No Game No Life – Anime Review

Japanese Title: No Game No Life

 

Related: No Game No Life: Zero (prequel movie)

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Overlord

Problem Children from another World

The World God Only Knows

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Colourful art
  • A good number of jokes

Negatives:

  • The contests are weak
  • Tries to be serious
  • Not genius

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Nobuyuki Fukumoto has spoiled me. He pioneered a manga genre (later adapted into anime) that manages to take the ridiculous and turn it into a tense battle unlike any battle anime. Oh, he has nothing to do with No Game No Life – just wanted to start on something positive about the genre of extreme gambling.

No-life virgin siblings Sora and Shiro find themselves sucked into another world when they accept a challenge online. In this new world called Disboard, games rule everything. Everyone settles disputes – no matter how petty – through games, which can vary from something as minor as rock-paper-scissors to as grand as VR showdowns in a stadium. Ten rules govern these games. These rules are law, bindings created by the God of Games. The genius gaming duo accept the god’s trial and set out to conquer this bizarre world and challenge his might.

No Game No Life is another isekai with a gamer protagonist sent into a world where their seemingly useless skills IRL are the ultimate talent. This anime takes it to an extreme. These two are apparently unbeatable at games. The opening scene has them taking out thousands of players in an MMO using just their four characters. Yes, they can control more than one character at a time and still beat anyone without a sweat – Sora even controls all four at one point (uses two mice with his feet) when Shiro passes out.

Of course, this level of skill is ridiculous. However, with an intention to go big, to go ludicrous with the comedy, it works…for a time. With the ten commandments of Disboard laid out, one expects nonsensical contests in this idiotic world. And you get that…for a time. A game of rock-paper-scissors just about determines a kingdom’s monarch. According to the rules, it is binding! Even cheating is permitted, as long as you’re not caught.

The first cracks in the narrative appear when you see how basic the games are in these challenges. Poker, chess, blackjack – is that the best you can do?

You can tell the author has no understanding of the likes of poker or chess because he never makes use of their rules and metagame, not even in a creative way. During the chess match, the only similarity with chess is the names and number of pieces. There is nothing chess-like about the contest. May as well not even call it chess.

I wager that he picked chess at random because chess is something everyone has heard of, requires less work explaining the game and he hoped no one would notice the chess reference is irrelevant. It would have been more logical and more engaging to come up with something original that drew inspiration from chess. Or better yet, since these kids just play video games all day, why not draw on some popular real time strategy game? (Answer: The author knows even less about RTS.) If Nobuyuki Fukumoto were here, there would be some actual tension, perhaps even a few missing fingers? (Please?) Sora could do with a few life-threatening games of mahjong. I’m just sayin’.

No Game No Life thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is, which is to say, extremely dim. It only succeeds on a prayer that the audience doesn’t ask questions.

I return to my earlier point though, that this would be fine if it all served the comedy. It wouldn’t matter that this chess game has no chess in it or that this FPS match is moronic if it were all a means to great jokes. Lamentably, No Game No Life begins to huff its own farts and think the games are of genius-level strategy, refocusing on the serious rather than the humour. Making the characters overpowered to a laughable degree works for comedy, but once you do that, you can’t go back. You write yourself into a hole. You can’t expect people to take it seriously when you want to be dramatic and serious all of a sudden.

As you have likely guessed as well, the “genius” of these characters only stems from the author saying so, not because we ever see any actual genius strategy on screen. The rules bend in convenient service to these geniuses and worst of all, their opponents are all idiots (by author decree, naturally). The author also made little effort with the characters. For instance, why is it that two socially inept kids, as labelled by their introductions, face no social problems except when an ecchi gag calls for it?

No Game No Life is at its best in the first few episodes, when you don’t know that the author has nothing up his sleeve, when the outlandish world is all about delivering jokes, when the coronation of the cheating queen is a parody of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with the archbishop as the judge and Sora plays the game’s theme tune on his phone. I genuinely laughed for the first act.

After that, it goes downhill. The premise dies when it thinks it’s actually clever. The humour dies when excessive fan service takes over after running out of jokes. The once funny-in-a-creepy way relationship between Sora and Shiro becomes plain creepy.

With how No Game No Life ends up, I’m surprised there was anything good at all in the beginning.

Art – Medium

Colourful and vibrant, the art style suits a game world created by a childish god. That said, it lacks creativity in design. For a world run on games, it doesn’t look like a world of games. And no, plonking down giant chess pieces on the landscape doesn’t count. Like the chess event itself, this was done at random, it seems.

Sound – Medium

I cannot stand forced moe voices, so the original Japanese track is torture to me. I find the dub does a much better job with comedic timing and even tightens up some of the jokes. The ex-princess is particularly better in English. This is a preference, so go with whichever suits.

Story – Low

Genius gamer siblings must rise up in a fantasy world run on games to unite the people and challenge the God of Games himself. After an entertaining start, No Game No Life loses track of what works – the comedy – and begins to take itself too seriously.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For isekai fans only. No Game No Life runs on its premise and no one asking questions. If you can do that, you may enjoy it. But if you want to see what could have been instead, watch Kaiji or Akagi.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

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Overlord – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Overlord

 

Related: Overlord II & III (sequels – included in review)

Similar: Log Horizon

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Drifters

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length: 39 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Mighty protagonist
  • Old school MMO knowledge

Negatives:

  • Much of the side cast lacks depth
  • Plans could use more cunning
  • Art keeps getting worse

(Request an anime for review here.)

The end of an MMO’s life can be a sad event for those who spent years living in that world. To outsiders, it’s just another game they never heard of. To the players, to those who formed lasting friendships and created countless memories, it can be tough to let go. For Momonga, it’s a time of heartbreak when the MMO Yggdrassil reaches the end of its life, outstripped by newer and grander games. The Great Tomb of Nazarick, once home to a mighty guild only has NPCs, artefacts, and memories to fill it vast caverns. He sits in the guild hall, alone, his last guildmate logged out already, as the timer counts to midnight marking the final shutdown. He falls asleep.

When he awakens sometime later, he’s still logged in. Not only that, it becomes apparent that he has become his character, an almighty necromancer, and that the NPCs have come to life around him. They follow their initial character profiles, yes, but they are as real as anyone else is now. He takes on the name of his guild, Ainz Ooal Gown, and decrees it his objective in this new life to take his guild to greater heights and conquer the world of Yggdrassil.

I love this premise and the angle it took of making him more of a villain, commanding the non-human races in conflict against the humans. (My understanding is that in the game itself, there were two faction with the non-humans seen as the “evil” side.) He isn’t truly evil – you aren’t watching Voldemort and his minions – but he does feel like a player seeing this world as a mere game, where the victory condition is to conquer everything like in the Civilisation series.

Unfortunately, he’s the only memorable character. His guild headquarters are like the ultimate challenge tower of an old school MMO with powerful monsters guarding each floor. These monsters are the new guild members. Each is a rather one-note character. We have the brawny guy, the smart guy, the naïve yet powerful child, the loli vampire, the succubus in love with Ainz (he reprogrammed her profile as a joke before the shutdown, only for it to carry over), and several others. They are as you would expect from their one-line descriptions. They should have been more akin to the homunculi from Fullmetal Alchemist instead of these unimposing cast fillers. Ainz truly carries the series.

That said, he doesn’t carry it enough to elevate Overlord to greatness. For one, his masterful plans aren’t as cunning as I would like them to be. One would hope for something on the level of Code Geass when you have such an anti-hero protagonist. What we have is okay.

The last great flaw with Overlord is the art. First, all the design effort went into Ainz, who looks great as an undead sorcerer, leaving the monsters that surround him and the humans they face as generic (the succubus has a little more effort than the rest). Much worse, however, is the reliance on CG as a Tour-de-France cyclist relies on drugs.

The first scene to greet you is an army of CG skeletons that look just awful. We don’t see them again for a while, which made me think it was a temporary matter and Overlord II does see an improvement, but lo and behold, the CG soon returns in full force like an endless horde of ugly. Overlord III’s climactic few episodes are a showcase of the worst CG you will see in any full production in the last 10 years of anime. The archers, knights, goblins, horses, demons, everything – all CG 90% of the time, even in close ups. I cannot believe Madhouse output this work. The studio behind One-Punch Man and many of anime’s greatest looking films did this? How? I could understand if it came from the folk responsible for Hand Shakers, but Madhouse!?

To end on a positive though, I do enjoy that Overlord draws from more old school MMO sensibilities, with its ridiculously overpowered items and lack of structure to the game design. It speaks to a time when balance wasn’t much of a concern. Of all the MMOs I mastered, this reminds me most of the Norse mythology themed Ragnarok Online (perhaps that’s why the author called his game Yggdrassil?) It makes for a nice change from other isekai that lean modern.

Whether Overlord grabs you will depend entirely on how much you like the protagonist and your level of tolerance for the art. It’s one of the better MMO isekai in a field of weak competitors.

Art – Low

No animation on the protagonist when he talks feels incredibly lazy – they could have at least given him some sort of psychic effect. The monster designs aren’t half as good as the protagonist’s design. Lots of still shots, dull photography, and repeating animation. It gets worse in season 3 when the big climatic battle almost all CG.

Sound – Medium

The protagonist has the best performance in either language, effortlessly switching between the nerdy inner voice and imposing outer overlord. Good acting elsewhere. I like some of the OP and ED songs.

Story – Medium

A player falls asleep in game at the end of an MMO’s life only to wake up as his character, an undead overlord. The unique perspective of playing the villain is interesting enough to make up for its shortcomings.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For video game fans. Overlord’s best features all relate to games, yet doesn’t do enough to appeal beyond the core. However, it is something different for the genre.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

.hack//Sign – Anime Review

Japanese Title: .hack//Sign

 

Related: .hack//Legend of the Twilight (sequel)

.hack//Roots (sequel)

Similar: Log Horizon

Sword Art Online

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Top tier ethereal soundtrack

Negatives:

  • Unbelievably boring
  • Repetitive and slow
  • Poor action
  • Shallow MMO world

(Request an anime for review here.)

A decade before MMO isekai became a big deal there was .hack//Sign. If you’re wondering why the genre didn’t take off back then, let me enlighten you.

Whereas the popular isekai premise of today is to trap everyone inside an MMO, Hack Sign only traps an individual, a teenager called Tsukasa who wakes up in a dungeon with no memories and soon discovers he can’t log out. Furthermore, he begins to taste and feel this virtual world on his skin. When other adventurers hear of his predicament, some look to help him while others fear him, particularly for the Guardian artefact that protects him, able to fell players in a single strike.

So, this premise sounds intriguing, especially if it’s the first of its kind for you, right? It has mystery, a vast world, monsters, player versus player combat, and a pitiable protagonist. What could go wrong?

Never have you seen an anime more boring than Hack Sign. For a story set in a game about exploration and fighting monsters, there is very little exploration and next to no action. And what action we do see is so poorly animated that you’re grateful there isn’t more of it.

The last time I watched Hack Sign was all the way back in early 2003 and I didn’t realise until this rewatch for review that I had never finished it. Even with my love for MMOs, I couldn’t continue. I didn’t consciously drop it. It just faded away. I’d wager that the only reason I even made it to a few episodes from the end was the soundtrack, which I place as one of anime’s greatest. In fact, I like this soundtrack so much that I managed to finish this rewatch by passively enjoying the music.

Alright, that’s enough praise. Time for the juice.

I mentioned the lack of action earlier, so you must be wondering what fills the time instead. If I said “Nothing,” I wouldn’t be far off the mark. Most scenes are of characters just sitting around talking about Tsukasa’s predicament. Legends speak of an item called the “Key of Twilight” that can break the rules of the game and perhaps free Tsukasa. In itself, this wouldn’t be bad – I’d like to see an MMO isekai focused on socialising over action. However, when coupled with the amount of repetition, the same characters going over the same talking points, your eyes will roll back as you pass out.

A group of players roleplay as an unofficial “police” force called the Crimson Knights, led by a small woman with wings called Subaru. I really don’t get this character. All the Knights revere her, treat her like royalty combined with the respect commanded by the greatest leaders, and I don’t know why. At no point does she demonstrate great cunning, strength, power, leadership, or wisdom. Forget the story; this is Hack Sign’s greatest mystery.

Much like the circular conversations of Tsukasa’s acquaintances, the Crimson Knights scenes are repetitive to a baffling degree. Count the number of times Subaru’s top knight says that they should get rid of Tsukasa and witness how often other players offend him for not showing her enough respect. We’re just going in circles here.

Oh god, I just remembered the flashbacks! As if each scene going nowhere wasn’t bad enough, they have to replay them in the next episode! These aren’t your usual flashbacks either, glimpsing a past scene to draw attention to some detail. No, these will replay entire scenes for your brain-leaking pleasure.

Characters are the one element that can salvage a story crawling in circles. KonoSuba doesn’t really go much of anywhere, yet those characters are so fun that you could watch them for a long while. Sadly, Hack Sign doesn’t have that luxury.

Take Tsukasa, protagonist, most important of the cast – he’s anti-social, always running away, and quite the dick to everyone. Unlikable to the very end. Even with the tragic backstory. The Crimson Knights are one-note and the only real villain is a sleazy assassin searching for the Key (his real identity reveal is rather funny and exactly who you would expect if you’ve played MMOs before).

You can see the author tried to go for depth with the cast. This one character called BT (named after the Bacon Lettuce Tomato sandwich, minus the lettuce because she hates it) is part of the group helping Tsukasa, yet we see that she has ulterior motives as she uses both good and bad people, never quite sure which side she will fall on. Due to the execution, however, it has no impact. You wouldn’t want to hang out with any of these characters in an MMO.

I appreciate that the script doesn’t bog down with massive exposition and mechanic dumps (unlike Log Horizon), but Hack Sign goes too far in the other direction. There is so little substance that we have nothing left. A bit more focus and direction would help engage the audience.

Unless you want an unusual anime with great music to watch while you slowly sink into the couch, .hack//Sign isn’t for you (or me). If I knew it was so dull, why did I bother again? I wanted to see if it is as boring as I remember.

It is.

Art – Low

The character and world designs remind me of the Suikoden games, which is nice, but the animation sucks and there is so little variety for an MMO world in 26 episodes. Even the dangerous Guardian is a weak design – golden testicles floating around a bracelet, really?

Sound – Medium

Look, Hack Sign has one of the best anime soundtracks ever. I have had a few of its songs on my playlist for over 16 years. The acting is quite good as well – go for the Japanese, as this is from the era when the Japanese was usually the better track all round. Bear, for example, sounds much better with a deeper voice. However! No soundtrack or acting talent can save this mind-numbing script.

Story – Low

A kid wakes up one day as the sole player trapped in an MMO, where a magical artefact becomes his deadly guardian. One would imagine that such a premise would be full of mystery, suspense, and adventure. One would also be wrong.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Unless you are so intensely curious to see what the deal is with anime’s most boring series, avoid .hack//Sign.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Great Music

Negative:

Poor PacingRepetitive

Sword Art Online 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sword Art Online 2

 

Related: Sword Art Online (1st season)

Similar: Log Horizon

No Game No Life

Zegapain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Makes the first season seem amazing

Negatives:

  • Kirito is more Mary Sue than ever
  • New girl’s backstory is hysterical
  • Act 3 is filler, yet again!
  • Exposition dumps everywhere
  • The garbage keeps piling up

(Request an anime for review here.)

I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to make Sword Art Online look like a masterpiece. Sword Art Online 2 is such trash that you’re going to need a hazmat suit to sit through all the cancer this anime jabs into your eyeballs.

Shortly after the events of the first season, where thousands died trapped in a virtual MMO, everyone has forgotten about the incident and nothing came of the disaster. Utterly incompetent at everything, the government hires Mary “Kirito” Sue to enter the latest virtual MMO craze, Gun Gale Online, and figure out how a player can kill people in real life by shooting them in game with a “Death Gun” (not kidding). He teams up with the useless sniper Plumber’s “Sinon” Crack, who has the tragic backstory of being terrified of finger guns (not kidding). Meanwhile, Mary Sue’s harem of useless women (including his sister and “daughter”) are stuck in last year’s game, some fantasy trash no one cares about anymore, while they circlejill about how amazing Mary Sue is. They don’t matter, their game doesn’t matter, so let’s forget them there.

Where to begin?

The exposition dumps! I lost count of the amount of time spent with characters sitting down – often in a diner – just vomiting exposition. The first episode alone spends over half of its time on one such scene. I get that Sword Art Online is made for the lowest tier, but have some respect for their intelligence. When it isn’t farting exposition in your mouth after having eaten five too many spicy burritos the night before, Sword Art Online 2 graces you with filler dialogue and some of the dumbest lines in anime history. Mary Sue acts like a dimwit before the show’s big tournament just so the girl can explain everything. The narrative dumps everything beforehand rather than showing it to the audience along the way. Let’s not forget the repetition. It repeats a flashback of a fight with the villain group from SAO four times!

Then we have the new game of the season, Gun Gale Online. This game is reason enough to slam this anime in the dumpster. First, they advertise it as the only game with pro players (what?), then the way they talk about character builds and the metagame doesn’t make sense for a shooter (even one with RPG elements). The system for getting paid – converting virtual currency to real money – is also illegal yet never questioned (remember, the government sent Mary Sue into this game, so wouldn’t they do something?) Once inside the game, it only gets worse. You know what would be better than an empty shell of a new world each season? One fully developed world instead.

How do players not die in a single hit if everyone uses guns? Well, in Gun Gale Online, you can see the trajectory of a bullet before it fires. Did the author put any thought into this? Look, if I pointed a gun at you and told you where I was aiming, you still wouldn’t dodge in time. The only way this works is if the bullets are as slow as molasses, in which case, why bother with guns at all? It’s so stupid it hurts.

Apparently, the character creator is random. Mary Sue has a female avatar generated for him (oh the sweet irony), which is just an excuse to have him be a girl this season – a girl, by the way, that looks just like him, though that may be down to A-1 Pictures’ inability to draw more than one face. Yeah, “random”.

You know SAO 2 is going to be shite in episode 4 – well, from the first scene really, but episode 4 cements it at the bottom of the ocean. Mary Sue needs money as a new player and sees a gambling game where one has to reach a gunslinger down the street while dodging his bullets. No one has ever won, adding to the prize pool with each failure. After seeing only one person’s attempt, Mary Sue breezes through it as easy as a stroll down the street. Of course. He gives us some nonsense about “predicting the prediction” to dodge bullets. So you’re telling that in the most hardcore, competitive PvP VRMMO, none of these professional players ever did the same? What sort of an idiot wrote this?

What does he do with this instant jackpot? He buys a Lightsaber. Yes, in a game about guns, where all swords are known to be useless, they conveniently have Lightsabers – sound effects included (and the villain is a Darth Vader rip-off) – just so Mary Sue can wield a sword like he did in other games. And to nobody’s surprise, he is amazing with it right away. He is so good that he can cut down every bullet from full auto machine gun fire. The author is so bad that he forced a FPS game upon the audience, yet couldn’t even commit and had to give Mary Sue an invincible sword. He can also drive motorbikes instantly and better than anyone else, having learnt this skill from playing racing games in the past. You know, regular racers on screen… (“Is it possible to learn this laziness?” “Not from a good writer.”) There is no attempt at hiding his power.

You have one guess on who wins the big tournament with Sinon.

Speaking of Plumber’s Crack (her character designer made sure she had her crack visible at all times for Mary Sue’s convenience, for we all know he wants to eat that ass), allow me to present to you the worst female character ever written. Her first introduction gives the impression of a sniper at the highest tier of play. As soon as Ass Muncher enters the game, however, she becomes useless all so that he can save and grope her at every turn. It goes so far that the climax has Ass Muncher telling her exactly what to do because she now has the skill of a noob. Every girl, no matter how strong, becomes a puddle of piss around this guy.

The funniest part is her backstory. During an armed robbery in her childhood, Plumber’s Crack managed to get the robber’s gun and shot him dead. This event left her traumatised of everything gun related (did you catch the subtle theming with the new MMO, did ya, well, DID YA?) to such a degree that even finger guns reduces her to a sobbing mess. Yes, pointing is her weakness. This idiotic writing is hands down one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Finally, we come to the villain (full spoilers ahead; I don’t recommend this anime). The big twist is that the Death Gun can’t actually kill people IRL. A second person would break into the target’s house while they’re strapped into the VR set and poison them in time with the virtual accomplice shooting them in game, thus giving the impression that the player could kill for real. (Let’s not forget that an autopsy would reveal it wasn’t some magical death from the beginning.) The villain turns out to be one of Plumber’s Crack’s clingy IRL friends, who believes she owes him love for caring for her during her previous depression. What is it with every SAO villain being a rapist?

I forgot to mention: Ass Muncher figures out everything about the villain, right down to his psychology and the fact that he’s in the room with Plumber’s Crack right now by merely thinking about him.

What a pathetic anime. I have barely scratched the surface with this travesty. I did not even cover how bad Ass Muncher is at handling the case he’s hired for, not passing on information just so he can play the hero. One could go through every single scene and point out why that is the worst scene ever put to anime. And like SAO, the story ends in act 2 and act 3 is filler in another MMO. Again! Sword Art Online 2 rapes anime.

Art – Low

There is a significant quality drop on the previous Sword Art Online. Less animation, less effects, more reliance on mediocre CG, and there’s less effort in character and world design – naturally.

Sound – Very Low

The acting is bad and the script is utter trash. All exposition and backstory is in the wrong place and much of the dialogue is filler. Good music from the same composer as .hack//SIGN, but it can’t save the show.

Story – Very Low

A girl faces her fear of guns by playing a shooter MMO, until she needs rescuing by a boy called Kiri Sue. Bloody hell…what shit.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Sword Art Online 2 is so bad that it makes Sword Art Online seem like a masterpiece.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueDeus Ex MachinaHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityMary SueNo DevelopmentPoor PacingRepetitiveRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

 

Similar: Log Horizon

KonoSuba

The Rising of the Shield Hero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful watercolours
  • A realistic approach to MMO isekai

Negatives:

  • Random fan service humour
  • Thoroughly incomplete

(Request an anime for review here.)

“This isn’t a video game,” he says, not knowing what a video game is. Hal and friends are living in a world of swords and sorcery with no memory of how they got there or where they came from. Odd words like “phone” and “game” issue from them on occasion, yet without idea of their meaning. They awoke in this foreign land one day and a local suggested they volunteer as soldiers, ridding the region around town of monsters in exchange for little coin. What other options did they have but to accept?

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions takes the MMO isekai genre down a peg to offer something more measured and slower paced than your usual action-focused fare. It still follows the standard rules of an MMO – pick a class (warrior, mage, priest, thief, archer, etc.), join a guild, kill monsters, sell their parts – but considers the world from the perspective of “What if this were reality?” The conveniences of an MMO to make them fun to play aren’t present. If you want to craft something or learn a skill, an NPC won’t do it for you at the click of a button. Monsters don’t merely evaporate upon slaughter, leaving behind the items you need in a convenient package – warrior or mage must get their hands bloody to extract the loot. Death comes easily in the world of Grimgar. And players don’t respawn.

These players – no, these people now must strategize and fight together to win even the smallest victories. A mere goblin that a novice class character could 2-shot in any MMO demands everything they have. I like this, that it isn’t a breeze. Reminds a little of Log Horizon, where figuring out the basics matters and adjusting to this life requires work.

This realistic approach coupled with the beautiful watercolour art make for a refreshing change of pace from other isekai (do wish the character art was more watercolour though). Grimgar handles the world even more seriously than Log Horizon does. However, before you leap at the opportunity to watch this anime, I must impart upon you the negatives that await.

This is an anime where you can see the 100-episode plan from the beginning. You can see the intention to burn fuel slowly as it builds up the world and story piece by piece, giving the audience no more than what the characters learn for themselves. It’s unfortunate then that it only got 12 episodes with no signs of another season. Furthermore, should you want to continue in the source material, know that it comes from light novels (incomplete too), a medium infamous for having no standards. Nothing but disappointment may follow. I haven’t read them, so don’t take my word for their quality.

So, is it worth spending 12 episodes of your time in the world of Grimgar at all? Well, if it were 12 of the greatest fantasy anime episodes, then sure, but they aren’t what I would call great.

For one, when I said slow burn earlier, I meant it. These episodes are roughly three episodes of progress in another MMO anime. For two, the story and characters cannot escape their light novel roots. Despite the serious approach to the world, we still have a cast that would fit right at home in the goofy KonoSuba. They don’t feel built enough for this type of isekai. Yes, I know the purpose is (likely) to break them in bone and spirit later. What I refer to is tone. Let’s make an extreme example: If we put the cast of KonoSuba into the world of Game of Thrones, sure, we could unleash all the brutality the Thrones world has to offer upon them, yet it wouldn’t feel right from the beginning. Grimgar is not this extreme, of course. It is noticeable enough to be a detraction, however.

No scene leaps to mind more than when the party is on a break in the forest, where the dread knight of the group randomly goes on a tirade about big boobs after a girl slights him. It’s as forced as a magician knowing which card you will pick from the deck. How does one screw this up? The correct method was simple – have them running from a monster, they try to escape by sliding under a fallen tree but her big boobs stop her. Queue big boob rant for fan service and comedy.

Grimgar wants to be serious. At the same time, it can’t resist cramming in the usual junk from other light novels. That said, the balance leans more towards the serious, enough that it keeps Grimgar on the good quality side…for what little story it progressed through. You can’t escape the incomplete state. As such, I can only recommend Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions (should have called it Grimgar: Fantasy and Ash) for intellectual curiosity if you are – like me – someone interested in seeing different ideas for MMO anime. It’s a shame the better ones are abandoned like this.

Art – High

Love the style and colour palette – so vibrant and almost ethereal in quality, especially at night. If only the characters had this quality. You can thank A-1 Pictures for stripping the original artist’s creativity and replacing it with the “A-1 face”.

Sound – Medium

The music is good (there’s a lovely piano piece), as is the acting in either language you prefer. No major complaints here, though no major strengths either.

Story – Medium

A band of people wakes up in a fantasy world with no memory of how they got there and must learn to adapt to this dangerous life. With only 12 episodes, Grimgar doesn’t have opportunity to show more than a solid start to a story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For MMO anime fans only. Given that Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is so incomplete, I only recommend it to curious genre fans.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Incomplete

Anime and Manga Reviews