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Grancrest Senki – It All Makes Sense When You Think About It


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.

June 27, 2018 at 1:27 am
19 comments »
  • June 27, 2018 at 3:13 amzztop

    IMO Grancrest’s treatment of Theo adheres to classic JRPG cliches of the idealistic hero who never wavers despite The Truth thrown in their faces, which I’m aware can be quite grating to some modern reader sensibilites which tend to be more cynical. For example, I read some complaints saying that Theo choosing to ignore Pandora’s (very likely) warnings of humanity’s future downfall over his optimistic faith was incredibly stupid of him.

    Similarly, those readers complained about Mizuno’s decision for Theo transferring power to Alexis (and Marrine) in favour of retiring to the farm life, despite the classic cliche of the RPG hero desiring nothing more than the quiet life in their small hometown. (“How can he just give up everything like that? Doesn’t he have any ambition?”)

    • June 27, 2018 at 9:04 amStilts

      Complaining about him giving up power is just misunderstanding his character. It might be tropey and “unrealistic,” but that’s who he is. That was no surprise.

      I was totally on board with him ignoring Pandora’s warnings. Fuck that chicken shit fear. Roll the dice and see if humanity goes all murderous this time too. Or, well, Theo will be dead by then, but roll them bones anyway!

      • June 27, 2018 at 9:40 amMagnus Tancred

        Doesn’t Pandora sound like the Anti-Spirals? “We’re stopping you from progressing because eventually you’ll end up destroying the universe” kind of thing? :D

      • June 27, 2018 at 9:53 amMagewolf

        The real problem with that is that they never really show how bad chaos is. We see two(?) random attacks and some poisonous mist that was setting quietly by it’s self before it was turned into a WMD by the future Empress. We get told how bad chaos is for the common people but all the actual oppression we see is caused by people.

        So when Theo destroys the social order(crests) and technological foundation(magic) of the entire world in a manner which should lead to oceans of blood for generations you are left asking “Why?”.

      • June 27, 2018 at 6:27 pmStilts

        Pandora definitely sounds like the Anti-Spirals. Which isn’t bad, it was just done much better in TTGL.

  • June 27, 2018 at 4:41 amAex

    I never understood the problem with Theo, personally. He always had one goal: save Sistina. That was it. Over the course of the series he gained a second one: marry Siluca. Fortunately the second one fell neatly in line with the first one, and like you said Stilts, his humility made him much more down-to-earth and caring than any other Lord before him. Those were the traits that brought him from country bumpkin to emperor, and he never claims to be something more. He needed to save the world to save his home. Done. It was nice to have a consistently low-key yet rounded character in a series where everyone is either way too over-the-top or is too flat to even deserve a name then just disappears. Plus Siluca, who was always fun to watch after she mellowed out early on, then became an absolute treat once Theo started putting the moves on her. In retrospect, I really finished the series to see what happened to these two crazy kids.

    I could go on forever with my questions about characters that boil down to the series needing more time, so I’ll just go with my top two: Priscilla and Marrine. I was fine with just ignoring the bad handling of Lassic and many other characters(when did Peter(?) become a king?) since you can tell that came down to time constraints. Priscilla, though, was seriously terrible. She was introduced, made to sound important, then literally disappeared for half the season until she became ultra-important again. Then died. Died in a way that you could tell was meant to be so emotional, but instead felt flat and honestly pretty stupid because they never took the time to evolve the poor girl beyond her role as a half-assed plot device. I’m an anime-only viewer so maybe she really was supposed to be completely gone for so long, but it felt very strange to not give her some sort of presence for the majority of the story if everything was going to come up to being a martyr. That’s the kind of role you want to give a character the audience seriously cares about, not one they needed an episode to be reminded existed.

    Second, Marrine. I can’t decide if she was a horrible character or a misused stroke of genius. The reveal about how she was all about Alexis all along was nice, but it was also confusing. She was earnestly trying to conquer the continent through force of arms to end the Age of Chaos, but she was also trying to make herself the villain so Alexis would give up on her and move on to find happiness somewhere else. This could have made for a really compelling character, if the two sides of her weren’t constantly butting heads and making her look like a moron. I mean, she’s trying to end the Age of Chaos, which means uniting everyone into one Crest and that could technically be done with force, but at some point it would also require everyone to stop fighting. That was never going to happen with the bullshit she was pulling in order to make herself look bad to Alexis. If her ultimate goal was for him to defeat her then it makes more sense, but we never found out what her endgame actually was, so we’re just left wondering. Not good to be left wondering about the new emperor’s wife and adviser.

    Okay, I’ll finish here. Too much writing. I’ll keep going if someone actually reads this.

  • June 27, 2018 at 9:54 amKinai

    While I was watching this serie, I thought that the author and the producers would have had a conversation where the author complained that he had too few budget and episodes to tell the story correctly; and the producers saying that it’s what it is.

    • June 27, 2018 at 10:16 amGreed

      IKR, I feel the same way.

  • June 27, 2018 at 10:14 amGreed

    Obviously the Vampire King is dead, with Chaos being gone, but that poor cat! T_T Poor Kitty should have been given more screen time.

    Anyway, was this based on a game? Was confused on a lot of things. For example, is all magic in the world gone? And will humans likely fight each other? Who is Pandora?

    • June 27, 2018 at 11:50 amAex

      Magic was a byproduct of Chaos, so yes, magic is gone now. So are Lord’s Crests and Arts, so I guess that means that the twins aren’t werewolves anymore? Or was that not an Art? So much was never explained.

      Humans will fight because that’s what humans do unless they’re in a fluffy slice-of-life story.

      Pandora never got a solid explanation, so all we know is that she had some kind of connection to the civilization from the past that almost destroyed the world. Supposedly by using the memory that she showed Theo and Siluca she convinced a bunch of mages to form a cult to make sure Chaos was never destroyed so society, therefore technology wouldn’t advance back to the point where humans could invent the thing that she feared would destroy the world. Siluca thought she might be the remnant of someone’s soul from back in that time, but we aren’t told for sure.

      And this was based off a LN series that I understand was decent length, hence the seriously rushed feeling through the whole thing.

      • June 27, 2018 at 6:15 pmzztop

        LNs were 10 volumes long, but of the densely written kind, packed with details of worldbuilding, magic, etc.

        24 eps may have been pushing it, but it was publisher Kadokawa’s decision to only give that much.

      • June 28, 2018 at 10:10 pmGreed

        I see, thanks.

        Actually disappointed about how we didn’t see a “god” show up and maybe grant Theo’s wishes, which can involve reviving the dead. I am actually curious on what priscilla said about her god, If her god exist then couldn’t he prevent the global destruction that Pandora talked about? If her god is revived then what will he do after his revival? Nothing and let humans kill each other?

        Notably I also wondered what is the final fate of that Viking girl (King Eric’s daughter), Dawson, and the Pope. Especially Dawson since I felt he should have been given some public execution that hateful anime characters deserve. Sigh, I am surprised that “final boss” old guy ended up killing himself, I think unless someone can correct me, so I guess he was satisfied on hearing Theo’s answer.

        Lastly, the ending is cheesy. So the final fate for all Magic of the world is to disappear from earth. Really typical route. Wonder if there is any anime with the opposite direction. Anyway, this is just me guessing, but I guess all the demons are dead; I remember how, in the start of the anime, demons were easy to summon, from some other world, but all those said demons are possibly dead or can never come to the human world.

    • June 28, 2018 at 2:21 pmDP

      There’s also a Japanese tabletop RPG. Given the author has for a long time been involved in tabletop gaming, I’m not sure whether the novels or the RPG were the earliest source of the story, though the novels are what develops it in the depth that is presented in the TV series.

      Hey, 24 episodes is still a decent run. They could have tried 12… Remember back in the 1985-1989 period where many long running manga (e.g., Outlanders) would try to somehow shoe-horn 5-10 volumes of manga into a single 45-minute OVA, or, if you were really luck, a movie (e.g., Demon City)? Aieee!

  • June 27, 2018 at 12:00 pmKurik

    It wasn’t a remarkable series and it can be considered forgettable but I still found it entertaining if not rushed sometimes. I am still holding out for a really good sword and sorcery anime that is adult based and no kids in sight.

  • June 28, 2018 at 2:15 pmDP

    I think they did an amazing job in collapsing 10+ novels into a single 24-episode series, while still making me care about the principal characters and many of the supporting ones.

    Siluca was really wonderful, and Siluca + Theo was a quite well-done romance.

    I also felt that Grandquest had some of the few “moments of awesome” in animation this season, even comparing it to other series with a higher budget. In particular, that scene where the black witch swoops down on Theo’s army and magically attacks at very long range from high in the air, Siluca notices in time and fires a counter-spell backup – that was amazing quality. It was something like a Gulf War “patriot vs. SCUD” engagement, only fitted naturally into the narrative of heroic fantasy, and it was something I’d never quite seen done like this before.

    That sort of imagination of scope and the direction to realize it popped into several elements. The people working on this were clearly not doing a “paint by numbers” adaptation, t hey were making the most of t heir budget where they could, to make it fun. The anime was full of little touches like this, especially in the late first cour and early second cour.

    The pacing seemed fine to me (certainly better than, say, the Lord of the Rings movies…) It was a little fast, but I’ll take that over the glacial pacing of many longer series. I’d rather a show where things happen every episode and I get an entire continuous story rather than a story that is interrupted with year or two year breaks and maybe never finished (Hello, a Certain Scientific…).

  • June 28, 2018 at 3:50 pmRenaSayers

    Theo retires to a vinard, what is better than being an emperor, being a businessman.

    Picking those wine grapes for future drunk drivers.

  • June 29, 2018 at 5:16 ammara

    One thing you all should remember is the details in anime version are only 30% of novel (original) version.

  • July 1, 2018 at 3:00 pmdropped

    I gave this garbage a try based on this post. . .

    but, just like you blogging, I couldn’t get past episode eleven watching wise, that was just bullshit of the highest order. I didnt even mind Theo being Theo, I figured Id hate him up to that point, but I enjoyed his character.

    It was the OVERALL WRITING of the series that pissed me off, basically, you feel/see something I call “The Hand Of The Writer” here (especially episode 11) when you do something like that so heavy handedly, it takes the reader/watcher out of the story, it no longer becomes event x happened because of event x y z that makes sense in the world and the rules of the world/characters/their motivations
    it becomes more of event x happening because the characters have the script from the writer(s) and are just following it to the T despite the characters being established as characters who wouldn’t DO what the script told them to.

    This pretty much kicks the reader/watcher out of the world, for nothing in the world REALLY matters, its just whatever the author feels like when he/she feels like it. The writer pretty much killed the show at ep. 11 now the reader can’t make heads or tails on why things are happening and what should really be happening, and can expect the writer to make shit up as he goes along.

    This is not fun to read/watch. Not even close.

    Thanks for introducing me to this series though, too bad the writing is beyond garbage. . .Garbaggio is more like it.

  • July 9, 2018 at 7:54 amTrifle

    The fighting was beyond awful, with no consistency to the power levels at all. Well, ok, there was some consistency… Siluca never really did much of anything fighting wise. Half the time I’m pretty sure she forgot she could use magic.

    And yeah characters just disappeared all over the place, I’m assuming the LNs were better but the anime felt like they should just cut half the characters out so they could actually matter.

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