You know how after a while it feels as if certain genres and subgenres of anime or any medium for that matter become parodies of themselves? Whether its the superdramatic superscaled mecha adventure the fan serviceripe godforsaken high school harem romcom or the tried and true bombastic neverending battle shounen its sad that with seeming inevitability anime eventually become victim to their own tropes and clichs. The fantasy genre and more specifically the isekai/trapped in a fantasy world subgenre is no exception. In recent years weve been treated to a plethora of shows where the dark edgy protagonist has flexed his muscles and with the aid of his unrivalled intellect and the immutable power of love has overcome whatever obstacles villains or beasties the world has thrown at them virtual or otherwise. And as much as we enjoy watching teen nerdboy wish fulfilment I think I speak for a lot of people when I say its gotten old fast. Enter Grar of Fantasy and Ash. Adapted from a light novel series and coming out of A1 Studios its a familiar scenario. Our hero Haruhiro awakes in a fantasy world with no recollection of his past life though its clear that he came from the modern world. In order to make a living he is forced to band together with a group of other misfits and slay monsters for loot. Been there done that right? Except despite its similarities with other titles in the transportedtoanotherworld genre Grar has one simple yet fundamental difference. It asks the question: what if real people were placed in this scenario? How would actual people totally unaccustomed to such an archaic savage lifestyle act and fare if they were thrust into a world where the rules are literally kill or be killed? 480 The result is perhaps one of the most refreshing takes on fantasyaction anime in recent years. Instead of the usual overpowered heroes weve become accustomed to were treated to a range of unique individuals scared desperate and somewhat incompetent but still willing to do whatever it takes to survive. As such the series isnt so much a plot driven actionadventure series as it is a character drama. There is no apparent goal no evil villain and no way to escape. Instead our unlikely band of heroes can only learn how to survive and grow and adapt with only each other to rely on. As its originality is undoubtedly Grars greatest strength by natural extension youd think that its unique focus on character growth and development is one as well. And it is for the most part. All the main cast grow. Theyre forced to given the gruelling situation they find themselves in. Most of this occurs through character interactions and how they differ over time. In other words theres a lot of dialogue. And yet said dialogue rarely becomes burdensome or boring. In fact its by far the most gripping aspect of the show. As the group are forced to endure mounting hardships the individual members respond in a range of different manners. Tensions flare and tears are shed. And ultimately it all feels so organic so natural and so very real. Thats because most of the cast are really quite authentic. Each has their own traits their own strengths and their own flaws with a particular emphasis on these flaws and how the cast climatically confronts and overcomes them. However majority of the screen time was on the two principal characters. And by majority Im talking the vast majority. Whilst the rest of the cast certainly have personality they are nowhere as nearly developed as our primary two. In fact it was almost disconcerting how considering how nuanced and wellrounded Haruhiro is a couple of the main crew are restricted to having only one or two defining character traits. This is partially due to pacing. Grar is a slow burner. Like slower than that old lady driving in the fast lane slow. On one hand this is undoubtedly a good thing. Not only does it set the series apart from the usual breakneck pacing of fantasy adventure titles but it pays dividends in allowing the characters to interact and mature at an organic rate. On the other hand Grar can get distractingly slow. Initially this wasnt an issue for me. Sure it takes a while before things start rolling but I found the lackadaisical pacing to be endearing and refreshing as opposed to irritating. However as the series progresses it becomes painfully obvious how little is actually happening at times. Its as if the show became so consumed by its own lethargy that it decided to hit the pause button on a few occasions. When it literally takes a character half an episode to get out of bed and walk to a caf any and all charm is spontaneously replaced with frustrationinducing nausea. Its perfectly acceptable for a series to progress gradually but when time that could have been spent further developing secondary cast members world building or the likes is wasted on absolutely nothing it becomes burdensome and obnoxious. A large portion of the pacing issue can be attributed to the obscene number of selfcontained tropes Grar creates for itself. The irony is almost painful in this respect where a title that distinguishes itself by defying genre tropes is victim to its own quirky but tedious meta. A ridiculous amount of time is spent on montages tonally conflicting fan service insert songs cooking segments freeze frames circular introspection you get the idea. Its perplexing how this actually happened and again detracts way too much time that could have been spent more productively. For a fantasy title surprisingly little attention is given to world building. Now as a huge fantasy/scifi fanboy I personally wouldve preferred some more exploration of what seems to be a rather typical medieval setting though it wasnt the be all and end all. What Grar does achieve however is a seamless integration of thematic weight into the world surrounding Haruhiro and co. Grar deals with some heavy subject matter often verging on melodrama and the emotional impact and weight of these themes is almost palpable in the various scenarios the cast encounter. As per its title Grar encompasses both the wondrous implications of fantasy as well as the more sombre morose ones of ash with one element never quite overshadowing the other. Also the action sequences are deliciously gritty. Visually the series is very hit or miss. The watercolour backgrounds which are undeniably gorgeous and also help invoke the whimsical fantasy feel of the series eventually become somewhat stagnant and repetitive. It was clear there were budget difficulties with frequent dips in art quality extended freeze frames and some rather hilarious animation hiccups. Character designs were okay for the most part. Music was pretty cool. Once again I emphasise the prevalence of insert songs apparently one of the major sponsors was a music label. The OST if a bit generic is dominated by rock tracks and is pretty much exclusively performed by the band KNoWNAME just like the OP which I personally enjoyed a lot. The ED is comparatively tenderer. Grar is a satisfying series. It handles itself with maturity and distinction and is a welcome and refreshing addition to the fantasy genre. And yet I cant help but feel that it falls half way. So much is left unrealised so much screentime is wasted and so much of its maturity is needlessly subverted. And while Grar of Fantasy of Ash was a solid start to the 2016 anime calendar it could and should have been so much more.
50 /100
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