That cape, though, is still a mystery.
Grancrest Senki is a series that has alternately annoyed and—I can’t say it ever really endeared itself to me. Mostly it was just in my zone, a mixture of sword-and-sorcery adventure and high fantasy war and politics is catnip to me. It’s literally what I write. But there were many things that frustrated me about the series, which is why I dropped it after episode eleven. Which was a good choice—though Grancrest Senki improved by the end, and many of the elements that annoyed me actually had reasons behind them, the slow reveals and frequent missteps on a per-episode basis made it a devilish series to blog. Had I penned this post after blogging all 24 episodes, it would have been much less charitable than the one I’m about to write, for all the constant annoyances the series would have subjected me to. Instead I marathoned the last half over the past week, and was able to enjoy it for what it was: a not great, but kind of okay, high fantasy epic.
Most of Grancrest Senki’s strengths early on can be summarized in a single word: Siluca. Even in the first episode, Theo was an utterly dull protagonist, but Siluca was clever, spunky, impetuous, decisive, and full of personality. That in turn impued the series with personality, and so gave hope for the series. Here’s the thing about Theo, though—and get used to hearing this, because many of the earlier criticisms can be summarized as “It’s better than you think” or “It got better by the end.” But Theo is a unique one, because I don’t think I possessed the framework to truly appreciate his character until relatively recently.
Theo is not interesting, per say, as a person. That’s what made him such a drag early on. What makes him interesting is the differences between him and other lords, and the unswerving nature of his ideals. He reminds me of Captain America of the MCU, who started out as one of the least interesting Avengers, but slowly morphed over twenty movies into one of the most endearing and fascinating characters, because he does not swerve, he does not doubt, and because he operates with convictions and morality which are in some ways antiquated, but in all ways are admirable. That’s who Theo is as well. There’s also a fair bit of prequel Obi-Wan in him, especially in his defensive way of fighting.
There was a bit of an Arslan Senki problem to Theo, or to be more particular, an Arslan problem. Early on, both lords had high quality vassals tripping all over themselves to sing their praises, and it didn’t seem deserved. And for my money, Theo was the far more egregious of the too—which is saying something, given how much people bagged on Arslan. But what became clear in both cases is that the adoration was deserved. It’s just that it was given before the reasons were shown. That’s not ideal! Or perhaps more charitably, characters saw the potential before we, the audience, were able to, because we did not live with the shitty lords they usually had to deal with. Either way, over the length of the series, the qualities that make Theo a good and admirable leader became clearer and clearer, so that by the end, I was genuinely rooting for him, and happy to see him happy. That’s good! It’s just that, had I not promised to do a finale post, I never would have finished the series. Which is not ideal.
Likewise, most of the colossal fuck ups I’d been laying at Marrine’s feet actually, it turns out, had good reasons behind them. As far as it goes, I didn’t hate the Mage Academy as the ultimate bad guys, and I thought using Dimitrie as the villain for the final battle was especially good, because I really like having those who stand to lose out if the status quo is disrupted as the villains, because of course. Of COURSE. Theo’s whole quest was about change, and those who benefit from the status quo will fight tooth and nail to prevent that. The Mage Academy/Pandora/whatever conspiracy justifies why Marrine was letting the terrorists win for so long, and even her shouldering all the danger herself makes sense after she admits that she wanted to keep Alexis safely out of it. The issue still remains that it was hella frustrating to watch at the time. Many changes would have needed to be made to fix that.
There were also other consistent problems, like pacing, bare characterization for many of the secondary and tertiary characters, and cheap and/or wildly fluctuating animation from moment to moment. If the story work had been better, the animation wouldn’t have bothered me (it mostly didn’t), but it wasn’t, so it’s another mark against. The soundtrack was really good, though. I don’t usually even notice the soundtrack, but I was jiving on it, and my non-anime watching friend stopped me at one point to mention how good the orchestral score on the anime I was watching was. That’s high praise, given that this friend is a total music nerd.
All of which is to say, this is a series that ended up better than it started, as the pieces began working together more smoothly and the reasons for a bunch of the silly shit became clear. (Though the reason for the Age of Chaos—preventing a hypothetical future sci-fi civilization from destroying the world, just like a past sci-fi civilization almost(?) did—was boring, silly, and made me roll my eyes. That’s too big of an idea to bring up in the last episode.) The frustrations still remain, and for me in particular, trying to outline the exact steps I would take to improve this story is difficult, because enough is done right to stop it from being irredeemable, but too much was done badly to quickly isolate what’s the baby and what’s the bathwater. There’s much I wish from this series, but mostly, I wish I had finished this post twenty minutes ago so I could be in bed. So I’ll end it here, and hope the next combination sword-and-sorcery adventure and high fantasy war and politics drama is better. Until then!
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for updates. At stephenwgee.com, the latest post: Risk Tolerance in the Creative Life.