Anime Review: Record of Grancrest War
One of my favorite works of anime fantasy is Record of Lodoss War. It’s a show that I try to watch at least once a year, and due to my appreciation of that, I’ve sought out the various works by its creator, Ryo Mizuno, which have gotten a US release, from the Lodoss series onwards. In any case, when Record of Grancrest War was announced, and that even more it was related to a tabletop RPG that Mizuno had created, I was definitely onboard to check this out.
To make a comparison to other RPG materials, if Lodoss was basically taking a BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia D&D campaign and adapting it to the screen (and presumably adapting the mechanics to Sword World), then Record of Grancrest War feels like Mizuno’s interpretation of the late lamented TSR AD&D Campaign Setting Birthright. It’s a setting where the narrative focus is based around your more traditional Dungeon Fantasy tropes, and more on the conflicts between noble houses and kingdoms, both politically and militarily, with more powerful nobles being able to draw on not only greater political and military might, but also magical power based on their station.
In the case of Record of Grancrest War, the setting is much more a sort of form of Not-Europe than Lodoss was. The continent of Atlatan has been plagued by war for generations, ever since the forces of Chaos were overcome. These wars have been between Lords empowered by Magical Crests which not only personally grant them power, but also allow them to pass further magical augmentations to those who serve under them, both subordinate Lords and the rank-and-file soldiers who fight in their armies. These powers themselves are drawn from the powers of Chaos.
They are not the only people who possess special abilities though. There are two other groups, who often serve Lords, and normally don’t lead factions themselves – there are the Mages, and the Artists (magically augmented individuals who have special abilities granted by Chaos – from heightened physical abilities, to being able to turn their skin to metal, to being more traditional magical beings like werewolves and vampires.) The Artists have no real unified organization, but the Mages answer to the Mage’s College, who basically serves as a somewhat neutral intermediary – sending mages to work under contract to lords, no matter what side they’re on, with Mages who are not under contract or have not been accepted by their master being granted safe passage.
Previously, the leaders of the two main factions – the Factory Alliance and the Fantasia Union, tried to form the Grancrest through the marriage of their two children (Marrine Kreische of the Factory Alliance and Alexis Doucet of the Fantasia Union) who (to the credit of this plan) were actually in love with each other. However, someone (it is unknown at the start of the series and is revealed later on), summoned a demon during the wedding ceremony, causing the leaders of the two factions to be killed, and Marrine decided to break off the engagement, suspecting some dark power behind the incident.
Cut to the start of the story and our two protagonists – Theo (who later gets the house name of Cornero), and Siluca Meletes. Siluca is a Mage who is traveling to meet her new master, when her coach is waylaid by bandits, only to be “rescued” by Theo. I use “rescued” in quotes because Siluca needed saving from those bandits about as much as Lina Inverse did in the first episode of Slayers. It might even be a deliberate shout-out by Mizuno. Theo is, himself, a Wandering Lord – a lord with no house, and no followers. Siluca is impressed by him & his ideals and decides to sign up with him instead.
The rest of the series follows Theo’s ultimate rise to power and prestige as he, Siluca, and the followers they accumulate over the course of the series work to unite the continent in the hopes of forming the Grancrest.
The animation is generally alright – the average episode of the show is pretty solidly done, with the animators really pulling out all the stops for some of the big fight scene moments, like in episodes 17 and 23, which have some of the biggest one-on-one fight scenes in the show, and which are episodes where the animators aren’t afraid to go somewhat off-model if it makes for more fluid animation that gets across the scope and power of the scene in question.
I also appreciate the fact that this is a show that isn’t afraid to let their romances be romances, in terms of having them go someplace. We see the courtship of Marrine and Alexis, and it feels sincere – at no point did I feel like their courtship added any creepy undertones. Similarly, the budding romance that forms between Siluca and Theo also feels organic and earned, and it ultimately goes someplace. Honestly, after watching anime for decades, and seeing numerous anime series where the romances between characters seem to proceed in baby steps, having multiple relationships between adults that feel like they’re going places is nice to see.
The show has a few little issues. The reveal of the power behind all of the tragedy that’s unfolded over the series attempts to give them a sort of Karla (from Record of Lodoss War esque baggage). However, in Lodoss, we see Karla as a power player since the first book in the series, and we know of their machinations from the beginning, and learn their motivations about midway through the first book. By comparison, the reveal here is at the 11th hour and feels unearned.
Additionally, there’s a third faction outside of the Lords and the Mages called the Order of the Crest. They’re only mentioned in passing early on, and not given any real screen time until later. Considering Wikipedia is putting the series at 10 light novels long, and the show is apparently adapting the entire series, it feels like these organizations may have received considerably more development in the novels that was cut for time here.
That said, while the worldbuilding suffers, the characterization of the core cast is very strong. Of the characters on the cast that we really got to spend time with, I really dug a lot of them. I do hope the novels get a US release so I have the chance to read those in the future. As it stands, I don’t know if I’d get the show on DVD or Blu-Ray necessarily. That said it is currently available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
In the meantime, the manga is set to get a US release later in 2018 from VIZ, with the first volume, as of this writing, currently available for pre-order from RightStuf and Amazon. Buying anything through those links helps support the site.
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