“I think people can get used to any kind of environment” – Haruhiro
Allow me to make a bold claim for a minute: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash might be the Mushishi of the stuck-in-a-fantasy-MMO genre.
No, wait, sit back down! And don’t give me that look, fellas, I’m trying to explain here!
One of the central themes of Mushishi was highlighting the difficulty of simply living life in a world that doesn’t really give a damn about you. Ginko’s eye, and the infestation of mushi that characterized most episodes, were products of bad luck and happenstance. Ginko makes it clear that mushi are not evil – that they are simply trying to live what they call a life, even if that means they encroach on the lives of humans doing the same. And that uncaring oppression of “the reality of the situation” weighs down on every one Ginko meets. This is also true of our world. To quote Gundam Unicorn’s Suberoah Zinnerman, “Life is about struggle, til the day we die.”
The show did all this in this quiet, somber fashion, one that would border on staid were it not for the incredible job of directing by Nagahama, who gave the simplest of motions a quiet intensity. Silences punctuated by a simple rattling drum, or a staccato of whispers overlaid over the sounds of nature, were the soundtrack of many episode.
The world of Grimgar throws our main characters into a more primal, rustic world than we, the average 1st world viewer, is used to. It’s a world where fire take careful planning and management, where underwear is a precious commodity, and where you’re a given a sword and told “go yonder, murder those goblins and bring back its body in exchange for just enough coin to eat.” It also borrows many stylistic cues from Mushishi – though it revels in many more light-hearted moments, I would never call it a “light” show. Even from the first scenes, the show has a tenseness to it, as if the show is coiling like a snake, always ready to strike but never striking. Perhaps because it is the raw physicality of the animation and designs, or the typically quiet, low background music, but each moment seems calculated. It drags scenes without making them unbearable, in a similar way to how Mushishi let its moments stew before moving on.
Confronting reality can be a frightful thing, and nothing drives home reality quite like death. Death clarifies the reality that is “Grimgar”; it was the thrashing goblin that refused to die during that riverside battle in episode 2 that made it all too clear that this show wasn’t some kind of glitzy battle of light beams and shattered pixels – it is about pain and struggle. Thrust and swings, brutal plunges of daggers and a stomach turning amount of blood was what was needed to bring down a “mere” goblin. A life that, despite being a mere “fantasy”, refused to be so easily extinguished.
The death of a mentor, a leader, a friend, can be the cruelest reality to confront. Manato’s death in episode 4 ties together the strands of how hard it is to live in the world of Grimgar. Even in a world where you learn named sword skills through a guild and wear fantasy battle armor, death remains a constant in how unexpected it can be, and how we react to it.
And it is in that grief, that horror, that disbelief, that shell-shock, that Grimgar reveals just how human it is. Even in a world of fantasy and ash, humans live with those same burdens the rest of us bear. And that’s the reality.