SSSS.Gridman – 07 – City in the Sky

While the Gridman Alliance is still in force, neither Rikka nor Shou believe much of what Yuuta tells them about his encounter with the little kaiju girl and Shinjou Akane’s role in creating kaiju and destroying/rebuilding the city. They even break out kimochi warui, a famous line in Evangelion.

Yuuta knows he can only find out what’s up from Akane from Akane herself, but for a number of reasons he just can’t come out and ask her about such things. Anti also invades the school unbidden, accosts Yuuta and tries to make him “bring Gridman” so he can fight him.

Still, when the team meats up at the Junk Shop, Max admits he too saw the girl. Yuuta remains the most logical person to ask Akane, he just has to suck it up and do it. Akane makes it easy for him by being in his bedroom when he gets home, having clearly sensed that he wanted to talk at school.

Akane proposes they join forces, telling him “it will be fun with a god” while rolling around in his bed and cuddling his pillow. Ueda Reina’s lazy yet sensual delivery really pays dividends here, but Yuuta won’t be seduced; he won’t betray his friends.

Trigger then demonstrates Wes Anderson (or perhaps more appropriately, Akiyki Shinbo) levels of precision in an intricately-detailed top-down composition of Rikka reclining in her room, her various belongings strewn about or just off right angles.

I wouldn’t mind having that shot framed and put up in my living room, and it’s just an incidental scene where she gets a call from Namiko and Hass.

Akane and Yuuta go out to eat on Akane’s “friend’s” dime, and somewhat cruelly picks the restaurant of their now-dead classmate. Her friend is Alexis in the flesh (or whatever he’s made of), and he’s nothing but cordial to both Yuuta and the proprietors.

Before any pertinent discussions can take place, Yuuta’s wrist alert thingy goes off. Akane assures him there’s no kaiju out there or she’d know, but there is something out there…a weird alien-like floating ball of red energy with pointy chrome appendages.

Rikka ditches Namiko and Hass (who are taking advantage of her generosity with her notes), while Akane goes out to see what’s up, and for once, the god doesn’t know what’s going on or why.

Yuuta joins Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis, Yuuta merges with Gridman, and they blow up the…whatever. But then it rebuilds itself, gets angry, and starts darting around like a Snitch. Back home, Akane learns that Anti designed the kaiju that’s out there, with Alexis informing her that because Anti hates Gridman more, the kaiju he built is stronger. Akane is not pleased.

Despite not being at all enthusiastic about it, Sky Vitter sorties in order to link up with Gridman and give us one hell of an nighttime aerial battle. There’s a cool contrast in movement between the chunky Sky Gridman and nervously-hyper alien bogey.

Eventually, Sky Gridman soars so high, he hits a ceiling, or rather something that looks like a city in the sky (shades of Patema Inverted). Since Rikka and Shou are watching Yuuta’s progress on the computer, now they believe what he said about there being boundaries to the city.

Also up there is the kaiju “pulling the strings” of the regenerating “snitches”, along with Anti, who quickly transforms into another kaiju. Gridman and Vitter split off, with Gridman cleaving the “puppeteer” kaiju with his sword and Vitter obliterating Anti with missiles.

So Anti fails, and Alexis goes back to Akane, now convinced he needs a “ral human” to make the best kaiju, not just the person who hates Gridman most. (On a side note, Akane’s trash level is really getting out of hand). But there is now a question of whether Akane really wants to kill Yuuta.

If she did, you’d think he’d be dead by now. Maybe she just hasn’t created the right kaiju yet, but between Gridman and his Neon Genesis buddies, Yuuta will always have a fighting chance against whatever Akane can throw at him. It’s been a straight stalemate, with the only gains Akane’s made being the elimination of things in the city she doesn’t like.

But Yuuta knows he can’t keep letting her get away with that. Can she be redeemed, or will the lure of her godlike powers, augmented by Alexis and his constant egging-on, continue to consume her? On top of all that (literally), there’s the mysterious sky city. Here’s hoping we get a closer look at that soon.

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SSSS.Gridman – 06 – The God who Went to a City School

“They shouldn’t be making episodes without kaiju!” proclaims Akane while at the Starbows having coffee with Shou. It’s a meta comment on the episode they’re in, which has no big kaiju battle. The resulting outing is largely a return to the quiet, normal, naturalistic sights and sounds of city life that distinguished the first episode, before All Hell Broke Loose.

And yet, the city always returns to that state after a kaiju battle. None of Yuuta’s classmates remember anything about the battle during their field trip, and because there’s no kaiju battle this week, he, Rikka and Shou are isolated from each other for the bulk of the episode.

Something sticking in Yuuta’s mind is Akane’s words to him, which suggest she has memories of the battles just as he does. He just needs one more push to learn at least some of the truth about her, and he gets that. But not before Akane puts out a hit on Yuuta, telling Anti that the two are one and the same.

The silences in this episode, or rather areas where there’s nothing but ambient sounds, are well-placed, and as such I really felt Rikka’s boredom of lounging around the house then milling through stores on a hot summer day.

It’s clearly a relief to her when she encounters Anti, who is not only hungry but also in great need of a bath. Rikka’s scenes with Anti further establish her as someone kind and generous with a good heart—someone Yuuta shouldn’t be so reticent about talking to.

When he can’t quite approach Rikka to discuss recent events, he tries the junk store, but she’s out. Then he’s confronted in an alley by a small girl who seems to revel in the creepiness of her own voice. She claims to be a kaiju, and grows to the size of a catbus to prove it. She’s not there to fight, but rather to repay Yuuta for something he doesn’t remember doing.

I just got done saying last week that I really don’t mind not having all the answers about what’s going on and why, beyond the fact that Akane makes the kaiju Yuuta fights. But the little stinky kaiju girl gets on a train with Yuuta and proceeds to provide some answers.

The city in which Yuuta lives is essentially ruled by Akane, whose lonely heart is being used by the outrageous-looking being we know as Alexis. Thus she creates kaiju who then go on rampages, constantly knocking down and remaking the city into something of a kaiju itself, while eliminating people or things she simply doesn’t like.

Beyond the confines of the city is a great fog, and then nothing, the kaiju continues. Thus, Akane is basically the city’s god, deciding what exists, stays, or goes. But because Akane is hurting and killing people, Yuuta knows what he has to do, which I imagine means confronting her soon.

In addition to ordering Anti to kill Yuuta, Akane ends up running into Shou at the bookstore, and then having coffee. He sole reason for interacting with him is to gather more info on Yuuta, just in case Anti didn’t fully understand her orders and fails. The thing is, Shou eventually catches on that Akane has no real interest in him, and stays loyal to Yuuta by saying nothing.

As for Anti, who now has a full belly and is squeaky clean thanks to Rikka’s kindness, he finally locates Yuuta and attacks him, only to be deflected by the members of Neon Genesis, whom we’ve seen lurking on the episode’s periphery the whole time, keeping an eye the Gridman Alliance.

When trouble comes in the form of Anti, they’re ready, not just with weapons, but words: If you kill Yuuta, you will never be able to defeat Gridman. That’s enough to get Anti to retreat. Akane’s words ultimately weren’t convincing enough for him to go against his primary directive, just as her charm wasn’t enough to get any info from Shou.

Those two failures belong to Akane this week, and while they’re not as big or flashy as the defeat of her various kaiju in the past weeks, they are defeats nevertheless that add to her frustration and rage, which Alexis is only too happy to exploit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Akane gets to work on a new kaiju design, which Lex will then embiggen so it can wreak havoc and challenge Gridman anew.

As for Yuuta, after a long, weird day of learning some truths, he ends up back at the junk store to brief Gridman on the computer (which the store bought back). There, to his relief and joy, are Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis.

Akane may be using her godlike powers to change almost everything, but the bonds Yuuta has formed with his friends and allies remain, and they look to be ready for whatever their opponent throws at them next.

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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