Grimgar feels like the anime staff resented having to adapt yet another anime about teenagers being caught in a fantasy video game RPG and did their darndest to drag the story in a different direction to what the source material felt like. Or alternatively (since I haven’t read that much of the source material so I don’t entirely know) it felt like the author wanted to write a story about loss but the only way he could do it was smuggle the story into a light novel featuring teenagers being irritating idiots. Whatever the cause, the final result is something that doesn’t really work. Not because the inherent idea is bad of taking the trapped in video game world and then turning it into a story about loss. I respect the attempt. It’s just bad at doing so.
Spoiler warning: So I won’t say what happens, but the anime is impossible to talk about without mentioning that someone dies. I won’t say who, but given that they death flag them from pretty much episode 1 it gets incredibly obvious while watching it who will die.
So yeah, our characters get trapped in a world much like that of your typical fantasy RPG. They join guilds, form a party, fight goblins, take loot and sell that in the town for more money. Turns out being an adventurer is hard work and straight up murdering fools is tough and mentally taxing. It’s a very serious approach to the genre for the most part, which is fine. I didn’t find the characters particularly engaging but their situation is interesting enough for me to want to see them progress. The moments of levity though are where it stinks the most because it transports over light-novel-y romcom antics such as commenting on boob sizes and peeking on the girls changing. While these jokes are usually bad even in the silly anime, when something is this serious it makes the perpetrators come off far more as dangerous individuals whom I can’t understand why people would hang around with.
The dark knight asshole is the usual villain in these scenarios yet the characters often like to joke around about how they’re such good friends. Girl, he’s screaming at you in a crowded tavern about how small your tits are, this is not OK. It makes any declaration that these guys share any meaningful friendship seem fake and the idea any bonds could be stretched by any resulting loss feel hollow as I didn’t feel like they shared bonds in the first place. The group becomes a bunch of wet blankets catering to the demands of one complete asshole and I couldn’t stand it after a point. By all means have your conflict within your group and you need the louder personality to make that happen, but I never got the sense that the anime itself treated this arsehole’s crimes as anything more than goofing around gone a little too far. Heck instead we’d usually get a nice scene of one of the ladies rear end afterwards, just to up the feeling of alienation I got between my feeling and the creators interpretation.
As for the parts involving the loss, there were aspects of it I enjoyed. The awkward conversations in the bar afterwards, the depressing act of pumping up money for the funeral. These things worked. But too often the anime strayed into sad violin and piano music over montages of people looking sad. It wanted to wallop us over the head with how emotional everything was and wasn’t even particularly good at doing that walloping. I have a particular issue with the musical choices which felt like a string of sad anime ending music ballads that did a terrible job of conveying the emotion they were supposed to be. It was swinging for the fences when a simple bunt would have done and even when swinging their bat flew out of their hand. It’s weird because they would occasionally do something that did feel genuinely poignant, or got the awkwardness of overcoming loss just right. But they’d usually proceed to fuck it up somehow in the next scene.
As part of my 2016 anime catchup I also watched a few episodes of KonoSuba on the recommendation of many people, another one of those trapped in a video game world, and found that to be a humongous pile of shite. Badly done self-aware humour with terrible character designs and weird boobs. I feel like I got all the “lol it’s like a fantasy video game” humour out of my system from gaming webcomics 10 years ago and even those weren’t particularly good either. So at the very least I appreciate Grimgar did try something different. But it didn’t do a particularly good job with its unique spin on the tired genre and still brought over some of the more irritating aspects of fantasy light novels for the ride anyway.