If the first volume of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash didn’t quite cut it for you, I have good news. Don’t worry, only mild spoilers ahead! At the end of the first volume of Grimgar, we leave our band of travelers in the throes of mourning and despair after the loss of a group member. It’s not quite a shocking moment, but compelling enough to keep both the reader and the rest of the group going. At this point in the story, it’s no surprise that Grimgar isn’t all fun and games. It’s a realistic shock to the reader in ways that quite a few other isekai genre novels lack. There’s a heavy weight to the story. There are reactions, consequences, and repercussions.
“Level 2,” or volume two, is named “Everything is Precious.” It picks up after the events of the first volume and follows the responses the party has to the misfortune they’ve suffered. The party is still going forward, growing with each day, it seems. They’ve traveled far to a new area to level up even more, taking them to new heights and powers. Unfortunately, it’s also the place where the newest member of the party suffers from a tremendous loss. The stakes somehow feel even higher in the continuation of the story, and we feel the apprehension behind every guess, every choice, and every decision.
The novel starts off very similar to the first. It catalogues new geography, monsters, and gives a great refresher on the players at hand. It’s a nice moment to catch up before being thrown back into absolute madness. Where I felt the novel fell flat in the first volume, this one seemed to acknowledge its problems and thrust itself forward with character development. Seeing every player in the party have moments of their own to shine (or fail) was so refreshing. While the interactions between the party members still felt a bit forced, there was enough of an improvement from the first edition that it felt closer to organic.
The series definitely grows with each passing moment in the second volume. The world feels even more solid than it did in the last, with the geography feeling as dangerous as it is supposed to. The first volume laid down excellent groundwork for how the world of Grimgar is, but now the characters are actual players in the story. They’re no longer just there to exist as plot points, but feel active and involved in their lives and their decisions. Again, the few illustrations we have are breathtakingly gorgeous, bringing an almost ethereal feel to the novel as a whole.
Reading the second volume almost felt like a bit of relief. The worries of a story suffering from poor character development were quickly squashed. The tropes that were laid out in the first volume are either laid to rest or made to be a bit more subtle. If something is there, it no longer feels placed there due to comedic factors. Instead, it shows more of a heavy hand. It exists for a purpose now, and honestly, it feels nice. It’s a great departure from what we read throughout volume one. Not to mention, it begins to treat its female characters quite a bit better. Gone are (most) of the jokes about creeping in on the girls bathing.
While things have gotten quite a bit better from the first novel, there were still a few moments that had me gritting my teeth. I was apprehensive starting the second one, as I wasn’t wanting to wade through stiff interactions and hard to digest conversations for a whole novel once again. And while it was leaps and bounds better, it still was a bit rough around the edges.
The dialogue has moments that were hard to get through, with rigid, stiff quips and retorts that broke you out of the immersion of the story. It’s not enough to make one stop reading, but it comes close a few times. And when it comes to our main character, Haruhiro, even his inner monologue can’t save him. Of all the members in the party, he seems to be lacking the most. But it’s hard to say if it’s Haruhiro that is the problem, or that the people around him are suddenly so vivacious, interesting, and potentially dangerous. His lack of personality allows those around him to shine. It then becomes hard to tell if they truly are as interesting as they seem to be.
The first volume of the series seemed determined to lay down as much foundation as possible to show off a brand new world and characters we could relate to. However, in its attempts at having solid groundwork, it sacrificed the characters that reside there.
As I mentioned in the last review, the series has room for improvement. If it allows itself to let go and to thrive in its own way, it would be fantastic. The second volume takes great strides in trying to accomplish that. Without skimping out on the details that helped push the first volume forward, the second only grows further. The characters feel more organic, with heavy decisions not only weighing on them, but also on the reader as well. The expansion on the characters was a joy to read. At this rate, it looks like the series can only continue going up from here, with each volume gaining more traction. The development of both characters and story help to bring it from a casual read to something you want to invest in.
If the progress continues to grow this much for each novel, the ending should be a powerhouse. The tropes and archetypes it lays out in the first novel are handled well in the second. Overall, it’s a fun read and surprised me greatly. I was expecting more of what I disliked in the first, but instead was met with better writing and more love and care poured into the characters we were introduced to in the beginning.
You can read more about “Grimgar of Fantasy And Ash Vol. 2” 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.