Anime Review: Grimgar Ashes and Illusions

By Drew Hurley 26.01.2018

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Grimgar Ashes and Illusions (UK Rating: 15)

The premise may seem familiar: a group of young people are suddenly trapped in a fantasy land. This, though, has plenty of original aspects to set it apart. These teenagers awaken in a strange world with no memories, only vague recollections of aspects of this world. Based on a series of light novels that are still running today, this story of teenagers trying to find their place, and even just survive, seems to be a charming tale set against a beautifully painted world, but there is a darkness running through this story. This full series release, Grimgar Ashes and Illusions, comes courtesy of Anime Limited, contains all 13 episodes, and is available from 5th February.

Grimgar is not a VR game, or at least, if it is, then the players aren't aware of it. They are the latest in a long line of people awakening in this fantasy world, which will be quite familiar to any D&D or MMO fans in the audience. It's clear they came from a modern-day world, not unlike our own, at least. It's a world, however, that they have no memories of and the tenuous links they hold fade the longer they are in this one. When they awaken, they are wearing regular clothes, but these are soon replaced by armour and outfits straight out of Dragoncon. They say things like "Phone" and "Video Game" without thinking, but they can't remember what those words mean and soon enough the phrases slip from their vocabulary. Regardless of where they came from, they have to accept their new reality if they want to survive.

Upon awakening, the group is introduced to a flamboyant chap with a wicked smile. This is the local representative of the "Volunteer Soldiers" and master of exposition. He lets this latest wave know that if they want to survive, the best way is to join up. They will each receive 10 silver coins to help get them on their feet and even receive a place to live. After receiving their dog tags, they are also given a scenario that is fitting with the genre and indeed the MMOs these stories usually interweave into their plot. They need to head out into the world and slaughter monsters, killing them and collecting the items they drop or the parts they can lop off to make some more money.

The strongest of this group gather up and head out as a party, with a bright future full of adventures ahead of them. This story isn't interested in those elite. Instead, it's a story about the leftovers. This is a group of six that by necessity becomes a party and has to learn to work together and survive in this world. It's a bit of a ragtag group. There are some trope-like characters, as always, but each and every one of these six is as charming as the art here. The first step in this world means taking on a role, joining a guild, and becoming a certain class.

The arrogant and brash Ronta becomes a "Dark Knight." Maybe not all the group is likeable; this childish and petulant boy is the constant source of turmoil within the group. He is constantly antagonising the girls, especially, whether it is the shy and clumsy Shihoru, who takes the mage role in the group, or teasing the cute tomboy, Yume, about her flat chest. Yume becomes the team Hunter, taking a bow alongside her constant smile and charm. Then there are the young men of the group (Ronta is definitely still a boy); first is Moguzo, a stoic and quiet giant who loves to cook and fittingly becomes the group's tank as a heavily armoured warrior. Mr. protag, Haruhiro, is a pretty average guy who has a habit of narrating what's going on, so fits well in his role - he takes the role of Thief - and, finally, the team leader, Manato, takes the hardest role (ask any real MMO player!) as the Priest, but somehow manages to act not only as the group healer but also as DPS and secondary tank, showing his ability and his drive to protect his group.

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There are two arcs that play out over the course of the series, which are made up mostly of slice of life moments along with a nice side dish of vengeance, served cold, to deliver the best possible flavour. When the occasional battle scene does occur, Grimgar is nothing like the other series in the genre that portray the battles as videogame-style encounters. None of the group suddenly has talent with a sword or the ability to map out a battle. They struggle and, more often than not, they fail. The first episode opens with the group attempting to take on a pair of Goblins and they fail spectacularly. When they finally do manage to take out a Goblin, it's horrible. The thing is fighting constantly for its life and the whole sequence is a savage, desperate brawl that is representative of the whole series. While much of the story plays out like a slice of life, there are occasional moments that paint a stark contrast to the beauty of the series.

That beauty is thanks to A-1 Pictures, which has delivered a series brimming with charm. The character designs come from venerable series veteran, Mieko Hosoi, and she has done a superb job. The scenes play out across gorgeous backgrounds, which look like watercolour paintings filled with rich shades. This complete collection contains a dub in both English and Japanese for all 12 episodes. On top of this, the release also contains the bonus OVA episode, episode 2.5, set during the second episode where the boys decide to go and try to peep on the girls in the bath. There's also a video commentary for a single episode and a handful of trailers, too.

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Anime Limited continues to bring some of the best series to English speaking audiences. The best aspect of Grimgar Ashes and Illusions is the cast. It's easy to get invested in an underdog and see the party scrimp and struggle and bond over its hardships - it is utterly endearing. It's a shame a second season was never forthcoming to see what happens next, but at least the visual novels are now available in English, with the anime adaptation only covering the first two of eleven books available thus far.

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