlefield.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 04

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This week’s HGG starts out gently and quietly, with Manato and Shihoru returning from a dawn errand. Shihoru stops to feed the birds, and invites Shihoru to help. She’s startled by the birds, slips, and falls, but Manato catches her, protecting her from harm.

When she thanks him, he admits how glad he is to be talking with her again. Their interactions speak volumes. Manato is someone Shihoru can relie on to protect her; to catch her if she falls. Little did I know that this would be the last time they’d be alone together.

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Back in the ruined city, Haruhiro reports how each one of the party has gained a new skill, which when combined with their improving teamwork that covers one anothers’ weaknesses, results in a goblin-slaying bonanza; they can now take on three at a time, and are no longer squeamish about finishing off their quarry.

There’s a triumphant tone to this sequence, with our party kicking ass, taking names, and looking good doing it, all to some very upbeat, energetic battle music. The gang is finally getting the hang of it.

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When they settle in for lunch and some rest and relaxation, Yume goes off on a very long tangent about the deity she prays to and offers part of her food in order to keep her safe. The rambling irks Ranta, who wanted her story to have a point, but this is another example of simply passing the time, shooting the breeze, and gradually learning a little more about each other – and themselves; they are still amnesiacs – every day.

The casual joy of the scene is not lost on Manato, who proceeds to praise every other member of the party for their contributions, and how he’s happy they’re become a respectable party due to filling in each other’s gaps. He doesn’t get to talk about Haruhiro, as the party has to move on, but Haruhiro is sure he’ll have any number of chances to ask Manato what he thinks of him. Only, as it happens, he won’t.

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Haru sees a glint from the top of a building, and manages to save Manato from a sniper, taking the arrow in his shoulder. Soon, he gets another in his leg, and all hell breaks loose. Goblins of various sizes and skill sets come out of the stonework and ambush the party, who have to beat a speedy retreat to the forest.

As he runs, Manato, the party’s healer, vanguard, and glue, gets an arrow to the back, which pierces his vitals. He attempts to heal himself, but has lost too much blood, and passes out. Neither stopping the blood nor giving him mouth-to-mouth has any effect.

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His stunned, desperate party members take him to the priests to see what they can do, but there’s nothing they can do. No phoenix down; no Life spells; no respawning. In Grimgar, dead is dead, and that’s what Manato is. Worse, if his remains aren’t properly cared for within three to five days, he may rise as a zombie. Utterly dejected, you can taste the venom in Haru’s mouth as he asks whether the cremation costs money, then categorically rejects the priest’s charity.

What follows is an excruciatingly long and hard few scenes where Haru, Yume, Shihoru, Moguzo and Ranta simply sit or stand around, defeated, filled with grief, as they say goodbye to their friend and the one who bound them all together and never doubted them. In addition to huge holes in their hearts, they now have a gaping hole in their party with no more healer, a stinging irony.

Their first goblin kill was one of the first times we felt along with the party the full weight and stakes and cruel unyielding harshness of the world they now found themselves in without explanation. But Manato’s death was another first, and one that will be far tougher to recover from. There is no rage or talk about revenge in the end; only heartache and anguish.

In the first three weeks of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, we had no shortage of fantasy wrapped in a unique and refreshing realism, with all the horrors and joys of real life. Now, we’ve seen the ash, how far the realism goes, and a major death getting the weight and solemnity it deserves. Now all we can do is wait with nervous apprehension to learn how the party will carry on.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 03

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Grimgar is definitely chugging along at a very deliberate pace, with regular pauses in action and dialogue that are usually employed sparingly if at all in the majority of modern anime. However, so far, that pace working just fine for me, thanks very much!

This is a show that tells you to forget what you know about shows with similar premises and settings. In this show, a very shy girl remains upset about being peeped on for a long time, and when the rain comes, they don’t make any money.

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While the chemistry of the cast as a whole together is still a bit uncertain, it’s the wonderful one-on-one interactions that dot this episode and give it life. Interactions like those between Yume, who sees Shihoru is attracted to Manato, is learning as the days go by that Haruhiro is a nice guy, and is consistently nice to him as a result.

Yume is bad with words, but is still able to communicate that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he saw her naked, as opposed to Ranta, because Haru would apologize properly. Yume wants respect, and Haru offers it without even trying.

The episode also shines in Haru’s narration. This isn’t a party of fighters who are trying to defeat the boss on Level 99; they’re trying to earn enough to afford new underwear.  All that activity, and dampness, is quickly destroying their primative but expensive clothes.

It makes sense that Haru, our narrator and most reliable conduit into this world, is the first to notice that the girls have the same problem as the guys, and are forced to go commando until new skivvies can be procured. He decides not to use this knowledge for evil, steering Ranta away from the girls.

And it’s Yume who helps him make that decision by greeting him warmly rather than suspiciously; Haru doesn’t want there to be further unpleasantness between the genders.

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The rainclouds eventually pass, and once the weather is good, the party strikes out to a city abandoned by humans and now inhabited by goblins, many of whom have been separated from their groups for whatever reason, making them vulnerable. It’s good to see the group getting better at performing their own jobs in addition to working better as a unit (with Manato as their general).

It’s also good to see a follow-up to the party’s thoroughly unpleasant but absolutely essential first kill. It may not be sporting to kill a goblin in their sleep, but they can’t afford new undies, they can’t afford the luxury of sportsmanship, and must put their morals aside for the sake of survival. And as we see (and Haru remarks), it gets easier, and they begin gradually raking in loot.

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Haru worries they’re starting to turn into volunteer soldiers – cold, hardened, singularly obsessed with their own survival – but Manato points out they’re already soldiers. Plus, their well-earned day of rest doesn’t bear out that worry: luxuries like hot food prepared by someone else, or trinkets like hairclips, are still very much appreciated. It just takes less to make them content now.

It’s on the day of rest that Shihoru hides from Manato behind Yume, even though it’s clear she wanted to talk with him. That leads Yume to have a talk with her back home about starting to talk to the boys again; it’s been long enough, and they’ve been good.

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The subtle little romantic subtext in the conversations continues in the boy’s bunks, with a curious mention of Yume’s name by Ranta makes Haru perk up; if the guys and girls pair off, two guys will be left out. Moguzo seems content with cooking and whittling, while Manato and Shihoru seem like a good match.

That leaves Haruhiro, Ranta, and Yume, and while Yume and Ranta aren’t on great terms right now, that doesn’t mean Haruhiro has nothing to worry about. If he doesn’t want to be just a “good friend” to Yume, he’ll have to speak up. At the same time, there’s a possibility Yume likes Manato too, making her and Shihoru rivals. (Of course, this is all conjecture, but all the various interactions and looks and tones by the very good voice cast make it so you can’t help but wonder who likes who and what that will mean to the party as a whole.)

It even looks as if Haruhiro might bring up girls to Manato, but instead simply thanks him for being their leader. For all his eminent competence, Manato doesn’t have a lot of self-esteem, believing his past self wasn’t someone who’d have many friends – perhaps because he’d elicit envy in those not as skilled or handsome as he?

Haru tries to put Manato at ease by saying it doesn’t matter who they used to be. What matters is that they’re all friends here, and after twenty-three days, they’ve managed to not get killed or kill each other … despite the fact that Ranta is a member of their party! That in itself is a minor miracle to be thankful for. Because nothing, not food, not money, not underwear, not tomorrow, can be taken for granted in Grimgar.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 02

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HGG makes another strong case for continued viewing, in an episode that chronicles the trainees’ first kill, what they went through to get it, and what it does to them. Yet we’re not thrown into the heat of an ultimately futile battle like last week. Instead, we get an wonderful scene of Haruhiro and Manato having some tea in the middle of the night, just shooting the breeze.

In the morning, their task would seem easy: for the six of them to take out a single, isolated goblin unaware of their presence. They got the tip about the location thanks to Manato frequenting a tavern (and drinking to make friends and gather intel). What we quickly learn, however, is that even with superior numbers, it isn’t easy to kill the goblin…because as much as they all look the part, nobody has ever killed anything before.

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The goblin isn’t some gamehen or rat, it’s a humanoid biped with clothes, weapons, and formidable combat and survival skills. The long range girls miss their marks while the short-range guys don’t cut deep enough when they get the chance. They only do real damage to the goblin when he stabs Haru in the shoulder and pins him down.

Just when the gang thinks they’ve got the goblin beat, he gets back up and doesn’t stop fighting, despite his injuries. Finally Ranta has to go a little nuts and continually stab the shit out of the goblin until it stopped moving. It’s a gorey, nasty business that has everyone shaking, crying, even fainting, in Shihoru’s case.

This is the gritty realism HGG brings that sets it apart from similar recent fantasy rpg-style anime. There are no gimmies, no lightweight foes, and no victory fanfare. There’s only physical and emotional trauma, along with a wolf fang and a silver coin, enough to keep everyone fed a little while longer.

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Not only that, HGG deals fully with the consequences of the ordeal the trainees had to endure, along with the weight of the knowledge that while it may get easier, this is how it’s always going to be, and it will change them.

After the battle everyone breaks off and simply relaxes in town. There’s no dialogue for the better part of five minutes, only a soothingly bittersweet insert serenade about how it’s going to be alright. As Haru walks about on his own, he sees both joy and despair, and it makes him go check on a brooding Ranta.

Yume has fun shopping with Shihoru, but later she catches Shihoru and Manato looking like the perfect couple, and her face is a mixture of sadness and acceptance. Finally, once Moguzo finishes repairing and cleaning his gear, he whittles an airplane—something from his past life that doesn’t exist in this world—out of wood. That gave me goosebumps.

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The gorgeous, painterly fantasy setting and the bustling town are beautiful and engrossing because they’re basically the same kind of things we can see everyday in our own world, which makes them resonate more. And the day of wandering around, observing others, and pretty much doing and thinking about anything other than slaughtering other living things, has a healing effect on the group.

We return to the straw beds of the guys in the last scene, as it turns out no one is really sleeping. Haruhiro has so many questions for Manato, but nothing comes out, and once Ranta announces he’s going to crash the girl’s bath session (an action that gets him tossed and yelled at by a furious Yume) Haru realizes he doesn’t really need answers from Manato just now, even if he actually had any.

He doesn’t know what will happen tomorrow—it could be better or worse than today—but he and his five companions will learn and draw strength from one another, and face it together. That’s sufficient comfort for him to look forward to tomorrow.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 01 (First Impressions)

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This is a tale of six young people who suddenly find themselves in an RPG fantasy world with no other memories other than their own names. It’s a gorgeous, painterly RPG fantasy world, by the way, rougher in texture but just as lush as Norn9’s setting.

The show quickly separates itself from both SAO and OverLord by maintaining the mystery of what exactly the world of Grimgar is and how everyone got there. It could be an elaborate game or a world as real as the one everyone presumably came from, judging from their normal clothes at the outset.

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There were actually twelve “new entrants” to this world in the beginning, as protagonist (and our guide to what’s going on) Haruhiro harkens back to a couple days ago. Once they learned the rules—join the Volunteer Soldier Squad for Ortana’s Borderland Brigade, and basically root out baddies for cash—the strongest of them, Renji, took the next-five strongest and went their own way, leaving the six least-strongest.

But while the focus is on the “misfit” party, the show doesn’t cartoonishly overplay their incompetence as anything that wouldn’t be natural for any group of kids in their situation. They’re not that good, but they’ve only been at it a few days; they just need to get their bearings.

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The party consists of Haruhiro, who has chosen the role of thief; Ranta, a dark knight who, appropriately, goes on the most rants and is a bit of a self-involved jerk; Yume, an athletic hunter; Moguzo, a big brawny warrior with a gentle, polite personality; Shihoru, a warm but shy mage with a negative body image; and the priest/white mage Manato, who seems the oldest and most mature of the six and their de facto leader.

While it’s a party of clashing personalities (with much of the clashing being done by Ranta) the show is also very delicate and understated (again, aside from Ranta) in how it portrays the little interpersonal conflicts they have. Their mutual amnesia, shared plight and need to work together to maximize resource income, serves as an equalizer.

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Despite each character’s well-worn archetype, the character interaction is this show’s quieter secret weapon, as is its overall restraint. Nobody is too good too fast at what they’re supposed to do, but nor do things get too dangerous too fast. The goblins that are supposedly the weakest enemies to hunt aren’t hunting them.

No one is utterly overwhelmed by the weight of their situation. Everyone tries to keep a cool head and make the best of a very odd but unavoidable situation. The show also uses music and silence effectively. It’s definitely a less-is-more treatment to this kind of show (aside, perhaps from ample fanservice), which serves it well in terms of gently guiding its viewers into its milieu. I’m in, and I like what I see!

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