What’s in a name? It can make or break immersion. A name can draw you in, pique your interest, or drive you away completely. A great name creates an experience before you even crack open that new book or comic. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash has just that: a fantastic name. And it did its job with me, drawing me in before I saw or knew anything else. The name itself? Grim as hell. It sounds like something most fantasy fans would be interested in.
The light novel series is at four volumes so far, but for this review, I will focus on the first “level.” Aptly named “Whisper, Chant, Prayer, Awaken,” the premise is a little foggy at first. A group of people, likely from a world similar to our own, find themselves thrown into the world of Grimgar. The spooky name lends itself to the entire geography, made up of separate kingdoms and territories.
In this world, we follow the group as they navigate with no memory of where they came from or even who they are. If it sounds like something you’ve heard of, you’re probably not wrong. It’s a classic premise that both anime and manga love to utilize, and for good reason. Isekai is a fantasy genre that takes a character from one world (that’s typically recognizable to us) and places them into a foreign one. Sound familiar? It’s the perfect set up for a fantasy series, and one that I personally love. Done right, it’s a powerhouse to read or watch, as it delivers both strange new things and familiarity.
Throughout the story, we watch as our group of travelers traverse monstrous problems and amplified anxieties. It allows you to completely immerse yourself in the world while being wrapped up in things like goblins, ghouls, and even the undead. Of course, you’re safe from said beings. At least, we hope so.
One of the reasons why the premise of transportation to new worlds with zero memories of your own is so appealing to creators is the absolute freedom it lends you. It’s obvious from the very beginning of Grimgar that Ao Jūmonji set out with the idea of creating a new world, and he does an amazing job. There is so much detail packed into the premise of the kingdoms we encounter before the plot is even introduced. The landscapes are so lovingly crafted that they could stand by themselves on two strong legs. And then there are the monsters, as one might imagine, but it’s not a bad thing.
Again, before the story even begins, we are given crafted histories and complex details that gear you up for a story of powerful magnitudes. It dances along the line of not only wanting to experience the land and creatures, but also wanting to stay as far away as possible because goblins are pretty darn dangerous. Not to mention, the illustrations provided by Eiri Shirai are absolutely breathtaking. They are possibly my favorite part of the novel, which might not be the best thing considering how few illustrations there are.
Then comes the best part about the characters – their setup. We go through cataloging different classes, such as mage, warrior, and even samurai. There is a comfortable familiarity to it that most readers will enjoy. However, instead of a typical plot with an overpowered main character, we have characters who experience dread, terror, and struggles. It’s almost refreshing having characters who, while going into something blind, aren’t automatically overpowered.
Unfortunately, with all the details packed into the world and the monsters that occupy it, the people fall a bit flat. Even with their more realistic narrative and the insight into their emotional states, the characters end up lacking. Their interactions with each other feel stiff and forced.
As the story goes on, it feels like their relationships should be growing, but they just aren’t until something major happens. The growth feels forced, almost as if it is an afterthought. The characters feel out of place in the organic world they’re in, but not in a good way. While the story uses typical character archetypes, it drags the story down slightly, prodding them into certain reactions. Even though they are a bit refreshing in their weaknesses, it’s not quite enough to save their personalities. It’s also very heavy-handed when it comes to its treatment of female characters. While meant to be light-hearted and fun, you can’t help but feel creeped out over screaming matches about bra sizes.
The first “level” in the series of Grimgar feels like a rehashing of several different anime and manga I’ve read before. It introduces plot points and people in similar ways of plopping them in front of the reader while gesturing wildly. However, the care that went into the world-building is strong enough that it kept me reading and interested. My hopes as I continue the series are for the characters to feel more organic to the story. Currently, it feels like two stories stitched together, which in some cases might work. But within Grimgar it only leaves one wanting for solutions to problems that surround the forced interactions. Character exchanges aside, we are presented with a really fun, interactive world that tries so hard to draw the reader in. And it does – to a point.
Overall, it was a light, fun read. It didn’t ask the reader to go out of their comfort zone. Rather, it went into the comfort zone with the reader while holding a cup of conventional hot cocoa. The novel feels self-aware in that it knows where its strengths reside and where they don’t. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to want to remedy its issues. It’s not enough to leave me disinterested in what comes after. I only hope the next volume entails the characters interacting more with one another and the environment, instead of them playing back up to the land itself. Ideally, the writing will allow itself to let go, as it feels stiff, almost as if with its self-awareness it has to adhere to certain plot lines and ideas. The novel has room to grow, and I truly hope it does.
You can read more about “Grimgar of Fantasy And Ash Vol. 1” on Anime-Planet, and order it through the J-Novel Club’s website. Special thank you to J-Novel Club for giving us the opportunity to review this light novel.