Under A Red Moon
Granbelm opens with a shot of a blood moon hanging in the night sky above a Japanese coastal town. It’s a striking image; mysterious, a little aggressive, inherently just a bit mystical. The first two minutes of Granbelm can be summarized like so: highschooler Mangetsu realizes she’s left something at school. She leaves to get it, and as she retrieves it, looks out the window, where she promptly sees the visage of a giant red robot puncture the night sky. Her school abruptly transforms into some kind of abandoned church. She, understandably, panics.
There are a couple different ways you can start off a new anime. You can take things slow; starting with long scene-setting shots. You can open with narration to give your audience a sense of the scope of the world. You can have your protagonist give a voiceover introducing themselves, so on and so forth. Another thing you can do is this, which is drop the protagonist–and the audience–into the middle of a saga long in progress with little to no acclimation at all. It’s a gutsy move, really. The reason a lot of shows go for a slower approach is that you don’t run the risk of blindsiding your audience with more info than they can reasonably handle. Granbelm, at least in its first episode, really doesn’t seem to care if you actually know what’s going on. It wants to impress you, first and foremost.
What I mean is, the vast majority of Granbelm‘s first episode is a single long action scene with only a relatively short break in the middle. Mangetsu, our protagonist, has no idea what’s going on. As far as she knows, she’s been abruptly flung into another world. What’s worse for her; of the four robots fighting outside, three are targeting her for reasons she doesn’t know. We do get cuts into the cockpits of said mecha–we’re here introduced to our villain, Anna, and her two lackeys, but we don’t have much more an idea what’s going on than she does.
The entire initial fight between Anna, in the red mecha, and a character we later learn is named Ernesta, in the black, cat-eared mecha, is superb. It’s difficult to convey the near-Nanoha levels of magical (yes, magical) firepower on display here in still image form, but there’s a lot to take in. Laser cannons, swords, huge barrages of energy blasts. All this coupled with a tossed-off remark about “spell construction” that gives us just enough of an idea as to how all this is happening.
Ernesta defeats Anna, and the latter’s understudies beat a hasty (but temporary) retreat. After protecting Mangetsu from an offscreen mortar, Ernesta exits her robot, and we finally get some exposition. By “some”, I mean “quite a lot”.
Of Mecha & Mages
There’s a lot of terminology thrown at us over the next minute or so. The world they’re in is a temporary one, created by a group of mages to facilitate a monthly battle royale; the titular Granbelm. The mecha are giant magical ‘puppets’ called Armanoxes. They’re used to fight in this tournament by descendents of prominent mages, to determine which is the “true mage”, called the Princeps. We also learn that magic used to be commonplace, before it was ultimately sealed in the floating castle structure–called the Magioconatus–by the aforementioned mages, at the cost of their own lives.
Before Ernesta can explain much else, the blue mecha who was previously assisting Anna returns, spoiling for another round.
Warrior In The Lake
There comes a moment in shows like this where things pop. It’s usually in the first episode, though some real slow-burners hold it to their second or third. You might expect given Granbelm‘s quick pace, that that moment arrives in the first episode here, and you’d be correct. The Blue Almanox spots Mangetsu, and its pilot–a nervy, nasty girl with an owl motif–sees an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Mangetsu runs, and as she does, the Magioconatus, reacting perhaps to her stress or her latent magical ability (maybe both!) lights up. Then, this happens;
A white-and-pink Almanox promptly rises from the lake.
Mangetsu, now with an Almanox of her own, absolutely thrashes her opponent. There’s about 30 seconds where she has to figure out how to move it and such, but as far as “protagonists showing off their newfound power” scenes? This is a really good one. Mangetsu ends up disintegrating the blue Almanox with a massive laser, at which point its scrap turns into a beam of light and shoots back toward the Magioconatus.
I’d love to tell you more, but the episode actually cuts there, on what’s essentially a cliffhanger.
Under A Crimson Moon
So what to make of all this? It’s hard to say really, this early on. One thing is for sure though; during an absolute blockbuster of a summer premiere weekend, the fact that Granbelm manages to hold its own when stacked up to long-awaited hype machines like Fire Force and Symphogear XV is nothing short of incredible. We can only hope that the quality stays as high it is here.
At this point it’s not even entirely clear what the stakes are; did the Almanox pilot that Mangetsu defeated actually die? Was she merely ejected from the “illusion zone” they’re all fighting in? How will Mangetsu react to her newfound status as a mage, post-battle? It’s hard to know. but I do know I’m invested. I hope that the show keeps giving me reasons to cover it on this column.