Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash #1

I was initially very dismissive of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. I enjoy a good fantasy-themed animé but the fan service was incredibly distracting. While fan service is, as a rule, gratuitous, Grimgars fan service seemed doubly so compared to everything else about the series.

But I gave it a second chance, and I’m glad I did. For starters, the fan service lessens considerably after the first 2 – 3 episodes (though it never fully disappears, and one minor character exists primarily for titillation and little more). But more importantly, the series is an interesting spin on the fantasy genre in that it posits what would happen if completely ordinary people suddenly found themselves in a fantasy setting replete with magic and monsters.

This focus on the ordinary, everyday aspects of life in an extraordinary world is what I appreciated most about Grimgar. However, this has a side-effect: Grimgar is very slow-moving. While I generally found it relaxing and contemplative, some viewers might find the series’ pacing interminable. In other words, if you’re expecting an action-packed series à la Sword Art Online, then look elsewhere.

Sure, there are quests and action sequences where our heroes — who all belong to traditional RPG classes like thieves, rangers, and clerics — square off against goblins and kobolds. But most of Grimgar takes place in the time between quests, as the main characters try to understand each other and their relationships, go through various personal crises, come to terms with loss and grief, and other bits of drama.

There’s also the considerable mystery about where, exactly, our heroes find themselves. They arrive in the world of Grimgar as complete strangers from somewhere else, with very few memories of their former lives. I was often reminded of one of my favorite animé series, Haibane Renmei, which also takes place in a mysterious world. Unfortunately, Grimgar essentially ignores this central mystery, which seems odd because a) it looms over the entire storyline and b) you’d expect the characters to be a bit more distressed by it.

All flaws aside, there’s one aspect of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash that’s undeniable: its beautiful visuals. While the character designs and animations are solid enough, the backgrounds are gorgeous, whether depicting the Mediterranean-looking town of Ortana (where the characters reside in-between quests) or a deep cave filled with glowing mineral deposits.

A-1 Pictures — the studio responsible for other solid animé titles like Erased, Silver Spoon, and Night Raid 1931 — employs a painterly approach to the backgrounds. The dreamy watercolor look only adds to the series’ gentle atmosphere, such as when the sunset bathes the entire scene in gold.

I’ve put together a small gallery highlighting some of Grimgar’s sights and scenery. Personally, I found the night skies, which are filled with clouds of stars and a shattered crimson moon, particularly enchanting, especially when enhanced by animation that makes the stars glitter and shimmer. There aren’t many fictional worlds I’d like to visit, but Grimgar is on that list, if only to witness its splendid night sky first-hand.

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Finally, this Grimgar trailer shows some of those backgrounds in motion.