Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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.

In conclusion,

Image result for shish kebab

 

44 Comments

  1. Socordya says:

    So… what is a grimgar? Are there other grimgars who aren’t of fantasy and ash? Grimgars of fear and rom-com?




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    1. illhousen says:

      Quite obviously, it’s a portmanteau of “grim” and “GAR”. So:




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  2. Raven says:
    It’s weird that in the book, killing the goblin is NBD. cause in the anime, it’s horrifying.  All the characters can barely manage to make themselves attack it once they realize it’s a person (they keep at it because they will literally starve if they don’t complete this quest) and once it’s dead they all sit around traumatized for a good while.



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    1. Act says:

      Wow, that’s interesting — one of the scriptwriters for the show must have had their shit together. In the book they all still have basically a month’s worth of money and they do it just to practice fighting.




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    2. Roarke says:

      I did like that the anime frequently pushed the idea that the monsters were people with their own societies, giving them things like agriculture and civilians in addition to being smart and using traps/tactics.

      I remember that endcard after the group kills that gang of goblins – it was just the leader goblin sitting on a crate surrounded by little doglike critters petting one and I was just like, shit.




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  3. illhousen says:

    I’ve only watched the anime, didn’t read the novel. From what you’re saying here, it does appear that the anime significantly improves on the story. The low-key focus comes out stronger without boggling the narrative under unnecessary details, at the very least.

    On the other hand, I didn’t feel any particular attachment to the characters, so I think their portrayal is rather faithful to the novel (I did like Maria, a cleric who replaces the dead guy, but I think I liked her for the wrong reasons. I actually appreciated her no-bullshit “I’m here to do work and work I do” attitude, and when her tragic story was revealed and she started to become more open, etc., it came as a disappointment).

    Overall, I’d say the anime is OK if you’re in the right mood, though still deeply flawed and very much plagued by fanservice and character cliches.

    Also, I still can’t get over the dark knights (or however they’re called) guild. Sure, let’s join a fucking death cult that somehow is allowed to operate alongside churches that should hate its guts, that’s clearly a splendid idea.




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    1. Roarke says:

      Head priest is voiced by Kotomine Kirei. That’s why the death cult is allowed to operate without harassment.

      The anime is probably overall better than the LN I’d say, but it also means you have to follow the camera over to the girls every time Joke/Pervert Boy (what is that trope called anyway?) has an opinion about them.




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      1. illhousen says:

        what is that trope called anyway?

        The Brock.




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        1. Raven says:
          That seems a bit harsh towards Brock.  It’s admitedly been a while since I’ve seen the Pokemon anime, but I don’t think Brock would ever do something like try and watch the girls showering.



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          1. Act says:

            Isn’t there a scene in the infamous Ono comic where Brock sneaks up on Misty in the bath? I’m not sure if it’s fair to count the Ono comic, though.




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            1. CrazyEd says:

              The Brock is more like the PG version of that trope, I feel. The Ono comic is… definitely a PG take on anything that can have a non-PG take on it.




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        2. Act says:

          This was some unholy Combination of Obnoxious Anime Comic Relief and the Brock. I’m not sure if there’s a specific name for that, but it’s certainly a subtrope that gets enough play that it deserves its own.




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  4. Roarke says:

    Argh, yeah, I forgot how two-dimensional the characters were. I mean the Joke Pervert boy is the worst by miles, but none of the characters were actually compelling.

    I didn’t read the LN, just watched the anime, and it seems from the review that the anime is strictly superior, if only because it doesn’t waste time teaching people the glorious drudgery of opening bank accounts.

    Also the anime has Kotomine Kirei’s voice actor play the head of the priest’s guild, so obviously someone had their shit together.

    Speaking of, I do wonder about worlds that stick to strict RPG tropes even down to classes. We have something similar in the West where we’ll take, like, Dungeons and Dragons, and tell a story in a world nominally faithful to those mechanics. As such, the trope doesn’t really bother me all that much, as long as I don’t think about, say, why there’s an advertised Thieves’ Guild that never gets in trouble with the law.

    Death cults operating in the mainstream is totally kosher, though; not sure what illhousen’s problem is there.




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    1. illhousen says:

      Argh, yeah, I forgot how two-dimensional the characters were.

      The monsters had some surprising depth to them, considering they’re treated as expendable mooks by the narrative for the most part.

      (Though that actually created a dissonance for me: like, we see them have their own society, living their own lives when the heroes are away, so… ah… are we sure we should root for those random mercs working on clearly corrupt government – given it sees nothing wrong with employing amnesiac conscripts on a very deadly job? What exactly makes them better than the goblins? What makes their claim on the land more valid, aside from pure strength of arms?

      When the protagonists are nicknamed Goblin Slayers, is it some kind of I Am Legend shit going on here? Like, is it an ironic nod towards them becoming genocidial warmongers?

      Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprising with Kotomine running the show. He probably has a boner thinking about how to best point such things out to the protagonists.)

      We have something similar in the West where we’ll take, like, Dungeons and Dragons, and tell a story in a world nominally faithful to those mechanics.

      Are you talking about Dragonlance books and the like? Because they were kinda shit, and some of it can be attributed to them following D&D mechanics and overall adventure structure.

      I’d say generally it’s a good idea to conceal the RPG roots and reconnect mechanics back to reality.




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      1. Roarke says:

        I mean, I know why people like books and other media that ape tabletop/video game mechanics. They’re familiar and relatable to people who play them. It’s not like folks who don’t play games are reading that stuff. 

        I’m not even mad about it, honestly. Most of the smarter authors stick to parody when using this stuff, and move away as the material is better able to stand on its own. The authors that don’t remain charitably obscure. 




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      2. EdH says:
        So kind of like what Dungeon Meshi does? I mean, it’s very clear about the rough rpg aspects everyone is, but they just do the bare minimum link to the rpg mechanics, and really work on why dungeons are a thing adventurers explore.

        Also apologies Roarke, I accidentally pressed report while trying to reply.




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        1. illhousen says:

          Not familiar with it, so can’t say.

          What I mean is that you don’t really need to reference game mechanics in any form even if you’re writing about a world that originated as an RPG setting. Like, there are stories about a bunch of brave adventurers exploring the ruins of a temple to forgotten gods and stealing their shit that were written before RPGs were invented in modern sense. There isn’t any need to establish that characters fall into specific classes with codified abilities instead of being, you know, just people with skills that can naturally be learned in a given setting.




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          1. Nerem says:
            The plot of Dungeon Meshi is, if I remember correctly, the female lead’s sister is eaten by a dragon and now they have to hunt it down and kill it so she can be ressurected (since they need the body or uh… the umm… remains to ressurect a corpse). This is more a frame for ‘why we’re going into the dungeon and also figuring out how to survive in a place with little natural food.

            My favored story of this kind (called Isekai) is probably the original anime one (as I can’t think of an earlier example in anime), Aura Battler Dunbine. Which also has a protagonist being summoned to be used by a sketchy government. Except well, he figures out he’s fighting on the side of evil, or at least the more evil side.
             
             




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    2. CrazyEd says:

      Light novels are definitely way worse about sticking to RPG mechanics that don’t make sense than things in the west. Sure, you see things like “the Thieves Guild”, but that’s a narrative deal, it’s not like… Tate no Yuusha literally having characters pull down 3D character sheets to check their stats like it was fucking Sword Art Online.




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      1. Roarke says:

        Sword Art Online might also have played a role in all this, with later writers just flat-out ignoring the fact that SAO was a literal video game and so had the only real justification for game mechanics. When your worldbuilding fail exceeds SAO, you know you’ve got problems.

        I watched KonoSuba recently (which is now one of my favorite isekai, probably due to the low bar for the genre), and while it’s still dumb to have a ‘real’ world run on game mechanics, I think they salvaged the premise as well as they could by making it a failing world that gets marketed for reincarnation and has actual goddesses acting like salespeople to get folks to go there. That was pretty goddamn hilarious and a good way to frame the usual ‘average loser protagonist reborn in another world but now he’s totally hax and gets all the chicks’ plot.




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        1. CrazyEd says:

          Well, to be fair, Konosuba is more of a parody of the typical isekai plot. It looked at the premise, said “this is fucking stupid”, and wrote an appropriately fucking stupid plot to go with it.

          That said, I’m surprised I’ve never seen a masochistic tank character before Konosuba. You think that’d be an obvious joke. Who else would pick a tank class in a real life situation?




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          1. Nerem says:
            If I had to be a tank to be a Death Knight, I’d be one in a heartbeat.

             

            The real reason it took so long is that the idea of a ‘tank character’ in Konosuba’s sense largely doesn’t exist outside of MMOs, since most non-MMOs don’t give you that many options, if any, to get enemies to attack you. So you just end up being a fighter who can survive a few hits.

            While I still suggest watching Aura Battler Dunbine for a good look at a silly Isekai story, you should also watch Chou Mashin Wataru for a more parody look at it, from around the same era.

            Relatedly, both Chou Mashin Wataru and Aura Battler Dunbine are the stars of the upcoming Isekai-themed game Super Robot Wars X.

             

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbXN8-eIqhM

             

            It’s prolly going to do the whole isekai premise way better than Grimgar.
             




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  5. David says:
    I really dislike how isekai story authors feel the need to write stories with explicit RPG mechanics. It almost always leads to a dry story filled with useless minutiae about skills.



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    1. illhousen says:

      I’m mostly baffled over why it’s so prevalent. Like, sure, power fantasies, I get it, but there is a lot of ways to turn your SI into god when you’re the author, so why this particular gimmick?

      Was there some genre-defining story that everyone now copies or something?




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      1. Nerem says:
        That story was called Dragon Quest.
         



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        1. Act says:

          Off-topic, but Dragon Quest 5 was very good.




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          1. Nerem says:
            Have you been playing DQ5 remake or DQ5 original? You’d probably understand more why America went for FF over DQ if you played the originals of both. The early games of DQ were SUPER ROUGH and had a lot of incredibly unfun design decisions. And then DQ6 and 7 were incredibly poorly made and even Japan ran screaming from the series for a while.
             



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            1. Actislazyandwontlogin says:
              Original of the first trilogy, remakes of the second. I’m enjoying 6 :×



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            2. Roarke says:

              I want royalties on this gag.




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            3. Nerem says:
              I hear people liked 6’s remake. It probably helped that it didn’t cost over 130 dollars to buy.

              DQ7’s big issue is that it’s super slow and tedious to actually travel around and there’s a TON of travelling around and the plot is very slow and not all that interesting.
               




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            4. Act says:

              All I know about 7 is that it has a playtime of over 100 hours and I’m morbidly curious as to whether I can get through it or not. I have seen a decent amount of people say it was long but engaging enough to get through, so we’ll see.




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            5. Nerem says:
              Get the remake if you value your sanity. My frirnd who loves DQ had to play the remake version. It fixes a lot of those issues I mentioned.
               
               



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            6. Methinks it is perhaps time for you to take this to a discussion post.




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            7. Act says:

              Eh, the notifications are only going to me and I don’t really care. I’ll probs do a DQ overview post eventually.




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        2. illhousen says:

          I’ve heard that Dragon Quest was weirdly influential on certain kind of Japanese media, but I would like details.

          Though I’d say it still doesn’t explain the love for mechanics. Like, D&D was influential in fantasy circles as well, codifying the portrayal of various character races and archetypes, but it’s not like many authors outright used Vancian magic or talked about stats and levels in the narrative.




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          1. SpoonyViking says:

            “Dragon Quest” is sort of like the Tolkien of JRPGs: not the first videogame RPG ever (the “Ultima” series, for instance, came first), but it basically created the JRPG genre.




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            1. Act says:

              At risk of sending this thread careening toward a completely unrelated discussion, I wonder why FF got bigger in the west than DQ. Every DQ game I’ve played is better than every FF game I’ve played. I’ve been working my way through the DQ catalogue from the beginning on the advice of smallestbrother (I’m on 6 now), and even the first few were quite cute and entertaining, while FF always has left me feeling like I wasted my time.




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            2. Roarke says:

              Could have been a localization issue. Early localization and marketing was hit-and-miss enough that even a better game wouldn’t necessarily become popular or even well-known outside Japan. It took Fire Emblem until like 2003 to cross the ocean, for instance, and that series is goddamn spectacular.




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            3. Y says:
              Yeah this is exactly right, the first game was released in Japan in 1986 but not in the US until 89; wikipedia doesnt say if it was ever even released in Europe/Australia. The fourth one, a NES game, was released inthe US two years after the SNES was on the market, and I know for a fact that one was never released in Europe/Australia until the DS remake. Probably most other games have stories like that.



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            4. Nerem says:
              I never really liked DQ. It’s the gameplay.

               

              Well, not completely true. I adore DQ Monsters. The main series is largely just kind of mehly generic gameplay-wise. It does have some good story, but eh I just don’t feel it a lot of the time.

               
               




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            5. Roarke says:

              Yeah, there it is. A three-year gap is way too long, especially in that time period. Heck, maybe Final Fantasy came out in the States earlier, despite having been made later.

              By 1989, a lot of RPGs like Wasteland, Bard’s Tale 1-3, and NetHack had already shaped Western perceptions of what an RPG should be like. It wouldn’t surprise me that DQ was too little, too late.




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            6. Nerem says:
              And then Final Fantasy 1 came out less than a year later in America and way a lot more impressive gameplay and story-wise.
               
               



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          2. Nerem says:
            A lot of early parodies of DQ in Japanese media directly used the mechanics, and it stuck. It just became the idea of going to a fantasy RPG-eque world ALSO means the mechanics existing too. A really famous show actually was just straight up Dragon Quest but as a really funny parody.
             



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            1. CrazyEd says:

              A comedy or parody can get away with a lot of stuff that wouldn’t fly in a serious story, though.




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