Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Overview (Volumes 1-8)

This is a review of a light novel that I had abandoned around two years ago: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, one of J-Novel Club’s first publications. It looked great, then I read about two volumes and… just couldn’t get into it. I know that slow burns are a thing, but due to the sheer length of the series, plus me not yet having my IRL job at the time, I literally couldn’t afford to continue with it. But over the course of the last couple of months, I tried giving it a fair shot from where I left off.

In Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, twelve people end up in this world- all Breath of the Wild style (including the amnesia). But unlike Link, they just go to the nearest town and GET A JOB. That’s basically about it; a perfect opening for a sandbox JRPG. That analogy is pretty apt, because this world is- of course- run on videogame physics.

Since it IS a JRPG world, Grimgar operates like one, specifically by having a slow and boring start. Most of the first volume is them just getting acquainted with the world. It is generic and boring, and shouldn’t have taken so much time to get acquainted with in the first place. Grimgar reminds me a LOT of Goblin Slayer, one of my least favorite LNs of all time (the group even gets called Goblin Slayers), and it could’ve even inspired that cesspool of D&D tropes. 

“Well, that’s only an issue for the first few volumes, right?” you ask. I thought that would be the case at first. But Grimgar is a “realistic” isekai. That means no lofty goals, no big bads to take out, no nothing. The whole point of the story is just… to survive. For some people (*cough* critics *cough*), this sounds like the greatest thing ever. And for some, the idea alone is enough, based on the positive reviews I’ve read. But the idea alone is never enough for me. The execution is more important, and Grimgar’s execution isn’t exactly on point.

At first glance, it seems the author really shows how ruthless the world of Grimgar is. Plot relevant characters do actually die, and it’s not always obvious who’s wearing the red shirt at any given time. Furthermore, it does a great job at showcasing the team’s struggles and shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are a ton of tone shifts. You know, have a story that takes itself SO DAMN SERIOUSLY and then suddenly throws in an ecchi scene. NO, you’re doing it wrong! Golden Kamuy and One Piece are rare gems that can mesh opposing attitudes all too organically, but Grimgar is no such gem.

The cast is ultimately what made me abandon Grimgar two years ago. Having twelve main characters immediately can be overwhelming in a book. In something like Danganronpa, sure, you’re introduced to sixteen main characters, but you didn’t have to worry about picturing them. I remember taking half an hour at the prologue just because I had to establish an image of all twelve people simultaneously. Fortunately, the author had the courtesy to split them up. The main MAIN group consists of Haruhiro (the leading protagonist), Ranta, Yume, Shihoru, Moguzo, and Manato, with the addition of Merry later on. 

Sadly, they aren’t that interesting. Haruhiro genuinely cares about his comrades, almost to a fault. But other than that, he’s a typical, bland self-insert. They try to justify this by having characters say something like, “He should be the leader because he’s the most ordinary” or something… but I still didn’t give a rat’s ass about him.

Ranta is the best and worst character in the whole series. He’s the best character because he has the most personality, memorable scenes, and feels the most fleshed out. Conversely, he’s the worst character because he’s a perv and is responsible for pretty much every tonal clash in the whole series (oh, and this person named Anna, who comes up later, is the female version of Ranta). Besides him, most of the others fulfill typical tropes like “deadpan loli” and “gentle giant”. There is some semblance of character development, which is enough for some (i.e. most) people, but for me, it falls flat in the face of their already boring personalities.

Visually, Grimgar has a true JRPG look. Watercolor paint style with desaturated but appealing colors give it an Octopath Traveler vibe. It also makes me wish that the quality of the art matched the actual story (oooooooh snap). 

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Verdict (Average of All Eight Volumes): 6.85/10

Although I can appreciate what Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash sets out to do, I’m not one of those people who gives A’s for effort. From its boring characters, to dialogue that’s so far out of left field that it circumnavigates the earth and ends up back in right field, it’s just too many negatives and not enough positives. Grimgar feels like something meant to be inherently appealing to critics above all else. Maybe I’ll revisit it, but for now, I just can’t. If all you care about is that it’s “realistic”, “human”, and “poignant”, then you’ll probably enjoy Grimgar more than me.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 1 Review

The cover of volume 1

Welcome to the first Thursday blog! I’m hoping to include Thursday evenings in the regular schedule from here on out. Today is my review of Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, published in English by Yen Press.

The issue of gore and inhumane crimes’ presence in entertainment has always been a subject of much controversy. In the anime community, shows such as Elfen Lied and Goblin Slayer have ignited wildfires on message boards. Torture Princess has the potential to cause a volcanic eruption. And what a beautiful eruption it would be!

Torture Princess shows it’s edginess in its premise. Sena Kaito is summoned to another world in the body of a golem- after he is strangled to death by his father- to serve Elisabeth la Fanu, a lowly sow who has committed a ton of crimes and whose punishment is to hunt thirteen demons. As Kaito helps her on her quest, he learns about her and the cruel world she lives in and is slowly changed during his new life there. The events taking place in this volume are consistently violent and unsettling, but that’s not a surprise given the title of the series.

The characters, however, end up being a big surprise. I expected Best Girl Elisabeth to be a one-dimensional sadist and for Kaito to be a one-dimensional masochist. However, this volume quickly proved me wrong. In the case of the titular torture princess, Elisabeth is a strange combination of several dere types that somehow manage to work. She’s a two-sided coin where one side is the sadistic badass you’d expect, but on the other side is an emotionally insecure waifu that you just want to offer your shoulder for her to cry on.

Speaking of emotionally insecure, Kaito is one dark and disturbed kid. Who wouldn’t be, with a father like that? Although the numerous illegal practices of his father are a bit over-the-top, the mere presence of an abusive parents makes Kaito much more relatable to audiences than his Goody Two-Shoes cousins in other isekai. He’s also got a snarky personality, which leads to some great interactions with Elisabeth.

The third major player is Hina, an autonomous doll girl who ends up taking the role of yandere. I admit that she’s the weakest link out of the trio so far, but in terms of sheer personality she is one of the better yandere I have seen.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without the author’s prose. Torture Princess doesn’t try to pull off its angst with a straight face and end up falling apart; it embraces its angst and doesn’t care what you think. The prose portrays violence with elegance and grace, which is suitable to how Elisabeth looks when she takes down her foes. One of the few concerns I have is that the dark pasts of both Elisabeth and Kaito seem to be tackled in their entirety in this volume. I have no idea where it’ll go from here, but I’m going to put faith in the author.

I really like the art in this one. Elisabeth looks awesome on the cover, plus I commend anyone able to draw chain links and still have a hand attached to their body.

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Verdict: 9/10

Torture Princess is– surprisingly- one of my new favorite isekai of all time. I found it very immersive, and difficult to put down. It’s no Berserk, but you can probably count on actually being able to READ the conclusion to this one.

If you cannot stand things like blood and murder (of children, among other things), then STAY AWAY from this. If Goblin Slayer went over the line, then that line is a dot to Torture Princess!

But if you DO read it, I recommend reading it on Barnes & Noble’s nook app, just for the ability to change the style to white font on black paper. I decided to try that out halfway into the volume and it legitimately helped with the immersion!