Granblue Fantasy: The Animation
Fleeing from the empire, Lady Katalina -- a knight formerly in the employ of said empire -- flees with a mysterious girl, Lyria, with special abilities. None the least of which is to communicate and summon Primals, immensely powerful beings that govern each of the many floating islands that make up the world.
Meanwhile, Gran is a young boy living in a pastoral village in one of the areas. His father had left many years ago, and the only memorabilia Gran has is a letter he got a long time ago. Eager to become a skyfarer -- which is like a sky pirate except for the lack of piratin' -- he spends his days adventuring in the surrounding area. Until one day, when he noticed an imperial ship in the sky suddenly suffers a big explosion. Running to investigate, he finds a mysterious girl lying on the ground.
I think it's a fair sign that something is based on a JRPG when you sort of get the whole package: young boy dreams of adventure, meets suspiciously similar-aged and mysterious girl, and they both need to escape from a very defined evil, usually an empire of sorts. On the way, they meet a lot of amusingly diverse people who add themselves to the main's party. In fairness, Granblue Fantasy at least adjusts some of those traits a bit. For one thing, our lead Gran's home village isn't completely destroyed as a means to motivate him to head out, and for the next... uh... well, maybe we'll get into that if the show gets more seasons? Please?
Granblue Fantasy: The Animation has quite the pedigree too. I was once interested in trying the game itself, given that its creative roster consisted of Final Fantasy mainstays, but the first reason that sort of held me back was that I had to jump some hoops to get it. While the game is available in English, it still is only "available" in Japan in the sense that it won't show up in stores outside of Japan, so some account finagling is needed to get the game working. Judging from what I've seen in various streamed movies, the game seems to be a bit of a cross between a visual novel and a JRPG, although I might not have the full picture in that respect, since I haven't actually tried the game. But more offputtingly, the game apparently lets you recruit characters via some sort of gacha mechanic. Not only do you have to buy each individual character separately; you can't even choose the one you want. You literally have to gamble for them in the hopes of getting them as a drop, which is one of the more revolting business practices that plague mobile gaming even to this day. And it's an immensely popular game too, so lootbox mechanics aside, there is apparently a solid game underneath all of this. But this review is about the anime and not the game, so I'm going to set this bile-inducing nonsense aside for now and let the anime stand on its own.
See, some days, you just gotta go old-school. There's just something so utterly charming about Granblue Fantasy and the complete earnestness that it approaches its big adventure. Gran and Lyria is such a token pairup approached with the level of self-awareness -- or the lack thereof -- that it shouldn't work, but it does. Gran is such an almost relentlessly optimistic and innocent young man with dreams as big as the sky. And Lyria is a mysterious girl who has abilities everyone who's evil would ever want, and she's not just sweet and.... relatively innocent, she's basically a personification of a personality slowly waking up. In addition to that, the game and the anime it's based on comes with its own mascot, flying dragon-ish being (just don't call him a lizard) named Vyrn. He adds a bit of color to the show, yes, but something tells me I should probably be glad I stuck to the English dubs, because characters like Vyrn tend to get annoying voice overs in Japanese, and he's already sort of brushing against the edge of my tolerance for that sort of thing in English.
And I can fully understand why Gran would become a skyfarer and why Lyria would want to learn more about this world they live in, because it's gorgeous. In a weird way, Gran's childhood stomping grounds are so pastoral and nice, I'm actually surprised he'd ever want to leave... until we get to see the other regions. Maybe a little more variety, as the show -- and possibly also the game -- seems to favor hills, forests and general greenery. Yet, all of these regions, all of these countries are all located on individual floating islands. Fans of the Final Fantasy game series will probably find the surroundings somewhat familiar, which should come as no surprise, as the Granblue Fantasy game was made by an old FF art director. The character designs are also pretty nice; Gran and Lyria might look a bit like your average easy self-insert and mysterious woman with long cyan hair and white dress respectively, but Granblue Fantasy does some pretty decent cat people with the Erune. Its prominent member being Drang, one of the empire's more... aside... agents, whose motivations are a bit more ambigious than its more prominent members. He's paired up with draph woman Sturm, whose job seems to consist of being Drang's aide and stab him in the butt when he spends too much time talking when he should be firing his magic. "Draph" being Granblue Fantasy shorthand for "bovine", they are a race where the men are giant and bulky to say the least -- one of the story arcs is centered around one who also served as a surrogate father for one of the members of Gran's team -- and the women are really short and absurdly busty. Really; I already knew they were short, but I didn't realize how much so until late in the show where our main lead Gran -- who, let me remind you is a regular "not fully grown yet" human teenager -- stands right next to draph woman Narmaya. (I just assumed Drang was really tall, which was why he sort of towered over Sturm.)
The animation is also pretty decent; a lot of the fight scenes are surprisingly nicely directed, with actual fighting moves being done, or at least realistic-looking ones. The show also has its share of action scenes, most of which also look really good, particularly since the camera is often sent on a wild chase of keeping up with whoever's running over all kinds of crazy thing on their way to whatever needs a good stabbing. And that's not even getting into the usage of 3D CG, mostly used for the aforementioned primals, like Bahamut and Leviathan.
More of a divided issue is the way the Empire are handled in general. Weirdly enough, a lot of the goons Gran and his team fights have very distinct dialogue that personalize them as a bit more than just "redshirt goon", and some of them even question whether they should follow the orders of their commanders, who are usually made up of blatantly stereotypical evil dandiness. Pommern is the first you meet, and he actually does have a moustache he could twirl if he wanted to. Together with Furias, a member of a tiny race referred to as "Harvin" (think FF XIV Lalafell), the two of them makes me wonder why anyone would WANT to work for them, as Furias in particular, has a tendency to shoot his own underlings when he's angry. And he's almost always angry. I guess this sort of thing goes with the old-school feel, but it's also the closest thing I have to a complaint when it comes to this anime version. A little depth would have been appreciated, as even old-school RPGs would have that.
Actually, make that two, because Granblue Fantasy has another bit of a downside I had some problems adjusting to. And that would be the dialogue. Frustratingly, the dub is actually really good all around, even when it comes to normally obnoxious mascot/comedy relief characters like Vyrn. It's just that the dialogue is really explainy. In some cases, it makes sense, like when Gran explains that his desire to become a skyfarer is because that's what his father inspired him to dream about. But the show would have scenes where... say, Katalina would explain to Gran that she and Lyria escaped from the empire so they wouldn't use Lyria for their experiments, and this would happen close after the scene where you see Katalina and Lyria escape from imperials and their moustache-twirling villains after getting a lecture about how Lyria is only there to serve as a subject for their experiments. "We crashed the airship" the characters would say right after we see them crash their airship, and wisely points out that we really should go get a new one, since we got more travelling to do. "And we need a pilot", someone wisely points out as it turns out Katalina miiiiight have overstated her piloting skills after she snapped the flight stick right in half, because that's a more immediate explanation than the plane crashing because she doesn't know how to fly it and having to explain that afterwards. Which she does anyway.
Still, it's fun. It does play its cards very seriously, granted, in a way that gets kind of adorable as the show runs along. For all the plot shares similiarities with the vastly less serious Rage of Bahamut -- which is also made by Cygames -- and its almost constant banter, the tone of the two shows couldn't have been any more different without resorting to being a dark debbie downer. But thankfully, Granblue Fantasy: The Animation is too old-school for that.
Which is not to say the show can't lean on fun either. Once the TV show itself finishes, you'll immediately move on to the two extra OAVs which, as mentioned in the "notes" section, is instead centered around female protagonist Djeeta. Aside from an introduction, which works as a recap of the most plot-relevant segments from the TV show if Djeeta had been the protagonist instead, the two episodes are instead centerd around one familiar anime trope and one more seasonal one. The first of the two OAVs is your typical swimsuit/beach episode, and since Djeeta's crew are more dominantly female -- including the aforementioned Narmaya -- it does become a bit of a service for the guys, if a fairly mild one compared to the levels of sexualisation we get in anime nowadays. The second of the two OAVs is centered around halloween, where Djeeta and crew has to solve the mystery of a candy store lady's son, who seems to have disappeared somewhere. And while said beach episode had its crew get into a run in with the empire, the halloween episode is centered around the mischievous but generally benevolent Jack, a pumpkin-headed spirit of sorts, and the resolution to that particular episode was sweet in a way that lends itself more to slice-of-life shows, or healing shows, than something centered around high adventure, and one that's probably bound to appeal more to an older audience due to the main topic. Either way, they're a really nice bonus to an otherwise hectic and fun show.
Now, let me again remind you that Granblue Fantasy: The Animation is very old school. You are going to see some event happen before they happen, even if they don't necessarily play out quite like you expected them to. But hey, it's a great lineup of old-school characters, playing out an old-school JRPG storyline, and it's weirdly charming that way. Makes me feel all nostalgic inside.
Sweet visuals, nice designs, good ol' fantasy adventure comfort food. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: There is the kind of violence you'd expect from a show like this. Not too explicit, just safe enough for most teenagers. Fanservice is also very, very light.
Version(s) Viewed: Region A Bluray, bilingual.
Review Status: Full (14/14)
Granblue Fantasy: The Animation © 2017 A-1 Pictures, Aniplex.
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