‘So Mary, what did you eat for breakfast?’
– Mary hates morning small talk
After turning up the emotional heat the past two weeks, Grimgar cools off a little this episode as it tried to figure out the mystery of Mary, whom Haruhiro and team are still struggling to welcome into their tight-knit family. We never actually got inside Mary’s head — instead, Grimgar chose to frame her character from the viewpoints of Haruhiro and company, which gave the audience the chance to figure Mary out on their own.
One thing is clear — Mary is definitely not an easy person to work with. She shuts down all attempts at small talk, lashes out at poor Haruhiro (when the only person she really should have yelled at was Ranta), and refuses to acknowledge anyone on her new team unless prodded or provoked. That’s not to say she isn’t a team player — she protects Shihoru when the team was ambushed, willingly heals most wounds at the end of battles, and is more than capable of fighting on the front lines if necessary. That being said, the reveal of Mary’s backstory was uncharacteristically abrupt for Grimgar’s standards, and even her history was about as predictable and clichéd as you would expect for the stock unemotional-but-actually-disconsolate character like Mary. Her backstory made perfect narrative sense with her present character, but the emotional payoff wasn’t quite there; unlike what Grimgar had done with Manato in the episodes before his death, Grimgar hadn’t given us enough time to spend with Mary before throwing in a tragic backstory designed to have us empathize with her current state of mind.
In past episodes, Haruhiro’s voiceover was used primarily as a convenient world-building tool, but this week his voice served more as a look into his own psyche than just exposition. Haruhiro is still trying to figure out his new role as team leader, and his observations of his teammates’ moves in combat were more about his growing awareness of his own responsibilities than actual tactical inspection. But his internal frustrations at communicating with Mary, and his imaginary conversation with Manato, also show how insecure he continues to feel in his new role. Haruhiro continues to, and probably always will, live in the shadow of the legacy that Manato left for him. Unlike Manato, who voluntarily took on the role of leader because it was a natural fit for him, that same role was forced upon Haruhiro’s shoulders, and there wasn’t even any discussion among the team as to whom would take over Manato’s mantle after his passing. Manato’s greatest strength as leader was his constant appreciation for his individual teammates, but that was also his greatest weakness — he was always too selfless, too willing to play the martyr, too happy to shoulder any load that ought to have been shared among his team. Communication is a two-way street, and while Manato’s altruism seemingly prevented him from sharing whatever he felt might be an unnecessary burden for his team, Haruhiro and crew certainly also took much of his natural leadership for granted.
When Haruhiro asked his team whether they’d be willing to come with him to inquire Orion Clan about Mary, it was an important first step in implementing two-way, empathetic communication within his new team. Like when he had his epiphany in the rain, Haruhiro realizes that the team’s welfare should be the responsibility of the entire team; it shouldn’t be the de facto responsibility of the team’s leader. Haruhiro, and Yume and Shihoru to an extent, also acknowledged that their less-than-friendly welcome to Mary might have made it difficult for her to fit in, and by the end of their third mission together, Haruhiro decides to talk to Mary, not as a team member, but as a friend, and that almost made the difference in breaking down her stoic façade. These understated, intimate scenes are Grimgar at its best — the awkward pauses in conversation, interspersed with the expressive facial animation — Grimgar knows how to use these natural, realistic moments to really sell its characters’ thoughts and feelings.
As for the rest of the team, it was good to see the boys being more inclusive by inviting the girls to join them at the tavern, although it probably wasn’t necessary to emphasize their innocence by putting comically shocked expressions on their faces. Yume remains the most vocally empathetic person in the group, sticking up for Mary and giving her the benefit of the doubt even when Mary’s behavior was consistently aloof, and even Moguzo and Shihoru are starting to speak up a little more. Ranta, on the other hand, reverts back to being nothing more than painfully insufferable, and even though his combative reactions to Mary’s prickly behavior is somewhat understandable, his repeatedly sexist remarks aren’t doing him any favors. I think Grimgar’s writers have somehow deluded themselves into thinking that Ranta is the show’s comic relief, which would work if his behavior didn’t come off as obnoxious and borderline misogynistic. The strange thing is that Grimgar has had actual success in humanizing Ranta, especially after his first goblin kill in the second episode, so it’s unfortunate that Grimgar keeps portraying Ranta as the stereotypical big-mouthed and ribald character who gets away with saying offensive things. Trying to play off Ranta’s continuously derogatory remarks about Yume’s body as harmless comedy is unnerving in its blatant sexism, and Grimgar’s credibility really suffers for it despite its many other technical and storytelling virtues. Perhaps it’s because Haruhiro, Moguzo, and Shihoru all seem to be beta personalities, but their lack of retaliation (especially Haruhiro — his observation that Yume isn’t actually that flat-chested isn’t even a defense) speaks more about the mindset of the writing team than the characters themselves.
Even though this is the most misgivings I’ve had with Grimgar since its premiere episode, it was still a pretty strong offering — I hadn’t realized twenty minutes had gone by until the end credits started rolling. Now that the team has some insight into Mary’s backstory, we can expect to see some heartfelt scenes as Mary continues to be incorporated into the team. I’m also hoping that she’ll be the first character to give Ranta a good ass-kicking, because it’s a good lesson in sexism that Grimgar really needs right now.
Other random observations:
- Mary has been added to the OP sequence; interestingly, Manato wasn’t removed.
- The new OP sequence is fanservice on fleek. For some inexplicable reason, all the characters are dressed in tights, and maunder around in compromising positions as the camera pans (in close-up, of course) up and down their bodies. At least the camera focused on the boys’ muscular frames as much as it did on the girls’ curves and bare legs. #equalopportunityfanservice
- Except in the final close-up montage of the crew putting on their battle gear. Somehow the camera felt the need to focus on Shihoru’s chest and Yume’s bottom, while we only saw the boys tying their shoelaces and putting on gloves.
- Do those marbles in the OP represent the human souls trapped in Grimgar?
- Meanwhile, the ED card hasn’t changed at all.
- How has Mary managed to survive without a team for so long?
- I’m getting more and more curious about the other volunteer soldiers that populate Grimgar. We’ve spent a lot of time with just the core six, and it’s worked in making me want to know more about world beyond our main characters.
- I’m also enjoying how Grimgar manages to slip in details about the different combat classes without getting too dense. I’m also liking the emphasis on the priest/healer class — priests are usually relegated to supporting roles in RPGs, so it’s nice to see Grimgar elaborate on their tactical importance in battle.