It’s been a while since we last checked in on Granbelm, and with good reason. The show’s plot has certainly moved forward, but in a sense, until the two most recent episodes, it had seemed a bit stalled. That and, as we’ll get into, the show has made some questionable decisions on its way to the end of its 12-episode run.
Granbelm‘s first half is largely defined by the antagonist Anna. Anna’s burning hatred for Shingetsu fueled much of the early show’s plot, but Anna is out of the picture now. She was killed two episodes ago, burning herself up near-literally in the fires of her own hatred.
Even things as simple as death aren’t so straightforward in Granbelm, though. Anna did not just die, she was retroactively removed from reality. This being the herald of a reveal that someone–or something–is capable of rewriting history on a whim. Nothing in Granbelm has ever been simple, but the past arc has thrown almost everything about the show into question.
The Darkest Part Of You
Anna out of the picture, her former henchman Suishou has taken the reigns as the series’ primary antagonist. Suishou is perhaps most easily defined by the phrase “massively unpleasant”. She’s not really the same kind of fun villain that Anna is, someone with easily-understandable human motivations taken to a logical conclusion. Suishou really scans more as some kind of eldritch terror than an actual person, and that may indeed be what she factually is. We simply don’t know yet.
The most distinctive thing about Suishou beyond her smug attitude is her power set (for lack of a better term). We were introduced to Kuon and her cursed sister some time ago, and we’ve since learned that it’s Suishou who put this ‘curse’ on said sister. What that actually entails is Suishou, in a rather gross metaphor that the show continually employs, “eating” part of the sister’s soul. This lets her talk with the girl’s voice, draw on her memories, and a number of other things.
This is also where Granbelm starts running into trouble. The relationship between Kuon and her sister is depicted in rather questionable terms to begin with. Suishou’s ability to perfectly mimic Kuon’s sister’s “essence” (for lack of a better term) twists the antagonistic relationship Suishou and Kuon have into one that borders uncomfortably close to a gnarled sort of abuse. This might be more forgivable if the show wasn’t so keen on painting this relationship with assault-evoking imagery. What’s even worse is that with Granbelm‘s all-female cast, she scans as a “predatory lesbian” stereotype. Something that media in general sorely needs to move on from. This is further not helped by the forced kiss she puts on Kuon in episode 8.
It’s doubly a shame because otherwise, Suishou is actually a pretty interesting character. Unlike nearly every other mage in the show, but like protagonist Mangetsu, she has no clear, easily-defined motivation. She just seems to genuinely, deeply enjoy messing with people. The Granbelm battle in the most recent episode sees her using her magic to try to get inside Kuon’s head. She tells her that she’s a burden in her sister’s voice, and tries to get Kuon to submit to also being “eaten” in the same way her sister was. It is, from a narrative standpoint, fascinating.
Yet by the same token it’s also deeply uncomfortable. It’s an open question as to how Suishou will exit the narrative of Granbelm, but one hopes it’s in a way that reconciles her unsettled place within the show. One that reconciles her (and characters like her’s) place within fiction on the whole would be even better, but let’s not ask for miracles.
I bring up these criticisms of Suishou not because I think Granbelm has become “bad” somehow. It is in fact, for quite the opposite reason. The series remains compelling in other areas and it’s dishonest to not point out what flaws it does have. The show’s choreography has always been solid rather than exceptional, but the fight scenes remain a highlight nonetheless. Racks of special effects carry what simple animation can’t. The most recent episode also features some fun (if simple) visual symbolism like literal fog clouding the battlefield as the characters try to puzzle out Suishou’s schemes. This is all the more impressive when you consider the show’s notably small staff. That episode, for instance, was animated by just five key animators, an insanely low amount for a mainstream TV anime.
The other strength that Granbelm has right now is one that’s a bit harder to qualify. It is, in a word, unpredictable. A reality of seasonal TV anime is that many of them are made to promote some kind of source material, usually a manga. This leads to a situation that lends an air of inevitability to any given plotline in most anime. Granbelm, as an original IP created from whole cloth, already has an edge here. The show further doesn’t seem particularly eager to hew close to usual genre conventions, making said strength even more pronounced.
An example? The most recent episode climaxes with the revelation that Mangetsu actually has a pretty convenient explanation for her mysterious status a sudden newcomer mage. She’s an automaton, a revelation hammered home by this pair of shots.
Mangetsu serves as something of an audience surrogate for most of the show’s run. This rug-pull is thus a pretty gutsy move. How her relationship with Shingetsu, an island of normalcy in the show’s raging sea of intrigue and, crucially, a healthy balancing point to Suishou’s unfortunate depiction, will endure this, or even if it will, remains to be seen.
Someday This Will All Make Sense
I think of myself as someone who is pretty good at sussing out where shows intend to go, both plot-wise and thematically. I’ve speculated in prior articles what Granbelm might be “about”, but I’m unashamed to say at this point that I frankly have no idea. Granbelm is an enigma. It shares a director with Re:Zero, another anime that was well-known (and well-regarded) for messing with audience expectations. This is thus to some extent, what you sign up for.
The ultimate question at this point is whether or not Granbelm can take this balancing act somewhere worth going to for its finale. This is not the first time a show has held its cards this close to its chest this late in the game, but the problem with that is that it’s as likely to wow with a spectacular finish as it is to fall flat on its face. This begs the further question; is Granbelm still worth keeping up with? I’d say yes. The show is nonetheless in choppier waters than it was when we last visited it here on GGA. This is the danger–and beauty–of following seasonal anime. You never quite know for sure what you’re going to get. Something that’s even more true for Granbelm than many of its contemporaries.
Let’s say, watch this space?