I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any show like Grimgar. It’s supposedly set in a virtual fantasy world, but the word “game” was only mentioned in passing in the premiere episode. The characters acquire archetypal fantasy combat roles but are comically bad at their responsibilities. Our protagonists are so financially bereft that they don’t even have clean, functional underwear. Grimgar seems like a stereotypical action fantasy, but it’s really more of slice-of-life fantasy that is remarkably grounded in reality.
I also can’t get through a single episode without having my breath taken away by Grimgar’s incredible art and animation. Grimgar really doesn’t hold back with its scenic, far-angled shots, and whether they’re showing views of a bustling marketplace, a rugged deserted town, a stew boiling over in scorching hot pot, or the perennial sunset — there’s an amazing level of detail that adds so much depth and breadth to an already fascinating world.
But beyond Grimgar’s scenic artistry, I’ve been more impressed with how they’ve been able to mold their animation to visually depict character and story. Both episodes were chock full of subtle character moments expressed through their movements and mannerisms, but my favorite scene of both episodes was when the team killed their first goblin. The scene started out pretty comically with the team being completely ineffective at hitting their target, but things got dark really quickly as the reality of having to kill another living being for their own survival began to sink in.
The little details here just worked — the shaking shot of Haruhiro’s bloody, trembling hands, the goblin’s hand falling like a dead leaf as its life left its dying body, watching the goblin attempt to escape through the pursuing Ranta’s eyes, the team’s horrified expressions as Ranta repeatedly stabbed his prey — the scene hit home the visceral feelings of fear, bloodlust, and guilt that comes with killing a living being, which I don’t think I’ve seen in any anime of a similar genre.
In the aftermath, the gang wandered through their local town’s market, trying to clean themselves of the blood their first kill while taking in Grimgar’s scenic views. In the end, it was just Haruhiro and gang trying make sense of the only world that they can remember, and we the audience were watching them move about their lives like a fly on a wall.
I think Grimgar’s greatest strength has been its ability to continuously draw out realism and relatability from overused plot fluff and potentially banal narratives. I groaned out loud when Ranta attempted to peep on the girls in the bathhouse, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that his actions had actual repercussions on the gang’s team dynamics.Pervy boys and bathhouses are two of anime’s most trite story devices, but I’ve never seen them used in any context besides comedy or fanservice. Ranta’s refusal to apologize and Yume’s loud indignation were completely in character, and their negative feelings spill over to the rest of the gang was a very realistic follow-up.
Grimgar also does especially well in relating the moods of its characters to the mood of the story — Haruhiro and the gang’s gloomy dispositions were matched by their dismal hunting results. Then we got to see something else that we definitely don’t see in an anime of this genre: the problem of finances. Yet again, it was the little worldly interactions and realistic character moments that made this work so well. Haruhiro celebrating over a new pair of bargain underwear, Ranta and Moguzo haggling with market vendors over fresh produce, Manato suggesting that they invest their money into improving their skills instead of spending more on day-to-day amenities — it’s world-building at its finest and I am finding it enormously gratifying.
Following their dry spell, the gang manages to make their second kill by scouting out a deserted town and looking for goblins who had gotten separated from their troop. And I liked how it was still a struggle for them — they couldn’t face more than two goblins in a single battle, and their second kill was almost as bloody as the first — the sense of realism is genuine and it makes me want to root even more for this struggling band of misfits.
Random character observations:
- I made an effort to learn the names of the six main characters, which is a testament to how well Grimgar has managed to make them endearing despite them starting out as stock characters.
- Ranta is still an annoying prick, but his reactions in the aftermath of his first kill was as human as they come.
- The interactions between Manato and Shihoru were completely accessible, despite not hearing a word pass between them. That’s some pretty good visual storytelling.
- Manato self-imposed responsibility as leader seems to stem from his somewhat cyclic belief that others rarely see him as a friend but as a leader.
- I’m hoping for more brotherly conversations between Manato and Haruhiro. Their conversations in these two episodes were insightful and understated, and I liked how they talked about their day, just like how any two guy friends would, after a long day at work, over drinks at a bar.
- Yume’s mini-monologue about whether she would have felt better if Haruhiro was the one who peeped after he gave a sincere apology was an insightful moment for both characters.
- Moguzo got the least character development in these two episodes, but I can appreciate that we got to see him in his element in the kitchen.
- Ranta wondered out loud if Yume would like Moguzo’s wood carving, which Haruhiro immediately was observant of.
Other random observations:
- Nothing says slice-of-life like pop-folksy-sounding insert songs that play while the characters go about their daily business.
- Fanservice was thankfully kept at a bare minimum, with nothing more gratuitous than quick panning shots of Yume’s behind. Meanwhile, Manato was looking pretty darn good in that tight-fitting black top, so at least Grimgar is still keeping its fanservice on equal terms for viewers of both sexes.
- Yes, there were sneaky shots of both Yume and Shihoru from Haruhiro’s perspective. But I’m a little more willing to let it slide since we were viewing it from a sexually curious teenager’s eyes.
- We don’t actually know the ages of any of the main six, so assuming that they’re teenagers might a complete mistake on my part.