The absurdly-named Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is an iteration of the transported-to-fantasy-world story that tries to distinguish itself by being, like, realistic, man. I found its overuse of the worst anime cliches irritating and wound up frustrated by its refusal to engage its own premise.
So, a caveat here, is I only got about 200 pages into the first volume before it started to become really clear things weren’t going to improve much. That may seem like a long way, but this was actually absurdly long for a light novel, about 400 pages. (For reference, a single volume of something like Oregairu or Re:Zero is closer to 175.) This is because there’s so much nothing that happens that the book had to be this long to hit the first major plot event, the death of a main character. As you might imagine, the pacing here was not impressive, and while you’d think it would try to carry itself on the alienness of the world, it’s mostly just hundreds of pages of Unlikable Anime Quirks arguing with each other about who’s the most unlikable. As far as I’m aware, the weirdest things this world has to offer are shish kebabs and bank fees. (And I get that Japan isn’t what you’d call ethnically diverse, but shut up about the fucking shish kebabs.)
Anyway, now I’m getting ahead of myself. Grimgar starts with a group of people waking up in a dark dungeon with no memory of how they got there — and, concerningly, every time they try to remember their past lives, they feel like the memories are stolen further away. They’re able to make their way out of the dungeon, at which point they’re immediately escorted to a military facility and told they’re now members of a civilian army.
If this seems like a really creepy setting to you, we’re on the same page. By all appearances these people have been kidnapped from their homes — possibly their world — been mindwiped, and have been forced into military service. That’s horrifying. It’s also a good way to set one of these stories apart in what’s become a very bloated genre.
However, the book doesn’t seem to get what’s so weird about this setup. Every single character has been assigned a personalized Idiot Ball that they will proceed to carry around for the remainder of the story. No one thinks this is odd. Not once does the viewpoint character wonder how he got here or why he’s here. No one groups up and tries to figure out what’s happened to them. It’s like this happens to all of them every day and they’re totally psyched. I don’t understand how there could be so many idiot balls in play that literally no one has asked “Hey, uh, so it kind of seems like you kidnapped and mindwiped us in order to get us to serve as cannonfodder for you, what’s up with that?” It’s like they were all told the premise of the story and were like, hmm, yeah, okay, I’ll do that.
This leads into the next problem, which is that the entire world runs on RPG logic. Like, to the point that there’s an IRL class system and the story twists itself so that you literally have to choose a character class, and there are recommended party setups, and base spells (also everyone can do magic and no one thinks twice about it), and it’s completely ridiculous. The world even has goddamn fetch quests. (Also, I found it super creepy how nonplussed the party was about murdering the mud goblin thing. It’s described as humanoid, it screams and runs when they attack it, and the prose repeatedly describes how clearly frightened it is… but no one has any reaction to murdering it as it cries out in pain and fear. There’s not any indication this is odd, either. In fact, earlier, one character had wondered if she’d be able to kill a rabbit for food only to have everyone else call her stupid, and then it never comes up again. The author just didn’t want to deal with it.)
The characters were really the worst part, though. They’re not people, just anime tropes. They’re flat as pancakes and constantly bicker. As usual, Obnoxious Anime Comic Relief/Tone-Whiplash Boy is the worst. He’s also the books excuse to oogle, grope, and otherwise sexually harass and assault the female characters, though the other characters aren’t exactly paragons of virtue. There’s a scene where the protagonist decides a young girl looks about 10 and then he proceeds to evaluate her looks and decide she’s totally fuckable. It was incredibly creepy.
The action, as it were, is just characters completing Beginner Quests like finding a room at the inn, being accepted by their class guild, and opening an account at the bank.
Ostensibly the book is trying for a but what if you really were sent to another world!!!!!!!!!1 thing, but it doesn’t seem to get that stories skip all the minutiae because it’s typically not interesting, not because they’re sheeple, and the author couldn’t even make it interesting when the whole point was to have it be the focus. I realize I’m harping on this, but there was an entire chapter that was just the character opening a bank account, complaining about transaction fees, and deciding how much money to deposit at once in light of the fee. I would have been better off reading about the actual transaction fees of my actual credit card for twenty minutes.
I imagine the anime improves on this both because I can’t imagine how you could make it more inane but also because it cuts out the oodles of narration bogging down everything. Even if you have a scene of the character going to the bank, you presumably don’t also have an entire monologue about what a sheist it is.