Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 03

hai31

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.

hai32

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.

hai33

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.

hai34

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.

hai35

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.

8_mag

Advertisements

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 02

hai21

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.

hai22

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.

hai23

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.

hai24

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.

8_mag

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 08

pilot81

As intense and harrowing as the last episode was, it was but the first taste of what was to come this week. We don’t know what’s gotten into this show, but we like it. It brings the hammer down hard on everyone this week, and a ton of characters get knocked off. Last week took a very telegraphed outcome and totally sold it with the execution; this week, the only thing we were relatively sure of is that our main couple would survive; for everyone else—Ariel and Ignacio included—all bets were off.

The sudden assault of Isla by air and land of the mysterious enemy forces with very modern and competitive weaponry causes different reactions in different trainees; some hunker down and rise to the occasion, Mitsuo and Chiharu. Others’ hands shake, or their resolve wavers, and who can blame them? By any measure, they’re not ready for full-on combat against an older, wiser foe. But for the likes of Ari and Kal would rather be unready than dead, and fight their goddamn hearts against dreadful odds.

pilot82

There’s only so much they can do in their training aircraft, and one by one they’re picked off, the show totally uninterested in pulling punches. Before we know it, Kal and Ari are the last ones in the air, surrounded by superior force. And then Ari takes a bullet to the shoulder, and all seems lost. In this moment, Kal starts to lose it, pleading for Ari to wake up, but he doesn’t stop piloting the plane, and doing an incredible job of it. Ultimately, he buys just enough time for a blue fighter to turn up and waste the last of the enemy before disappearing into the night. It may have been a bit of deus ex machina, but it’s a welcome ray of hope in a series that has washed much of its hope away, along with its innocence.

There are allies out here, not just foes. The dogfighting throughout is really riveting, occasionally lyrical stuff (setting aside the fact the enemies don’t have the best aim). Clearly the show had been holding back with its budget for these past two episodes. But most satisfying is that when the spotlight turned back onto Kal, Ari, Claire and Ignacio, they didn’t disappoint in their scenes. Kal and Ari’s sibling interactions during and after the battle were a highlight. Barely surviving a hellish battle in which many of their friends died tends to bring people closer together.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 07

pilot71

It may not have the best production budget, but damn, this show knows what it’s doing, delivering a fiercely emotional, thrilling, heartbreaking outing; the best of its run so far and definitely one of the top ten episodes of the season. Even more impressive is that its quartet of main characters—Kal-el, Ariel, Claire, and Ignacio—were literally on the sidelines the entire time, eager to do their part but barred by orders from ever doing so.

It’s amazing what one episode can do for your opinion of two people, but last week, we really connected with Mitsuo and Chiharu. Of course, we also knew that the fact they were laying the happiness between them on so thick was essentially setting one or both of them up for death. The episode makes no secret of the fact these young lovers could well be doomed. Hell, the title is “A Glorious Death.” Whether it’s Mitsuo or Chiharu or both, someone’s dying. We know, and the show knows we know.

pilot72

But here’s the thing: even with all the telegraphing and death flags, when it actually goes down, it still hits us like a ton of bricks. The show seems to know it was going to do so, and that’s why it was never coy. It did a hell of a job quickly establishing a romance and then snuffing it out in the cruelest way possible. And let’s not beat around the bush: their military superiors fuck up royally. Had Leopold Melze been less of a short-sighted, arrogant fool, Mitty would still be alive. Not to mention de Alarcon and Cervantes don’t even try to tell him how to do his job, even though they both smell an ambush.

The ineptitude of the brass matters not to Mitsuo and Chiharu. When something doesn’t feel right, Mitty tells Chiharu to climb higher. The tiny glimmer in the clouds he spots turns out to be a huge, advanced enemy fleet. Though they’re only trainees, they both realize they have to fire flares at the enemy in order to give their bombers light. They know it could mean their death, but they do their duty anyway. That makes them both heroes, but Mitsuo is simply a little less lucky than the girl he loves, convincing her to eject when he takes a couple bullets.

pilot73

After their plane blows up, Chiharu’s spotted by enemy fighters, and while she hangs there helplessly as they mercilessly bear down on her, our hearts sank as it looked for a moment like the show was going to take her too. She’s only saved because Banderas and Sonia disobeyed orders. She lands softly in the cockpit and collapses into Banderas’ arms, her love gone forever in the blink of an eye. It’s sudden, brutal, and unfair. It’s war.

We can’t overstate how riveting and moving this episode was, highlighting unbridled incompetence at the top of the military ladder, but uncommon greatness at the very bottom. The meekest of the trainees was the one who didn’t waver when it mattered, saving everyone. What’s more distressing is that he only saved them for a time; a massive enemy force is nearing Isla, compelling Kal-El, Ariel, Noriaki and Wolfgang to take off and enter the fray. They have a tough act to follow.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)