If there is one word that has been associated with Hai to Gensou no Grimgar that is PACING. When reading the genres ‘Action’ and ‘Adventure’, it’s understandable that viewers go into the series expecting lots of action scenes and fast-paced events. On the contrary, Grimgar relies more on its slow narrative and enjoying the journey rather than reaching an ultimate goal.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the series
Pacing is a tricky concept when reviewing a series as it’s often a matter of taste. Some will like slower pacing, while others will hate it, which is probably why the reaction to Grimgar has been so mixed. It is true, though, that slower pacing is often more used for drama or mystery, but not for action scenes.
Grimgar does still offer some thrilling fight scenes. The fact that each character had its different fighting specialty also helped make the battles more dynamic. However, it was a bit hard to really get excited with the fights considering that we didn’t know much about their techniques nor the training. We are told that each member of the guild has their own master and is working on mastering their ability in their free time, but we never get to see that. The only training we see is Haruhiro’s, and yet, it’s mainly used for the fanservice of his female teacher. Sure, Haruhiro’s task as a narrator tries to fill us in with the latest abilities they all have learned, but it’s always harder to engage with plot events when they are being explained to you, rather than shown.
Still, as I said, Grimgar is not about the action or the fights. It’s about the characters and how they deal with death, getting along, leadership… and yes, puberty. Ironically, the two characters that got the most attention were Manato and Mary. The one who left and the one who joined.
Manato was always more of an idea rather than a character. In fact, his death didn’t really impact me because Manato himself had died, but because of what it meant: main characters can die. And they can die easily. In fact, Manato had a bigger role in the story after he had died, either by the way he affected the party or by appearing in Haruhiro’s imagination. I wasn’t so pleased with how Mary’s storyline was handled, though. The whole “I’m cold towards people now as a self-defense mechanism not to get hurt again” has been done countless of times in these type of series, and it also dragged on for too long. There’s actually a contradiction in Grimgar‘s characterization. Some characters had a lot of depth to them while others seemed to be just props. Aside from Manato and Mary, there’s also a lot of focus on character growth of Haruhiro and Ranta, but not so much on Mogzo and Shihoru (I actually had to Google their names after 12 episodes!).
The elephant in the room here is clearly the fan service. I was willing to look past it since the fanservice seemed to be for both men and women, but the focus was often put on the women. Ranta commenting on Yume’s flat-chest was mean, but it still worked somehow considering that he was actually just denying his feelings for her (his line about wanting to fondle her flat chest in the finale was actually quite funny). However, having the characters talk about how Shihoru was fat for a few long minutes in the first episode was completely unnecessary and there was just no reason or excuse for that.
In fact, conversations and small talk are a big theme in Grimgar. The series relies on slow storytelling, relaxing music and atmospheres, inner monologues and lots of small talk. Some fans have argued that small talk helps make the series more realistic, but I just can’t agree with that. While some small talk is OK every now and then, the series had too much of it. The thing about dialogue is that, even if it doesn’t seem relevant, it still has to bear some meaning or reflect in some way or another a character’s point of view or their current situation. Grimgar‘s casual conversations never gave me that impression, as it was almost like I was unwillingly eavesdropping on a stranger’s boring conversation. Instead of that, all that time could have been dedicated towards showing more of the characters’ training or on how exactly the others managed to save Haruhiro in the finale.
In many aspects, Hai to Gensou no Grimgar was very realistic. Killing another living being can’t be that easy, and this is a concept that is barely ever explored in shounen stories, which is why it was so refreshing to see the characters struggle with killing goblins. The relationships in the party were also pretty realistic: not everyone’s always going to get along, but you just have to work together to make things work. However, the series wasn’t as realistic in other aspects: why didn’t the characters talk about where they were? We know that they have no memory of how they got to Grimgar, and Episode 1 actually introduced some interesting elements like the fact that they would say “cell phone”, but they couldn’t remember what it meant. That plot point was sadly dropped and it seemed like the characters just assumed that that was their new life and never again questioned anything.
Studio A-1 did a wonderful job with both the animation and the backgrounds for this series. In fact, the art and scenery were probably the main reason why I kept coming back to this series. Grimgar also uses a lot of insert songs for its slowest sequences and, while it could get a bit annoying for some, it was also very calming and fit with the overall theme of the series.
Grimgar had many flaws and I doubt that it’ll be remembered as one of the highlights of the year, but the series still offered some good quality entertainment due to its scenery, music sequences and character development.