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

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“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

A Return to Azeroth and MMO Anime

With the impending release of World of Warcraft Classic taking us back 14 years, I thought it would be a fitting time to clear my backlog of all MMO related anime. MMO anime, which often fall under the “isekai” category meaning “other world”, are supremely popular in the anime sphere. There’s a reason every season can afford more isekai slop to serve the masses. The current Summer 2019 season has six – yes, six – isekai shows!

I love the idea of the genre more than the results we’ve seen so far.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing reviews on a mix of bad and [hopefully] good MMO isekai as a way of clearing the backlog and getting in the spirit of Classic WoW. There are so many titles in this genre that I could never get to all of them, nor would I want to with how copy & paste most of them are. As such, I’m going off personal interests, general community feedback, and reader requests to create a shortlist.

The titles are as follows (release order undecided):

Yes, I know some of these will be awful. In fact, I’m counting on it. Let’s just hope there is something worthwhile as well in the mix.

Once Classic does release, I’ll also be using the time to power through other genres’ titles in the backlog on a second screen. My hope is to clear several smaller shows (you guys have sent in many requests for me to review) and at least one of the big ones – fingers crossed to have Naruto Shippuden done in a few weeks’ time.

Readers often ask me how I can watch so many shows (not just anime) and write the reviews as a hobby (doing these reviews isn’t in the top five on my daily priority list). Well, that’s my secret – multi-tasking. It takes time to get used to just about looking at two things at the same time, but it’s easy once you have the hang of it. (You can even play a game, watch an anime in Japanese, and listen to a podcast in English all at once with practice.) The difficulty does vary on the anime and game. It’s tough to play a fast-paced competitive game and watch a show at the same time, of course, but when playing something slower paced – like an MMO or strategy game – it’s a breeze. Mileage also varies on the show of choice. A sit-com or shounen anime? Easy. Something heady like Monster, Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Star Trek? One risks missing the details and nuance. If I ever feel like I’m missing anything, I’ll either focus on the show only or put on something else.

I also like to multi-task any favourite rewatches since just listening to the audio conjures up the visuals like an invisible layer before my eyes. I’m sure everyone has a film or series they can “see” just by hearing the dialogue.

I’ve been multi-tasking entertainment for over a decade now and Classic will make for a good binge session. And it brings me a few steps closer to the colossal One Piece. (One day, my friend, one day…)

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku– Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii

 

Similar: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Aggretsuko

Recovery of an MMO Junky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance Slice of Life

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The author knows her games.
  • Always charming and funny.
  • Believable couple.

Negatives:

  • Could do with more romance.

(Request an anime for review here.)

It is Narumi’s first day at her new job. She has but one mission: no one can find out that she is an otaku, and not just any otaku, but the worst kind – a filthy fujoshi. Absolutely, under no circumstances, should a guy hear of her dark secret, for even if he is accepting of her perverted ways, then that must mean he’s an otaku too. And who would want to date an otaku!? This is a chance at a new life. No one will ever realise they are working right next to a yaoi loving degenerate. No one will ever know of the smut she hides on her hard drive. NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW THAT SHE SHIPS GUYS TOGETHER AFTER THEY SAY ONE WORD TO EACH OTHER! Oh crap, her boss found out!

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is an adult rom-com in an office setting. It is packed with nerd humour, pop culture references (the deep cuts), sweet romance, and fun all around. I love it.

Narumi is such a lovable protagonist. The scene when Hana, her boss, uncovers her secret – turns out she is a mega nerd as well, cosplaying regularly as a bishounen (feminine handsome man) Narumi is a fan of – makes you fall in love with her. Turns out, Hana is also a fan of Narumi’s yaoi fan fiction written under a pen name.

Narumi is rather goofy and the show plays most jokes at her expense (they have to flash a “please don’t run for departing trains” sign every time she’s late, which is often), but she isn’t stupid. It would have been so easy to make her a moron to have otaku go, “Gosh, isn’t she adorable. I would love to have a stupid girlfriend,” something you often see in moe anime.

Then you have her dynamic with the guys at work, who are also into nerd stuff. You have Tarou – Hana’s future boyfriend – and Hirotaka, who has a preference for games and a disdain for yaoi (in a humorous way). He is Narumi’s love interest. These characters – not just the main couple – make for a great group. You can easily see them as friends in real life, relatable to anyone who likes hanging out playing couch co-op games such as Mario Kart (called “Mari Ka” in Japanese, for short, as I learned), adventuring together in MMOs or just chatting over a meal.

Harumi and Hirotaka are a sweet couple. The arguments they have over trying to get the other person into the things they like is endearing. However, I do wish there was more to this romance. It’s certainly a believable one (often, the problem with anime romance is the lack of foundation in the romance to begin with), yet doesn’t go into enough depth for how they work as a couple in private. It has the fun side of the romance without enough of the drama side. Doesn’t have to be heavy conflict – just give me something so I can say, “You know what, they’re going to make it.”

Now, the fun side is a success. When they go on a date to the theme park, they set a “no nerding” rule with a 500-yen penalty to the piggy bank for breaking it. She can’t resist making the perfect JoJo reference while he can’t miss the chance to catch a rare Blissey in Pokémon Go (fun fact: Blissey in Japanese is called “Happiness” – the English word happiness).

The nerd humour is on point. Hirotaka is a pro at Monster Hunter, even playing it at work. They play together on a hunt for a rare ruby she wants from a monster, but when she gets none and he gets two, not needing any himself, she says, “The Desire Sensor must’ve activated!” I love the inclusion of this joke. This author, she knows the gamer’s mentality. It feels authentic and not tacked on because market research says that anime for adult nerds must have adult nerd references. How often have you seen a US TV show try to make a gaming reference, for whatever is the big thing at the time, and come across as painful to watch? The Big Bang Theory still makes me cringe in memory of that MMO episode.

Wotakoi makes meta references to games, using mechanics like action choices for humour and I love the character stat sheets marking ad breaks (check out that yaoi stat!):

I even learnt a new term from this anime: the reverse cover scam. “I see the cover [of a manga] and buy it for the sex scenes, but the story turns out to be good!” That is perfect. I have to use that phrase in real life at some point.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku gets my heartiest recommendation. It is a refreshing change from the sea of high school rom-coms and I hope to see more of this kind in future.

Art – Medium

It’s not a flex show, but the art is good. The colours and character designs pop!

Sound – High

The music matches the fun tone – super catchy OP – and the acting is strong overall. Narumi may sound too young for an “office lady”, but it matches her young-at-heart fangirl personality.

Story – Medium

An omega nerdy office lady has her cover blown at work, only to find out her colleagues are nerds themselves. This light-hearted rom-com is a fun 11 episodes that I wish leant more into the romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For adult nerds. Wotakoi is an easy anime to watch, though with its slant towards adult life and adult humour, you need to be part of the older crowd to find it fully relatable. Still, don’t let that stop you.

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

Positive: 

Charm

Negative: None

The Story of Saiunkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Saiunkoku Monogatari

 

Similar: Yona of the Dawn

The Twelve Kingdoms

Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Comedy Fantasy Romance

Length: 78 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Nice music.
  • Surprisingly well paced for a large cast and long series.
  • Knows its audience.

Negatives:

  • No historical authenticity.
  • Needs more animation.

(Request an anime for review here.)

With her family estate declining and her future uncertain, the young librarian and teacher Shuurei accepts the court’s offer to become the lazy emperor’s concubine and instructor in exchange for 500 gold pieces. She has no reason to turn down the offer, as the new emperor prefers the company of men (or so he likes everyone to believe). Plus, this could be the opportunity to fulfil her dream of becoming a member of the court, where the fate of the people is decided. Her innocence and focus teeter on the brink however, when her job puts her in the path of several handsome men, never mind the emperor’s stupidity.

The first impressions of The Story of Saiunkoku gave me hope of seeing another Twelve Kingdoms (still have my fingers crossed for a conclusion) with its bishounen artwork set to a vast kingdom and mystical backstory. I expected far too much. It is partially my fault, likely generated out of desperation to see more of The Twelve Kingdoms sort. So, I adjusted my expectations and saw Saiunkoku for what it is – a shoujo historical fantasy romance that pays no attention to historical realism in exchange for dreamboat men.

First off, I believe this anime conveniently ignores what a concubine actually is (we call them something very different today). It wouldn’t do to have the protagonist called a whore every scene in a show for young girls, now would it?

Changing some historical nuance isn’t a deal breaker for a show such as this, full of fantasy and no “true story” adaptation. The real issue is the complete lack of feeling that this takes place in a period gone by. This is a very “anime” anime for teenage girls with its modern humour and contemporary mannerisms. I wouldn’t call this a historical piece. I liken Saiunkoku to characters dressing up for a period piece rather and actual period piece. Whether the author wasn’t skilled enough to write a period piece or the team thought it would be too difficult for the target audience to understand, Saiunkoku isn’t a period romance.

Barring that, it does have strengths. For one, the aesthetic is lovely, suits the tone of the series, and no doubt makes the bishounen even more appealing to the audience. While this is a reverse harem, matters never descend into garbage harem territory. It also has many elements, from the intricacies of government to wider cultures and a large cast of character without dragging down proceedings. The story moves at a good pace and never feels tired. The top-level plot progress slows at times, though this is in exchange for more exploration of a subplot. I cannot impress upon you enough how surprised I am by this. Too often, such a volume of elements results in a bloated mess where everything competes for attention, nothing sticks with the audience, and you just want to drop the series.

We have plenty of politics within and without as Shuurei navigates the imperial court and all its conniving players. She faces a greater challenge than others do, being a woman in the territory of men while falling for some of them. The drama never gets heavy, yet it has enough to deliver the audience to the conclusion. It maintains the mask of shoujo romance, yet doesn’t do so at the total expense of depth.

The Story of Saiunkoku is quite good for young girls – there is a lot here for the right audience – but anyone desiring an experience that takes you back in time with a touch of fantasy will find this piece too modern.

Art – Medium

Most of the effort went into the character designs and aesthetics, which look nice, instead of animation, which needs work.

Sound – Medium

Music is the best part of The Story of Saiunkoku. I like the OP and classical Asian instrumental soundtrack. As for acting, the Japanese fine. I would avoid the dub, as a couple of characters are jarring. One kid has so much nasal on top of being a kid everyone would punch on first meeting.

Story – Medium

A girl agrees to become concubine to the new emperor in exchange for a hefty reward, but the simple proposition complicates itself when feelings get involved. While not a period piece whatsoever, The Story of Saiunkoku is a good shoujo romance.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans. The Story of Saiunkoku is shoujo within and without – unfortunately at the expense of historical realism. It knows its core demographic.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Pop Team Epic – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Poputepipikku

 

Similar: Inferno Cop

Detroit Metal City

Cromartie High School

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Just memes.

Negatives:

  • Just memes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Do you like memes? No, do you love memes? Boy, do I have the anime for you!

Pop Team Epic is trolling made manifest in anime form. When I started the first episode and it played an ordinary idol anime opening, I thought I had put on the wrong series. No, it was just messing with me. When the episode ended with half the runtime remaining, only to restart the episode with the girls voiced by the opposite gender, I…had no words. This is a hard one to describe.

Put simply, Pop Team Epic is a collection of skits lasting anywhere between 10 seconds to a minute long. It pulls from anything and everything. One second, Berserk’s evil egg mutates into the face of the blond girl, the next second we’re waking up in the cart at the start of Skyrim, and then we find ourselves in real life. It is a thousand memes put through a vulgar blender and sprayed onto walls, floor, and ceiling to see what sticks. I take it the studio allowed its artists and voice actors to do whatever they wanted.

My favourite skits are when, rather than bothering to animate a scene, two people flip through storyboard pages or the time we look into the voice-recording studio, where the actors lose their minds over the insanity of the script – full mental breakdowns! The random cuts to a French animator from the studio talking in a calm voice, explain something about the animation, before it cuts to the two girls in France flipping everyone off also got a chuckle.

There’s not much to say about Pop Team Epic. Is it good? Eh… It’s hit and miss from skit to skit – since they don’t last long, the bad ones don’t hang around. I think the biggest problem with Pop Team Epic is watching it in episodic format. This material works best taken in one skit at a time, shared to you online by a friend or stranger like a meme. If someone were to send you a video of the same meme done it different ways over a 20-minute video, you’d stop laughing a minute in. Watching Pop Team Epic as an anime series is just that. And like most memes, this will be dated in a year’s time.

My recommendation, should Pop Team Epic seem of interest to you, is to watch random clips online. It doesn’t really work when put together as an “episode”, too random in its structure and rarely giving time to appreciate the joke. Here, watch one:

Art – Medium

A random collection of visual techniques and styles – sometime with no art whatsoever – works as often as it fails. Or is the other way around? I swear one scene was made in Microsoft Paint.

Sound – Medium

I’ll give it to the actors – they commit. Watch it in Japanese for extra lunacy.

Story – ?

Just memes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For meme connoisseurs only. If you must watch Pop Team Epic, do it in random doses like a mad doctor throwing prescriptions at passersby.

(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: None

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