The cool thing about original anime is that you usually have no idea how the finished product is going to turn out. With a show that’s being adapted from manga, you can at least take a look at the manga and have a general idea of how good the anime could be. In the case of Granbelm, it’s an original anime that’s entering a very crowded genre, so I feel like we were right to wonder whether this would turn out more like Mahou Shoujo Site than Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica. Well, let’s just say that this show was pretty good.
Synopsis: In a world that long ago featured the existence of magic, but has long since lost that ability. The story begins when the very normal high school student Mangetsu Kohinata meets Shingetsu Ernesta Fukami, who has migrated back to Japan from Germany, on a night with a full moon.
Comparing the story of Granbelm to more “standard” magical girl anime like Nanoha, it’s clear how much more ambitious this is, and when you compare it to other dark magical girl anime like WIXOSS (I don’t think it’s fair to compare any magical girl anime to Madoka★Magica), you’ll probably realize how much better the execution is. Like any modern magical girl anime worth its salt, Granbelm has its share of despair, but I’m glad that it’s not as dark as something like WIXOSS. Well… it actually is that dark, but I mean it’s not that dark all the time. 😛
Some magical girl anime become so dark and gloomy that they’re just depressing to watch. That’s not the case with Granbelm. Early on, the magical girl free-for-all known as Granbelm doesn’t seem like it’s all that dreary, but as is always the case, that eventually changes, and the story ends up going in some pretty interesting directions. Originality is sometimes hard to come by for magical girl anime, and while Granbelm doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, I think there are enough unique little quirks that help this story carve out a place for itself.
Obviously, the biggest twist is the addition of mecha, which are basically the user’s own heart, given shape. Overall, I don’t feel like this changed all that much, but it was a welcome addition nevertheless. Early on, despite the mecha, Granbelm kind of seemed like your typical magical girl anime, and the real meat of the story was still being hidden away behind all of the Granbelm battles, so I could kind of understand if some people chalked this up as another uninspired magical girl anime and checked out.
Slowly but surely, more and more interesting story tidbits were dropped and the pace picked up, but it wasn’t until around episode six that I started finding the story to be really interesting. That was when Anna’s history with Ernesta came to light, as well as Suishou’s betrayal of Anna, and the story never really looked back from there. Once the big twist came that revealed that Mangetsu was a doll manifested by Ernesta, I was really liking the direction the story had gone, and I was thinking that this anime might end up scoring pretty high.
The last four episodes took things to another level, and all of the character development that had been building up all season finally paid dividends. All of the context that we were missing early on felt like ancient history, and the story was every bit as powerful as we were hoping for all along. That said, I kind of have mixed feelings about the finale. The battle itself was great, yet it’s the aftermath that left me scratching my head a little. I liked that all of the bad things that happened earlier weren’t completely undone, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Ernesta and Mangetsu in this magic-free world. You just know that that transfer student had to be Mangetsu, which shouldn’t make sense given that she was created by magic, so maybe unanswered questions could ultimately lead to a follow-up movie or a second season or something. I’d be down for that~
So it took a while for Granbelm to really show its hand, but when it finally did, I thought it came up aces. This could’ve easily turned into just another run-of-the-mill magical girl anime, but the story came together far better than I ever thought it would, and compared to many of its peers, I think Granbelm ended up telling a much more coherent and entertaining story.
There was a decent amount of characters in Granbelm, however, it’s the seven participants that really carried the load here. Rosa was eliminated pretty quickly, so she didn’t contribute much, but lucky for us, the other six participants did. Mangetsu had the look and feel of your typical magical girl protagonist, but the question marks in her story kept her from turning into another forgettable lead characters, and I ended up liking her a lot.
You can say the same for Ernesta, who filled the role of the badass hero quite well. The most obvious comparison to make here is with Madoka and Homura from Madoka★Magica, and it’s easy to see why. They’re the protector (Ernesta) and protectee (Mangetsu), but given how Ernesta was responsible for creating Mangetsu, their relationship is more than just a carbon copy of everyone’s favorite magical girl pairing.
Even if Ernesta and Mangetsu had a more “normal” relationship, I’d still think that any yuri undertones would pale in comparison to what we saw from Madoka and Homura. I wouldn’t quite call it romantic, but they’re in a unique situation, and at least as friends or companions, I think you can definitely call it a form of love. I was hoping their relationship would eventually turn at least a little romantic, but even without that, I was content with what we did get, and I can’t complain too much. Actually, they kind of reminded me of Ruuko and Tama from WIXOSS.
Moving on, you can’t have a dark magical girl anime without at least one character that’s just totally batshit crazy, and for Granbelm, that role goes to Anna. Her hatred and jealousy towards Ernesta was just so over-the-top, but I loved it. Despite all the time that was spent detailing how her friendship with Ernesta completely fractured, I was never really left feeling all that bad for Anna. Maybe she was just that convincing as an obsessed psycho… 😛
Nene and Kuon will probably be underappreciated by many, though I feel like they added quite a bit to the show. I liked how Nene (and her sisters) helped keep things from becoming too gloomy, and even though I would have liked to have seen more backstory involving Shisui, Kuon’s sister, that’s not too big of a deal, and I enjoyed Kuon’s devotion to try and help/avenge her sister.
And then there’s Suishou. Early on, I thought she was simply going to be a feisty underling of Anna’s, but she ended up being a pretty damn good main antagonist. As much as I enjoyed Anna’s turn as the villain, I thought that Suishou was infinitely more hateable, and I might even rank her as the best/most believable magical girl antagonist this side of Kyuubey.
I wouldn’t put this cast of characters up there with the cast of Madoka or anything, yet I thought these characters had a lot to offer, and that especially rang true for the villains. The yuri subtext between Mangetsu and Ernesta wasn’t as explicit as I would’ve preferred, so apart from them, there isn’t much, if any, meaningful yuri to be found. Suishou kisses Kuon and tries to do it again, but it’s not done for romantic reasons, so it’s all on the two leads to carry the yuri torch, and they do what they can.
Visually, I think Granbelm does pretty much everything really well, but despite that, I think the art style might be divisive to some. Specifically, I’m talking about the mecha designs, which have taken on a rather cutesy and simplified look, unlike the overwhelming majority of mecha anime that you’re going to find. This design choice doesn’t affect the quality of the mecha battles at all—the battles are still pretty epic and litter the screen with all sorts of flashy effects—so I don’t understand why this look would be an issue to anyone. Anyway, I thought the character designs were fantastic, and I came away really impressed with the directing as well. This show was really good at expressing emotion and setting a mood through it’s visuals, and you can’t say that about every anime in this genre.
Thanks to Comic Girls, which I thought looked quite good for a comedy/slice of life anime, I was very hopeful that Nexus would do a good job with this show, and it was great to see them actually deliver the goods in such spectacular fashion. Granbelm doesn’t blow you away with over-the-top action like Symphogear XV does, nor does it weave in as much artistic expression as something like Madoka★Magica (what does?), but I think it still delivers everything you can ask for in a magical girl anime, at least from a visual standpoint.
The Armanox battles are sure to get everyone’s attention, but don’t sleep on just how good the music was in this anime. Time and time again, the music made the mecha battles even that much more epic, and it also helped make the more emotional moments really strike a chord (no pun intended :P). No matter the situation, it just always seemed like the music was there adding something significant to the show, and given how consistently good the music was, I think it might be easy to overlook.
And not to be outdone, I think the voice acting was every bit as good as the music was. The voice actresses for Anna (Yoko Hikasa) and Suishou (Aoi Yuuki) did some especially great work, but the others did a good job as well. Long story short, I can’t help but come away impressed with the production values of this anime, and Nexus deserves some praise as a result.
All in all, I don’t think many people expected Granbelm to turn out as good as it did. It thought it started off as a decent-enough magical girl anime, but it just seemed to get better and better. I’d say the battles were on par with practically every other magical girl anime not named Symphogear, the production values were phenomenal, the story and characters were enjoyable, and there’s some shades of MadoHomu thrown in there for good measure. If Nanoha, WIXOSS, and Symphogear can get sequel after sequel, I really hope this anime can get at least one, because I like it more than pretty much all of those. If not, let’s start a petition! 😀