With all the good anime that I’ve mentioned over the years, of course there are bad ones. For every ERASED, there’s a Hundred. For every Re:ZERO, there’s a Big Order. For every My Hero Academia, there’s a GATE: JSDF. It’s thankfully easier to come across some great anime in recent memory, but bad anime still tend to follow behind it. In one instance, we have an anime from Winter 2016, known as Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. On paper, this anime is certainly not very good. Technical-wise, the watercolor backgrounds are distracting, the occasional CG effects to move the background are sometimes janky, and there are a lot of animation bloopers. The fight scenes are bizarrely directed, and perspective and position often switch in between the fight with no real choreographed transition. One of the only plot twists is dragged out far more than it needed to, and some of the narrative suffered as a result. There’s some misplaced fanservice, and not a whole lot of logical pacing when it comes to fight scenes and time-lapses. There’s quite a lot of problems with it. But if that’s the case, why the hell do I find myself loving this anime so much? My other articles describe in-depth reasoning why I like or dislike something, but now I find myself in the conundrum of loving something that is kind of not good.
In order to dive into the reasons I love it, I’ll give a short synopsis on the anime. Grimgar is yet another regular person/people warped to a fantasy/video-game world, but the concept is presented slightly differently this time. When everyone warps to that world, they have no clue where they came from originally, only remembering their names and occasionally remembering a technological device from the real world just through muscle memory. Also different is that a fairly large group is warped to this location, but the reason isn’t known, and unfortunately not explained in season 1’s run. The characters we follow consist of 7 characters, Haruhiro, Yume, Shihoru, Ranta, Manato, Moguzo, and Mary, the last of whom isn’t introduced until halfway through the run. Their only real job is to survive. Not really to find out where they came from, or even find some ultra-powerful demon to defeat, just living in this new world.
This laidback plot is actually one of the reasons I like it. The characters select the guilds they want to partake in, and get certain abilities as they level up. It’s as video-gamey as you can get without actually being a video game. Coming from the epics that generate every season that have some worldwide disaster going on and the only one who can stop it is a teenage boy and his well-endowed female companion, this type of plot is something I can appreciate. They do face the threat of death, something that is heavily inferred on later in the season, but there’s just this sense of hominess and relaxation. I like the epic storylines that have philosophical battles and really great action scenes, but Grimgar is peppered with scenes that don’t really go anywhere in terms of plot, they just illustrate their day-to-day lives in this fantasy world. It’s one of the aspects I felt was missing from Sword Art Online, and a plot point they horribly under-utilized, which was the general society that was generated from that torturous scenario. Despite the constant idea of dying, Grimgar very rarely gets to the point where they must urgently complete a task or conduct a full-scale assault on a supposed Baddy McBadPants. Often times, scenes have the direction of the group just scrapping enough money to get by. Most episode plots consist of their shabby living quarters and making enough money from enemy loot to upgrade. Though, critically speaking, this can lead to a very loose plot that just decides to end whenever the biggest battle ends, and that is mostly what happens. There is no real objective holding this series together, but the thing that holds it together is the characterization.
In terms of actual character development, there isn’t anything here that’s necessarily out of the ordinary. Characters don’t go through a whole lot of changes, and one drastic change to the whole team ends up taking up half the plot as its own little web of problems to deal with. But what saves it is how everyone interacts with each other. Despite having a relatively standard cast, the chemistry between everyone is something genuine. Even though they were literally thrown into a world with little explanation, they all put themselves in a position that they’re good at. This only improves upon itself with the mid-season upset that changes the whole dynamic of the group, although as I said before they use a lot of the later plot for this specific event. After the upset, the whole group is disheveled for a long time, they can’t find a reason to work as smoothly as before, and the whole series turns from a rather laidback form of fantasy fighting into a slightly more grim theme. Again, this is expanded on far too much than I would’ve liked, as it’s mentioned again and again far after the event is over. Nonetheless, it was a great catalyst to send the casual and easygoing group into temporary chaos. Not to mention, the (arguably) main character Haruhiro doesn’t send out a pulse to every female character within his vicinity that causes them to have the inexplicable urge to get in his pants. The romantic angle is actually rather light, only mentioned as a joke by Ranta and subtly between Shihoru and Manato in the first half of the season. But the most important thing is that they all feel like main characters. Each of them has a stance on something, and each of them have their own pluses and minuses. Each character has at least one scene where they put their foot down and voice their concerns. It doesn’t feel like the Haruhiro and Friends Show, it feels like an actual group working together. In fact, Haruhiro is often not a very good combatant, nor is he a very outgoing person. He’s pretty much at the same level of skill as everyone else. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend too far into the other groups besides the main one. Scantily are they ever seen, but there are some instances, especially after the mid-season upset, where the other groups are less of the two-bit obnoxious rival stereotype and more of a reminder that they’re all stuck in the same crappy situation.
One of the biggest points of contention for series like this is the setting, and for some reason I find myself liking Grimgar’s more than others. Some of that may have to do with the choice of background style, which consists of sketchy, soft linework and watercolor. While sometimes this is a bit distracting, the characters never look too out of place since their color palettes usually consist of softer tones, unlike in Handa-kun where they decided to make every important character have a thick black outline as opposed to the extras’ outline of beige. It also has to do with the general tone of the show. Most scenes consist of homey and comfortable scenes of dialogue. Since the backgrounds are almost strictly soft, it lets the viewer calm down a bit and just relax. There’s a bit of a Mediterranean feel to the village they reside in, which lends even more to the relaxation you feel. This may unfortunately cause a bit of strangeness when there’s blood and action going on in front of a very light and peaceful background, but I see it as a nice contrast. I’ve never been too much of a fan of lighting that changes inexplicably between shots, so this consistency allows some level of authenticity, at least in my book. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, granted, but it’s just a feeling I felt when I was watching it. But there still exists the problem of the action scenes. Most of the time you have fairly standard scenes, but sometimes the flow of the battle will drastically swap between combatants with little warning. What I mean is that there are times where the hero goes in for the final kill, only to get flipped about and now have a knife at his neck within a half-second period. There’s also a problem of the animation not holding up, as certain characters won’t seem to have a fixed position on the animation field even though they’re supposed to. It’s something that’s really hard to describe, but watching it just gives this general feeling of confusion. So unlike the other aspects that can be seen as bad but I can see as good, this is one where it just looks awkward.
Grimgar is definitely one of those anime that, from a technical and critical standpoint, isn’t all that special. The standards for what an anime series should have aren’t really met in this instance. The animation is sometimes weak, the aesthetic can be distracting, and when the mid-season upset comes, they really try to milk it. But despite its glaring flaws, it’s something I can’t help but love. The characterization is top-notch, the aesthetic gives a very calm and peaceful mood, and the mid-season upset did change the dynamic of the plot and wasn’t wholly ignored. It’s both forgettable and impressionable, both ugly and beautiful, both flat and dynamic, both confusing and enjoyable. It’s probably the only anime where I have such a conflicting opinion with myself about it. As a critic, it’s not something to wholly recommend. But that doesn’t mean its hope is lost. If you can look past the oddly-directed fight scenes, the strange background design, and the dragging out of the mid-season upset, then it’s something that’s special. I ended up really liking it, and every now and again I’ll try to find out when season 2 is coming, if it ever will. But I really want it to, as Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is somehow, someway an anime that I really, really enjoyed. I just don’t know why.