One of the main criticisms I’ve been reading about Grimgar has been the pacing, and comments have ranged from “leisurely” to “humdrum” and “tedious”. Even I have to admit (although I personally think that pacing’s been perfect) Grimgar’s story has been a slow-burning one. But the slow pacing hasn’t been without purpose; Grimgar has taken its time to set up its deceptively dangerous world, as well as the six main characters who have become much more endearing over the past few episodes. And it’s because of the careful, deliberate, measured pacing of Grimgar’s first three episodes that the current episodes hit as hard as they did. We may have only known Manato for three episodes, but his death and aftermath hit all the emotional targets only because we’d seen how important of a person he was to his friends.
I didn’t see Manato’s death coming at all, mainly because I wasn’t thinking that Grimgar was going to be that kind of show. But in retrospect, Grimgar has spent a good amount of time showing that the goblins are much more dangerous than once thought, and Haruhiko’s team hasn’t exactly been a model of combat competency. Even Manato’s role as healer puts him as the most consistently vulnerable member of the team. The dangers were well-established — it shouldn’t come as a shock that someone would eventually be mortally wounded. But as Haruhiro put it:
This has to be a mistake. Yes, we let our guard down a little bit back there. But… but, we managed to scrape by today, too. And Manato… Manato said that it was scary and dangerous, and together we thought about how we could do better. And that if we can overcome this, we can keep moving forward. And then we can… continue again… tomorrow –
It’s true that the team’s been barely surviving by their mediocre skills and whatever teamwork they’d been able to muster. They’d shown slow but steady improvement — even leveling up on some new skills — but their battle inexperience and naiveté caused them to take their luck for granted. Manato’s death was sudden, shocking, swift, and a complete game-changer, and it now forces the team he left behind to fend without his empathy and leadership. Up till this point, Grimgar had been coming across as a character-driven fantasy slice-of-life, but it now crosses over to darker territory with the death of an important character.
I’ve cried many tears of rapture over Grimgar’s art and animation, but Grimgar somehow stepped up its game even more in these two episodes — the shimmering lights and blinking shadows in the forest as Manato lay dying at his desperate friends’ feet, the sun in the blood-soaked sky going down over Manato’s lifeless body in the high priest’s temple, and the dingy, stifling chatter of the watering hole where Manato used to spend time gathering intelligence — the animation could easily have overwhelmed the moment of Manato’s death, but instead provided a subdued spectacle of his friends’ grief and mourning.
Grimgar’s world is a cruel one, and we were reminded of it even more in the aftermath of Manato’s passing. His cremation cost a fair amount of money, and the team is forced to go back to goblin hunting with a replacement priestess and healer. Mary is the complete opposite of Manato in terms of personality — aloof, blunt, and uncooperative, and while Haruhiro tries valiantly to step in as leader, but Mary’s contrary nature and his team’s deteriorating teamwork only reminded him of his incompetence. Some form of blame was inevitable, and it was fitting that Ranta, the most unrestrained member of the team, would accuse Haruhiro of indirectly causing Manato’s death. From an objective standpoint, Manato indeed might have been able to save himself from his mortal injuries if he hadn’t used his energy to heal Haruhiro’s more minor wounds. But thinking about what might have been has never done anyone good, and watching both Ranta and Haruhiro nearly come to blows as they succumbed to their anguish and guilt was painful to watch. Moguzo remained the most steadfast member of the team, forcibly reminding them that fighting was futile, even amidst as his own anger and grief. As for Shihoru, the scene of her sitting in a bathtub, staring blankly at a wall, then at her knees, spoke more of her feelings and mental state than any monologue could.
But it was that final scene with Haruhiro and Yume that fully epitomized the feelings of guilt, blame, loss that had driven the team apart. Haruhiro, still overwhelmed with guilt and self-doubt, had failed to consult Yume and Shihoru before inviting Mary to the team and believed that his actions had pushed them away. But Yume’s frustration had less to do with Mary, and more to do with the guilt that each of team was keeping to themselves. As she exclaimed:
I’m bad at sharing how I feel. And Shihoru can’t even talk to you guys properly!
Out of everyone, Haruhiro’s remorse may have been the most extreme, which stemmed from both his guilt as the indirect cause for Manato’s death and his inability to succeed as leader in Manato’s place. He was so caught up in his own regret and remorse that he forgot that the others might also be going through the same emotions. But Yume puts him in his place:
So it’s everybody’s fault! It’s not just one person’s fault. It’s everybody’s. It’s not just your fault, right? Because we’re friends. The six of us were all friends. Am I the only one who thought that? Have I been wrong this whole time?
And he finally realizes that the key to Manato’s leadership didn’t just come from himself; it came from the contributions of everyone else on his team. Manato was a great leader and friend because he truly valued the personalities and skills of everyone on his team. So Manato’s death was never the fault of just one member of his team; his entire team contributed to his death. Haruhiro completely breaks down when he finally realizes this, and the scene between Haruhiro and Yume is one of the most vulnerable, tender, and natural moments of the series so far.
Meanwhile, we finally get to see what happened to other amnesiacs who’d briefly appeared in the first episode. Unsurprisingly, Haruhiro and team are just really bad at their jobs, as we find out that soldiers like Renji and Kikkawa have already been promoted to full-time volunteer soldiers. At this point, Kikkawa is just an annoying fool, but Renji is more of a question mark — his gold-coin donation to Haruhiro could just as easily be interpreted as an act of charity or an act of supercilious disdain. Mary, on the other hand, is presented as a much more intractable personality — it’s not hard to see why other teams would choose not to work with her, but it’s also difficult for her to fit into a group that just lost one of its own. Mary also seems to be an astute but opinionated strategist; her refusals to fight on the front lines and to heal Ranta’s surface wounds were decisions that might have saved Manato’s from his own mortal injuries if he had chosen to take them. Manato had never hesitated to put himself at risk for the safety and well-being of his teammates, but his choices cost him in the long run; whereas Mary seems to have the bigger picture in context — she refuses to overexert herself in battle in case anyone on the team sustains more serious injuries. If her transition to the team is handled with the same grace as its story, world-building, and character development, Grimgar will continue to be one of the best and most satisfying shows of the season.
Other random thoughts:
- When Manato started complimenting everyone on their battle skills and personalities, I could see the death flags being raised faster than an S.O.S. from a sinking ship.
- The goblins that killed Manato were definitely deadlier and cleverer than anything they’d faced before, which certainly begs the question that’s been at the back of my mind since the first episode: how much of a civilized society do the goblins inhabit within Grimgar’s universe?
- Kikkawa has overtaken Ranta as the most annoying character. Or perhaps we’ve just gotten more used to Ranta’s rambunctious behavior?
- Can we chalk up Kikkawa reaction to Manato’s death as drunken insensitivity? Or do volunteer soldiers die more often than Haruhiro and gang realize? Moguzo’s surprised reaction to learning that priests are the most vulnerable soldiers in the battlefield was a pretty telling sign.
- The new skills info-dump scene was the most verbose and game-like Grimgar has been with its world-building so far.
- I’ve probably raved way too much on the exemplary animation, but the facial animation for these two episodes was truly outstanding.
- I’m starting to wonder how much of Grimgar is real versus virtual. If they are indeed trapped in a virtual world, does Manato’s death also mean his death in the real world?
- Some of the more intimate scenes with Haruhiro, Yume, and Shihoru could have gotten real lascivious, so credit to Grimgar for keeping things tasteful and subdued.
- The sunrise scene with Manato and Shihoru at the start of the fourth episode was Grimgar at its understated best.