There is one show, besides sequels, that I continuously enjoy week in and week out and that is Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho also known by Grimoire of Zero. This seems to come as a surprise to me as so far I have not been convinced on anime in a fantasy setting. Why is that? Well let’s take a look at an example of what I consider bad fantasy settings and what I consider a good fantasy setting by examining two series, before tackling why Grimoire of Zero could be one of the hidden gems of Spring 2017. For the bad portion (and this is my opinions and not in a general context) let’s take a look at Drifters and its faults and for the good portion let’s take a look at Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis. This won’t be a “WHY GRIMOIRE IS THE BEST THING EVER!” type of post, but rather trying to explain the potential of what this series could become. Explaining what I think an effective fantasy setting within anime should be and how Grimoire of Zero has the makings of being one of the better fantasy anime. Also it gives me a good chance to talk about Drifters…because I haven’t taken my shot at that series yet and this could be a great chance to finally let out some of my feelings for it in a more productive manner.
Drifters is a unique case of important historical figures are thrown into a fantasy world by way of two warring gods. These are established characters from the outset sensationalized by the author of Hellsing. Now Drifters is not in any means the worst case scenario out there. It has a decent understanding of what makes a fantasy setting work to some degree. It has all the staples, inserts the historical figures in a way that is over the top and insane but exactly what they would do in this scenario (if we look at them stereotypically). It has fun with what it is doing and sometimes that can be enough to suck you into a ride of surreal proportions even if it seems off on the basis of story.
However Drifters commits a cardinal sin, and that is being far too generic and forgettable with its world. Drifters takes the bare bones of a fantasy world and subjects it to these over the top caricatures of historical figures. We get all the classics we have seen a thousand times before, but with nothing relatively interesting in the way of shaking up the formula. What it does it takes away the voice of the world in favour of its characters, rather than having the world speak to its characters. Yeah that might sound a bit weird, but its more or less what I feel is a primary fault in Drifters. This is not a story built on cohesion with its elements, introducing contrasting characters in the world to live out more of a fulfillment fantasy rather an interesting action epic. The series does have some good characters when it quiets down for subtle moments, but it often wants to force the characters upon the world rather than living in the world.
A fantasy setting should be as important as the characters it has living inside it. Drifters tries to make its characters always feel like trailblazers, in order to create fun and insane action scenes of strategy and physical feats performed by a samurai. It won’t rise beyond action fluff because of its inability to utilize its fantasy world to a proper point. The characters are not changing when thrown into the world, oh no, they are changing the world to fit their needs. The beauty of something like Lord of the Rings will not be found in such a generic mess of a world being trampled on by forcing characters down its throat much like a children throwing army soldiers in with some fantasy action figures. It just feels sloppy on arrival which hinders my overall enjoyment of the series which otherwise has potential to create fun interactions between only the historical figures. It falls under popcorn material, and the not the best kind just more plain and unsalted.
Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis on the other hand, while having some prominent issues manages to effectively utilize its world to a certain extent. This is a more straightforward world of angels and demons, with other gods like Bacchus thrown in and humans being subservient to the angels. There is a sense of balance and fighting for the greater good as shown by all of the gods, angels and demons teaming up together to defeat the namesake of this show, Bahamut. The giant dragon that will destroy everything with no discrimination before it was sealed away. The interesting thing about Shingeki no Bahamut is that it won’t try to drown you in the political struggles of the world, besides the whole subplot with Joan of Arc. Instead what it tries to tell you is the story of a scoundrel, a girl lost and trying to find her mother, and a disgraced noble hunting the scoundrel.
We learn about who they are as people, each offering a solid take on genre cliches like the lovable rogue, and all of that is done with how they interact with the world being changed by the circumstances. What it means to have this hodge-podge of different species embodying the world and all of their own hopes and dreams. All of this tied back to the namesake of the series and its potential reawakening. This is a world that feels alive that our characters inhabit and not try to mold. Rather than morphing the fantasy into an amalgamation of fantasy and wish fulfillment fiction. It has a setting worth investing in and that helps to change them across their journey. They interact with different races, we see different races interact throughout the story, watch plans come to fruition and fall apart. What we get is an epic fantasy world that breathes life into its character solidifying itself as an immersive experience.
That is not to say that the characters fall short or anything, in fact they are characters that would only come to life in a world like this. Drifters has a world that feels replaceable with another concept and they could still make the same action packed adventure of conquest. Shingeki no Bahamut is a world that helps to shape the adventure that the main characters need to go on. A setting that feels, while generic in some sense, unique to it with a set of values on it would have because of Bahamut and the clash of supernatural beings. It feels like there is a natural flow to why things happen without jarring motivations like random strangers wanting to conquer the world. It understands what it wants to set up, and allows the world to go hand in hand with its main narrative.
My favourite type of fantasy setting is one you can get lost in. The idea of it feels surreal and you can immerse yourself into not only the story but the world around it almost acting like a secondary character of sorts. Grimoire of Zero has the makings of just that, a distinct world that follows tropes of course (its hard not to anymore) but manages to build its characters around the problems of said world. The world is almost front and center in this piece, for how much they have so far dealt with the politics and the circumstances of witches. Our group of characters are people drenched in the affairs of this world. One is a beastfallen, a human child turned into a humanoid beast because of a curse made by witches. We then have a plucky young witch and a witch who hasn’t seen the outside world too much, but claims to be the creator of a powerful tome.
Each of these characters interact with the world in interesting ways because of their circumstances. The beastfallen are initially feared due to their demeanor and the attitudes of some of the more crude ones. Witches are continuously persecuted because they were blamed for a plague that affected the rest of humanity. Each one has a story to tell within the confines of the world, and to remove the world as a core element would be a detriment to the story as a whole. The circumstances, as potentially grave as they may be, only work within the confines of the world as we start to piece together our own truths as viewers of what the world truly is. We discover the world through the eyes of these misfits, through their misadventures and heartaches. Their identities drenched in the misfortune and lore of the world, allowing us to see unique perspectives different from the natives of the world. Even if the story is a bit loose as of now, it doesn’t detract from the fun time one can have with these characters and how this world operates.
Why Grimoire of Zero can be such a good series is because it delivers what could be a full package. A story immersed in a world that feels alive with characters that embody the best and worst the world has to offer. This is a world that desires to be discovered by the viewer, to understand its mysteries with your own eyes. It is not going to be the best thing you have ever seen, but rather a calming journey through comedic misadventures of its cast. If you haven’t checked out this series as of yet, just give it a shot and who knows you might want to be sucked into its tale of witches just like me.
While I may paint Drifters in a negative light, that doesn’t mean that it is something I despise. It has roughly the same feelings I felt towards Hellsing, ballistic shallow fun. This hopefully will get some people to check out Grimoire of Zero if not Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis. It is hard to find good fantasy stories within anime for me and I will continue to strive to find ones that can stand out and make me potentially pick up a book one of these days and…read a fantasy novel! Oh my the very thought is unheard of for me…books burn through my hands you know, its why I don’t read.
So what is your ideal fantasy setting, in anime or other mediums of fiction? Have you watched Grimoire of Zero and what did you think about it? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a wonderful day!