I know it is practically very different from Game Of Thrones, but when I was watching Record of Grancrest War, the only show I thought it reminded me of was Game Of Thrones.
Grancrest Senki, or Record Of Grancrest War, is a TV anime that aired in the Winter 2018 season from Jan 6th to Jun 23rd with 24 episodes. It was an adaptation of a Light Novel by the same name and falls under the Drama, Fantasy, Action and Romance categories, although I would add Supernatural, Political and Adventure to that list.
I am going to try reviewing this anime in a different way than I usually do, so tell me which you prefer.
Record of Grancrest War is, in my opinion, a shining example of how a story can be brought to life remarkably with a talented director. The director Shinichi Omata previously perfected his craft with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, he’s proven by now that he’s capable at adapting a good source material. Plenty of his visual storytelling quirks are visible in the political drama this series offers. Grancrest is quite different from the drama oriented Rakugo in that its story is fantastical and its setting revolves around the battlefield.
In adapting this different type of story Omata employs new methods to realize the more battle-focused structure. However, this adaptation would prove to be a much tougher ambition. The light novel Grancrest Senki was adapted from is quite long, which is the cause of pacing issues in the first half. The plot moved quickly at first, but upon rewatching all 24 episodes at once they’re not nearly bad enough to ruin the show. After all, this is a fast-moving adrenaline-pumping battle show, moving from one battle to the next prevents it from growing tiresome. However, the fast pacing does make it hard to keep track of all the characters and plot lines when watching it weekly. This is likely the cause of so much hate for the show, I know it turned me off at first, but giving it a second chance was definitely worth it. I highly recommend watching this series all at once to enjoy the story at its best.
The story’s premise is relatively simple, Chaos reigns throughout the world and only lords with the power of Crests can stop it. Rather than focusing their efforts to put a stop to the chaos, the lords choose to fight and take one another’s Crests because having the power to purify the chaos means control over everyone in the continent who needs protecting. Enter the mage Silica, the series heroine who despises the lords for their greed, through a chance encounter she meets the compassionate wandering knight Theo, seeking to save his homeland. Together they join forces and in a style not dissimilar to a standard JRPG or Dungeons & Dragons, they assemble their party of lords and gradually grow their army. With the goal of unifying the crests and ending Chaos, so more or less world peace, they’re really easy heroes to root for.
This isn’t an original story by any means, but it did manage to engage me in spite of this. Not even the fast pacing of the first half could make it difficult to understand what is occurring, although it does help to watch the show consecutively rather than weekly. Rewatching Grancrest after witnessing how it develops in the second half led me to pick up on many details I had initially ignored. The first time I watched it I was mostly disinterested in the plot until the pacing slowed and allowed the main cast time to develop enough to be likeable. After rewatching the first half I noticed how despite the cast being incredibly large, the series always makes an effort to give it’s characters motivations. One of the best parts of Grancrest Senki for me was the ‘no bullsh*t’ approach that it had to its story. Every minute of every episode was integral and I would find it hard pressed to find any part that I would call ‘fluff’ or ‘filler’. Another would be its willingness to show the harshness of the real world. Many stories show that ‘plot armour’ which protects important characters from the harsh nature of reality. However, in Grancrest Senki the events between Milza and Marrine prove that the show doesn’t have that ‘plot armour’ for its important characters. The same goes for Earl Villar, who was by far (in my opinion of course) one of the best characters, and that’s coming from someone who thought that none of the characters were unlikeable in their own right.
The source material is probably more in-depth with backstories and more extensive dialogue, but somehow this adaptation is able to compensate for what it’s missing with fantastic directing. One of the best and most frequent examples of this is during important discussions, the director loves to clue you in on how one of the major characters is reacting. He uses very purposefully uses close-ups to consolidate a subtle emotional reaction at the perfect moment. It’s like how you could praise a joke for being well timed, the close-ups are timed right when a key phrase is said invoking a small but important reaction. Perhaps using close-ups like this is sort of a shortcut in writing, but when you have so many characters to juggle with so little time it’s a very helpful way to keep the audience engaged with the cast.
The cast themselves are a fairly standard JRPG party with Theo Cornaro as their leader. Theo is your typical nice guy protagonist, except he actually uses the power he gains to make the world better throughout the show. He’s sort of misguided at first; one of his best lines representing this being “Why can’t we get rid of taxes?” and as usual Silica gently implies that he’s kind of an idiot in the same way a kindhearted little kid is. Even without having the most complex personality, he proves consistently that he is a compassionate person by always putting others ahead of him. Regardless of how high his status rises throughout the series, he doesn’t let himself forget even his foot soldiers.
Frankly, Theo’s simplicity isn’t an obstacle for enjoying the show because he doesn’t dominate center stage, he shares it with his partner and eventual love interest Silica, who is a considerably more compelling character. Thankfully Silica is given plenty of agency in the story, she strategizes Theo’s wars with and sometimes for him while he riles up his army with niceness. I hate seeing the love interest character shuffled off into the corner with no pull in the narrative, so Silica’s defiance and individuality are quite refreshing. Their burgeoning romance throughout the series feels incredibly organic, they don’t fall in love because Theo is the guy with the power but out of mutual respect for one another and passion for the same goal. He wants to unite the crests so they can be used to protect everyone and she expresses disdain for the lord’s misuse of the crests; they’re a dynamic duo and they have genuine chemistry together in and out of the battles.
And the battles, so many battles. I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much fighting would be in Grancrest Senki, but I suppose it does live up to its English title, Record of Grancrest War. The battles are how the series progresses its story, similar to the JRPGs that inspired it. If you want an ally, fight them and prove you’re worthy. If you have a disagreement, fight them and prove who’s right. Thankfully, the action is passionately animated. Action scenes are dynamically directed with many different fighting styles used, with different animators hired throughout the series to keep this approach to telling the story refreshing. Even the guy who animated the breathtaking sakuga in Fate/Apocrypha returned to do a few episodes here, and dare I say they fit Grancrest even better thanks to its strong emotional core. There were, however, a few times where the visuals weren’t up to snuff and it was clear they were saving the budget for a grand climax. Other than those low points, it’s visually quite solid.
The various art styles and animation techniques used to great effect make Grancrest Senki feel more experimental rather than the standard look you’d expect from A-1 pictures. Director Shinichi Omata reminds us of his penchant for well realized dramatic moments with great editing on and off the battlefield. Notably, some of the storyboards used for one of the show’s cruelest antagonists Milza are suitably moody with alienating points of view constantly hiding him in shadows. Another great way the villain is portrayed is through the striking thicker lines and his character design being engulfed in darkness aside from his eye and weapon, perfectly conveying the intimidation meant to be felt by the heroes. The visuals superbly define the tone at many points throughout the show; whether it be sweeping establishing shots of lush castles, the dark abstract style to show the presence of chaos, and especially the hopeful horizons illuminated by the setting sun to convey levity after a war. Also, the use of its thrilling orchestral pieces and occasionally uplifting ones do wonders for ensuring emotional beats are on point.
The most impactful beat in the story comes at the very end with the most satisfying and rewarding finale the series could have possibly had. It perfectly encapsulates the show’s themes while also working as the ideal end game to complement its JRPG roots. While the plot’s direction is fairly predictable to anyone who has played a game of its type, what matters is the execution. This isn’t some kind of mystery story, although there are plenty of twists and even a couple of shocking betrayals sprinkled in, the story’s main success lies in how it’s stellar story-telling. I can’t say more without spoiling it, but just know that it truly does feel like a reward for completing the series.
Great visual storytelling is enough to make Grancrest Senki’s standard tale of the underdogs rising to power much more engaging. If you’re looking for a combat-oriented action-adventure, with plenty of in-depth strategizing, and a romance featuring two compelling leads, then chances are you’ll find it as enthralling as I did.
Final Score: Favourable! (8.1/10)