「常闇の森」 (Tokoyami no Mori)
“Forest of Eternal Darkness”
This episode begins with an argument between a vampire, a werewolf, and a black witch. Prior to this episode, we hadn’t heard anything about these factions—or if we had, it was apparently so scant that I can’t remember it. That’s a huge issue, and let’s discuss why.
The problem with the writers introducing these factions (plus the white witches) and hurling us into the middle of a conflict between them is that they were trying to do too much at once. During the same time we’re saying to ourselves, “Wait, there are vampires in this world?”, they’re introducing individual characters with unique worldviews and a small sub-conflict, and expecting us to absorb it all. Or care. Neither are great bets. Humans are generally pretty lazy, so it’s better to do one thing at a time. Tell us about these factions, and then bring us into the specific conflict. Works much better.
The galling thing is that this is so easy to fix. Normally I don’t like to throw that much shade at a fellow storyteller, but this one really is easy. Take Nanatsu no Taizai. Know those little pre-OP narration bits that play early in each episode? They lay out the facts of the world (five clans, ancient war between ’em, round two ramping up, there’s these badasses called the Seven Deadly Sins), and we instantly know the score. They do it every episode, but even once at the beginning of each season would have been fine. Or take Pacific Rim, which I just recently watched for the first time (post coming on my personal blog about that soon). It did the same thing: start out by narrating everything that an in-universe character would know, but that we (the audience) do not. Simple, clean, and efficient, and then we can get on with the story. Grancrest Senki never did that, so even baseline terms we need to know (Artist, Black Witches) aren’t explained very well, or we have to infer from context clues. The problem is much worse with entire factions and ongoing conflicts.
All that said, the actual episode was decent enough. Rushed, as is becoming this series’ MO, but otherwise the beats were there. They quickly established that the Werewolf Queen is the good one, the Vampire King stands on ceremony, and the Black Witch is nuts. That set up the climax, where the Vampire King manipulated Yana into facing Theo, Siluca, and the werewolves alone, which led to them taking over the Forest of Eternal Darkness—which was more than a little convenient, since it screamed, “This show isn’t going to be good if the main characters are under Villar’s thumb the whole time!” We also knew the girls were going end up on the team due to OP spoilers, so no surprise there.
What most drew my attention was the discussion over dinner, of ambition. Theo is portrayed, by their esteemed guest, as someone without worth due to his lack of ambition. I can see both sides of this argument. Ambition is useful, it can lead a person to accomplish remarkable things, though it comes at the risk of encouraging them to overextend (it’s a tool, and most tools are both useful and dangerous). Theo eschews it, or at least is content with a more humble ambition (much like Lassic himself), and the prince sees this as folly. I’m not so sure. Not setting out to save the world means Theo is apt to have a much more successful and contented life, filled with less self-loathing and self-sabotage as he avoids beating himself up for not achieving his grand designs, since he doesn’t have them. It’s a potential weakness for a main character in epic fantasy, though, because it’s hard to save the world if you don’t try. How the Theo needle will be threaded is one of the more enduring questions about Grancrest Senki. Much depends on him, both in their world and for our viewing experience.
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