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Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

grimgar-of-fantasy-and-ash-crunchyroll-headerA lush fantasy world that doesn’t quite have any life to it.

What They Say:
After waking up in a strange new world surrounded by people who can’t remember who they are or where they came from, Haruhiro finds himself drafted into the service of the Volunteer Soldiers. Together with a ragtag party he must set out to make a name for himself in a world where magic and monsters are a part of everyday life.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English mix gets a 5.1 bump. Both tracks are done using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec and it works well to bring to life the show, though it’s not one that plays to big moments when it comes to the action. The show works some good material with the background sound effects and the things that are alive in the woods during the various missions and that, along with other ambient effects, make for a good show in that regard. The dialogue is well handled with some noticeable directionality here and there but nothing that stands out in a really big way. The music is where things really step up, especially with several inserts songs along the way, as that adds a layer of warmth and richness to the show overall.

Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second, plus the extras, with a good bit of space to work with. Animated by A-1 Pictures, the series is one that got my attention during its promotional phase because of the beautiful backgrounds and color design and that’s just very striking here. The colors are rich and layered, almost like a watercolor piece at times, and the way the characters interact with it all just makes it all the more engaging. The visual design is top notch and the encoding here brings it to life wonderfully with rich colors and a whole lot of detail that’s crisp and problem free. It’s a great looking show in just about all regards but the encoding gives it some additional oomph.

The packaging for this limited edition release is pretty slick as we get a heavy chipboard box that has a great texture to it and some gold embossing for the text that just adds some nice richness to it all. The front of it has a great cast shot that really does work the style of the show so you know what you’re getting while the back panel has another shot of them walking along together. The Blu-ray case inside holds the discs for both formats and it has more of the appealing cover artwork from the Japanese releases across the main panels while the reverse side has the episode breakdown on the left and more artwork on the right. The spacer box, which replicates some of what’s inside, gives us six of the really appealing art cards that focuses on the cast of characters. We also get a good size folded poster inside that uses the artwork from the front of the heavy chipboard box of the main cast.

The menu design for this release works what it should as it’s a good series of clips from the show, often focusing on landscape visuals more than anything else. With a great looking show as we get there’s definitely some colorful and appealing pieces to use here that helps to set the mood in all the right ways. The logo is a bit big along the center top but it works well enough and doesn’t obstruct much in the way of the visuals themselves. The oversized bar along the bottom is done in a soft white with the basic navigation that you’d expect and it’s smooth and problem free as both the main menu and the pop-up menu.

The extras for this release are a bit on the light side but there are some fun things. While we got a slew of music videos and promos from TOHO for the show during its broadcast, almost none of that makes its way here. What we do get is the OVA that was used to do something of a recap bump to things due to the complexity of the production as well as a video commentary with three of the male voice actors. They’re both good pieces that are worth including but the lack of all the other promos makes me a bit sad as TOHO put together some very fun things.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Aoi Jumonji with artwork by Eiri Shirai, Grimgar is a twelve episode TV series that aired during the winter 2016 season. The original light novels kicked off back in 2013 and have nine volumes so far and are the type that strike me based on the adaptation as ones that are more ideal as novels. The focus here is more on character interaction than anything else and that comes at a cost because there’s not much in the way of story that feels like it connects here nor is there anywhere near enough world building to make it feel like it’s cemented enough to invest in. What makes it a draw are the visuals as it’s yet another series that A-1 Pictures has managed to turn out that just looks fantastic and is practically worth it in high definition just for that alone.

The series focuses on a group of people that have awoken but without any memories of who they are. It’s a familiar setup and one that has them deciding that upon meeting each other that they need to work together to survive, which has them joining the trainee volunteer soldiers that scour the lands and deals with the various creatures that are causing trouble out there. It’s largely relegated to kobolds and the like and that ends up giving us a lot of fights that are kind of slow and not terribly dramatic since they’re small groups or one-off creatures to be dealt with and they’re not exactly running around a lot. There are tense moments to be had from time to time and we do get some death along the way, which makes an impact on things, but by and large there’s not a larger threat going on here from the creatures they face off against. They’re what allows the group to make some money and afford basic survival elements and that’s about the extent of it.

Unfortunately, this really does feel like it’s describing the bulk of the series. So much of what we get is the group figuring out who they are in this world, or finding who they need to be in order to survive, and that’s about it. It becomes a bit more problematic early on when one of them ends up dead, Manato, but there’s been so little time to know them never mind everyone else that it just doesn’t have any meaning to it. And to make matters worse, Manato’s death is referenced regularly throughout the remainder of iot because it makes such an impact on them with how they all started out together for the most part. Things do shift up a bit with the arrival of Mary not long after that but it’s something that feels like it undercuts itself as well by happening so quickly.

Generally, I’m someone that likes character based material more than just an action series but Grimgar doesn’t give us any characters to feel like you can invest in and really know. With the way the series sets the stage with their memories and a lack of strong backgrounds to make them feel more defined, Grimgar works some decent exploration of the group in general as it progresses, though the lead and our viewpoint through Haruhiro is what gets the most attention, but the characters never felt more than superficial to me as it went along. Even worse is that the more that it went on and the more superficial it all seemed the less you end up remembering the characters names because of the way it works its focus in such a light way and then mixed in with mild and not altogether interesting action.

And while certainly not a requirement there really isn’t an overarching storyline here. The show doesn’t really force a huge and world altering piece in the final episodes, which is a plus as that would be just as bad, but the lack of something cohesive to work toward or against is another mark on the show that keeps it from connecting. The kobolds don’t present much in the way of a threat overall and there’s not much drama to be had within the human side of it as well. The more that I reflect on the show, and realize just how little of it made an impact, the more I realize that the biggest appeal of the show is the visual design. I love a good fantasy show and this one delivers in a great looking world but there’s nothing to be had beyond that. I love the colors, character designs, the lushness of the forests and the grunginess of the towns, and it’s almost just enough to make it worth checking out for that alone.

In Summary:
Grimgar was a series that really caught my eye during its broadcast run because TOHO put out some great music videos and promos that made it very appealing with its visuals and its music. And both of those are the biggest draws of the series. The show is one that feels like it would be ideal in its original light novel form in dealing with characters and their feelings but makes for a weak translation to animated form because it doesn’t have a strong enough narrative. Funimation’s release is great from top to bottom with packaging, encoding, the English language dub, and some of the pack-in extras. But the show itself is one that just didn’t click for me.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, OVA 2.5 – Staking Our Youths on the Bath Wall – One More Centimeter, Episode 4 Video Commentary, Trailers

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: May 2nd, 2017
MSRP: $84.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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