Granbelm has remained one of the season’s most compelling rides since its premiere. The first episode opened with magical laser fire to draw you in. The episodes since have largely been character studies. What makes the series’ fifth episode so fascinating is that it’s arguably the first to successfully merge these two lines.
Granbelm is another one in the “playing its cards close to its chest” category, putting it unusual recent company (Boogiepop & Others from earlier this year comes to mind). We’re about halfway through the show, but most of the characters remain somewhat oblique. We have our main character, Mangetsu, and her desire to stand out. We have Shingetsu / Ernesta, and her struggle to end the end the Granbelm itself. The past few episodes have also introduced us to Kuon, who wants to free her sister from a curse. All of this may sound perfectly straightforward, but if the ending of episode 5 is any indication, absolutely nothing in Granbelm is what it seems. Not even Mangetsu.
Mangetsu especially, actually. The focus of this episode is split between her and Nene, the sniper specialist. Mangetsu’s part comes chronologically second, but it’s the more central of the two. Faced with a gigantic laser that looks poised to end her run as a Granbelm contender, Mangetsu goes absolutely berserk. We get a cut to a surreal, bizarre shot of her floating in front of the moon, and then? Well.
Her eyes suddenly glow black, she cuts through Nene’s laser, and bisects her Armanox in a single fell swoop. This all while screaming her lungs out. Her sheer desire to win outweighs Nene’s own noble goal (more on that in a bit). She experiences some kind of bizarre telepathic feedback where Nene’s memories flash into her mind, and as that occurs, knocks Nene out of the battle. It’s a pretty surprising turn and it’s not one you’d expect from Mangetsu–certainly, I was caught off-guard.
Mangetsu’s desire to enter the Granbelm simply because it was something only she could do did not strike me as at all unusual early on. I think, frankly speaking, that many people would do the same in her position, given that the battles pose no risk of actual death. This episode though, mostly through framing, asks us to consider if Mangetsu’s motivations are really as pure as we first thought. Black irises and vicious battle screaming are not, after all, usually associated with “the good guys”.
On the other end of this battle is Nene. Nene’s character has been built up over the last two episodes, and we finally get her motivation made explicit here. It seems that Nene’s mother (identified as a former Granbelm participant in her own right) has lost her memories of her daughter, and of the Granbelm in general. It’s already been established that most mages come from very old families. There’s a web of intrigue here that we’ve only seen the outermost strands of at this point. It would seem then, that Nene’s mother’s situation is part of some kind of plot or dispute between mage families. Nene’s solution, naturally, was to win the Granbelm herself. She planned to use her own wish to restore her mother’s memories.
That’s all in the past tense of course. Her cause was certainly noble, but if Granbelm is pushing a narrative so far, it seems to be that the people who have the best intentions don’t always win.
The disadvantage to Granbelm‘s closed-palm storytelling approach is that it can be hard to tell, even almost halfway through its run, what exactly it’s trying to say through all the spectacle and bleakness. I do, however, have a pet theory. The pedigree of the director (who formerly helmed the Re:Zero anime) makes me wonder if the Granbelm’s battle royale setup is a metaphor for how society turns girls against each other. It certainly wouldn’t be the first anime to make this point.
Granbelm, regardless of where its going, manages to be a standout anime in an absolutely packed season. If you’ve been holdong off on giving the show a try, there’s never been a better time to dive in.