TenSura – 04 – Shelter, Clothes, and Elves

After Ranga assures Rimuru that he harbors no grudge against him (being given a name counts for a lot in this world), His small band of wolves and goblins races to the dwarven city of Dwargon, where Rimuru hopes to find some cute and/or sexy elves.

Only he and Gobta (the only goblin who didn’t evolve) join the queue that leads through the gates, but they’re quickly harrassed by bullies. Rimuru transforms into a storm wolf but his foes have a whole party of various jobs who attack him all at once…to no effect. Rimuru counterattacks with Menace, and causes a lot more collateral damange than he intended.

For that, he and Gobta are granted entry into the city…’s jail. However, when the warden needs potion after an emergency in the mines, Rimuru fills an entire barrel with the stuff, saving the warden’s three best friends and earning him an early release.

From there, the warden takes him to his brother Kaijin’s blacksmith’s shop. Kaijin has fallen behind on an unreasonable longsword order, but once again Rimuru provides what is needed: first refined magisteel, and then nineteen perfect copies of the one sword Kaijin has completed.

Rimuru and the dwarves celebrate by paying a visit to a kind of elven hostess club, where they’re surrounded by beauties. Oh, and it would seem Rimuru will get the know-how he needs to shelter and clothe his  (hob)goblin village. Everything is looking up!…but for the ominous planting of a boot outside the club. Could it be somebody strong enough to make Rimuru to break a sweat?

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TenSura – 03 – Making Goblinville Great

Rimuru’s time as an OP Slime continues to go quite well. After healing all the goblins injured from wolf attacks with the potions within him, he gets the others to build fences and prepare defenses. When the direwolf pack arrives with a full head of steam, Rimuru is ready for them with “Steel Thread.” When their leader fights through it he gets caught in “Sticky Thread”, and Rimuru beheads him with Water Blade, then uses Predator to absorb his abilities. Mimicking a direwolf, he gets the rest of the pack to yield. Victory!

With both a village of goblins and a pack of direwolves at his command, Rimuru learns that none of them have names. He begins to name them all, starting with the goblins, unaware that “naming” a monster as low-level as a goblin takes up magicules. Soon he’s depleted, and must enter Sleep Mode for three days. When he awakens, to his surprise both the male and female goblins have evolved into larger, stronger, more human (read:sexier) forms, a direct effect of naming them.

While he was only able to name one Direwolf before passing out, because they function as a single unit, they all evolved along with their new leader, Ranga, whose tendency to eagerly whip his tail into a whirlwind is never not amusing. With everyone bigger and better, Rimuru lays down three rules: Don’t attack humans, don’t fight amongst one other, and don’t belittle other races.

He also learns that they’re not that great at building shelter or making clothes, and so on the now-swole elder Rigurd’s advice, he decides to take a delegation of goblins and wolves and journey to the Dwarven city of Dwargon, where he’ll find builders and tailors with which to trade.

Upon leaving the cave I’m sure Rimuru didn’t think he’d be in the position he is now, or with the responsibilities with which he finds himself. However, he also seems to be enjoying himself and the unexpected effecrts of his actions. And if he’s also doing a pretty good job, why stop now?

TenSura – 02 – A Slimy New Hope

When some initial attempts to free Veldora the Storm Dragon fail, Satoru decides to envelop him in his stomach, but not before they give each other names: with Satoru being named Rimuru Tempest and the dragon Veldora Tempest. It works: the dragon is no longer a prisoner of the spell, but nor does he have physical form anymore. Rimuru, however, knows he’s in there somewhere.

For the next few weeks Rimuru sets to work gaining new skills, some of which he gains just by performing a new task; some of which he takes from the various beasts he defeats. It’s a very procedural sequence but it’s well-paced and always satisfying when he slays a new foe with the skills of the previous one.

In this way he gathers quite a bit of power, and eventually reaches the front door of the cave, which to his surprise opens to reveal three human adventurers. Rimuru slips out without them noticing, and the “disappearance” of Veldora changes the balance of power in the entire region.

For instance, Rimuru assumes Veldora, or at least his power, kept direwolves away from a village of (non-rapey!) goblins, whom are extremely frightened of the slime due to the intense magical aura he’s emitting. It seems even sealed away Veldora cast a big shadow in the area.

Rimuru hears out the goblin elder and decides to help out, considering how hopeless their fight is (there are only 60 goblins to 100 wolves, each of which requires an average of ten goblins to defeat, so they’re at least 940 short). In exchange, the villagers offer him their undying loyalty.

And so, not long after befriending and then absorbing a tsundere storm dragon, the Slime has now become a goblin leader. Never a dull moment here on TenSura.

Tensei shitara Slime Datta Ken – 01 (First Impressions) – Slime Meets Storm Dragon

To be more precise: 37-year-old virgin is stabbed to death in random act of Tokyo street violence, is unexpectedly reincarnated as a slime in some random cave, and then meets the storm dragon. Thus begins the Fall 2018 season: with a very odd and unique premise that could prove to be an interesting variation on the “Awakening in a New Fantasy World” genre.

The bluish slime is the former Mikami Satou, who was meeting a kohai’s girlfriend for the first time when said stabbing occured. Up until that point he’d lived the most normal life a 37-year-old who’d never had a girlfriend could live.

So it stands to reason suddenly waking up as a ball of plant-and-crystal-dissolving slime would represent a serious game change.

And it’s definitely a game change, as in normal life changing into a game-like fantasy world in which an echo-y female voice is constantly keeping the former Satoru informed on what skills he’s amassing as he performs certain actions or becomes aware of certain things.

He eventually encounters the storm dragon Verudora, who was sealed and imprisoned in the cave by some kind of elite mage called a “summon” over three centuries ago. Verudora is a bit bemused by the fact a slime is self-aware and can talk, but he’s not picky about company.

Indeed, he’s desperately bored and in need of a friend. The funny thing is, he ends up being quite amusingly tsundere-y about it, before acknowledging Satoru the Slime as his first friend and conversation partner in a long, long time.

We’ll see where things go from here, but it’s a good start, keeping things basic and giving us time to get used to the surroundings and rules of the world. And if I hold onto this show, it will be the only non-sequel / spinoff / carryover I’ll be watching.

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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Musaigen no Phantom World – 04

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It’s very appropriate that this week’s episode of Phantom World begins with a binge session at a restaurant, as it’s Restaurant Week here and I just got back from stuffing myself. The episode then transforms into an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of whimsy focused on the show’s resident eating champion, Izumi Reina.

After dinner, she splits from Haru and Mai and ends up boarding a very unusual bus that takes her…somewhere. Our first go-round with the process is very mysterious, because one minute she’s boarding the bus, the next, she’s outside the front gate of her house. The next morning, Koito (Hi Koito!) confesses to witnessing the whole thing, determining that Reina is possessed by a phantom.

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That assertion proves very true when Haruhiko boards the bus with Reina next time. She’s totally out of it, as if hypnotized, but he’s lucid as the bus transports them, in a sequence that (not accidentally) owes much to the train journey in Spirited Away, to another place; an idealized storybook home complete with adorable bunny caricatures of Reina’s parents (who are a lot stricter in real life.)

As is usually the case in scenarios such as this, eating the food is a bad idea, but Haruhiko realizes this too late, and grows his own bunny ears and a pastel texture to his character design that indicates he’s been “taken” by this place. He acts out Reina’s fantasy as his big brother, until the fantasy breaks and the two are back at the front of her real house, with her real father wanting to know who Haruhiko is. Reina sends him home, promising to explain everything later.

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Turns out Mai reminds Reina very strongly of her real big sister, who got tired of their parent’s tightassery and flew the coop. So after Haruhiko fails miserably in trying to sketch-seal the bus the next time (he’s still under the phantoms’ influence), Mai and Ruru board with Haruhiko and Reina, and end up in the fantasy world with them. Ruru, who is unaffected by the food, ends up accidentally gives Mai a taste, thus bewitching her too.

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It’s not until Haruhiko goes to the bathroom of all things, that he snaps out of it; I imagined the food he ate was the cause of the hypnosis, and when he shat it out, the effects dissipated. He refers to the bathroom as a portal between the real and unreal, or some such. In any case, he takes a chance and ends up successfully snapping Reina out of it by hugging her, a gesture that always elicits a reaction in the form of a martial arts throw.

Once she’s lucid, watching the still-bewitched Mai interact with her “phantom parents” Reina realizes the phantoms fed on her desire for her family to be whole again, creating a world where she could live happily ever after even without that sister.

When the phantoms tell her to make a choice, Haruhiko beseeches her to stay in the world in which she belongs, so she can be there if and when her sister returns home. Reina chooses to reject the phantom world and stay strong beside her senpais. All in all, a very lush, atmospheric episode with heavy Ghibli influence, which taught us a little more about Reina. Though we still don’t know where all that food she eats goes…

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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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