Anime Review: Granbelm – A Mahou Shoujo x Mecha Battle Royale

In this world, magic can grant you everything…
…as well as taking away all of it.

Granbelm is an original anime aired in 2019, produced by Studio Nexus (who is known for Rakudai Kishi and Darwin’s Game). The anime is directed by Masaharu Watanabe (who also directed Re: Zero so you can sorta know what to expect). In a way, the anime really takes the modern concept of Magical Girls and Battle Royale and combine it with mecha combat to create the series – relying on the gap-moe to build an emotional connection with characters and have that connection pass through a trial by fire through fiery combat.

Many modern Mahou Shoujos has veered from the original concepts of henshin heroines with flowery aesthetic to defeat bad guys into a much darker theme – consist of girls shouldering the responsibility to protect the world, yet their power might exact a heavy toll on them and they have to face deadly dangers around the clock. Madoka came to mind for this kind of concept, while Granbelm doesn’t have the same madness as Madoka, it still contains A LOT of depressing aspect that will grip the audience hearts, especially those that are weak to cute girls doing cute things.

Character wise, the series is almost an all-girls series with some background male characters that aren’t very significant in anyway. The girls are the focus and they are designed in a very cutesy way by Kei Imanaka. Of course they have themed hair-color according to their personality and mech.

The main character, Mangetsu, is a very average girl with an inferiority complex. She is mediocre in every way and dedicated herself to helping others to receive their recognition. She’s also a bit slow on the uptake but that makes her the perfect heroine in a Mahou Shoujo series with a darker twist. She is very likeable, with a bubbly personality and bright design to contrast her “suffering” later. This is a very common practice in such series to achieve maximum emotional damage. After each episode, the emotional baggage placed on Mangetsu becomes heavier and heavier, stripping her of what little humanity she has left – in the most literal sense. The usual method of getting other characters attached to the main character and then drop a barrage of misery and disaster on them isn’t a very uncommon occurrence, but the emotional effect still hit all the same.

Her deuteragonist – the Fate to Nanoha, so to speak – is another girl who also carries the Moon in her name – Shingetsu. Shingetsu is the cool beauty with jet-black hair that always has a trump card up her sleeves. A very stark contrast to Mangetsu, Shingetsu is socially inept in a way (while Mangetsu get along with everyone due to her nature), she is also the calculating type – who plans and only take battles she know she can win. Her Armanox – the Viola Katze – reflect her personality very well. You can say she’s a cold girl with a “dark” past that slowly warm up to the normal daily lives of a normal girl through the influences of her other half – Mangetsu. Even their color-scheme mirrors Madoka and Homura (pink and black), so you can obviously tell the direction their relationship is heading to.

Adn then we get to the “villains” o the series. As usual, the “true” villain is the power-that-be – the omnipotent “magic” power that orchestrate this grand battle royale. But such power doesn’t really make a good personification of evil so they made avatars for it. Suishou plays the perfect cunning, cruel and calculating b**** that seems impossible to beat and a harbinger of disaster upon our good heroines. Of course she came packaged with a sob story as well, that she has been a puppet under the control of the “magic” for the past thousand years. Time is an unrelenting waves that can wear down even the strongest of will, and Suishou is no exception. She is an embodiment of cruelty and manipulation that was twisted around by the guy upstairs after a thousand year. Not a very creative motivation, but the acting of Aoi Yuuki with the beautiful and vicious visuals really elevated the character as something you really, REALLY hate until the last 5 minutes of the anime. She completed her dirty job and was set free.

Although, I must say, the best highlight of the series is the “ERNESTAAAAA” from Youko Hikasa in the role of Anna Fugo. A revenge-obsessed girl that is basically a Getter Robo pilot that is constantly on her period. Her motive is as basic and petty as it can get, and her way of going about her “revenge” is the most text-book one can get. Yet whenever she’s screaming on-screen, she commanded the scene with her intense tenacity. Her Armanox – a blazing, glowing SD Getter Robo – is no doubt the coolest (irony not intended) in the series. The animation team really did a great job with the fire effect as well as the dynamic movements of the Armanox, especially Anna’s. She is written as a perfect tragic villain that has little to no redeeming features so viewer would hate her character as much as possible. If there’s anything Granbelm is good at, it is making people hate the characters that they want people to hate, and like the people that they want people to like.

Production quality-wise, there are little to complain about. The decision to employ Super-deformed style mechs wasn’t that much of a surprise. We’ve had many magical mechas with a big head before, such as Wataru, Ryu Knight and B-Daman, so the mecha design in this series can be seen as a homage to those. But that doesn’t take away from the action of the series, as the animator really know how to make them look dynamic in frames and the fluidty of their movements really help communicate the fact they they are “magic”. And yes, they are Super Robots for sure.

The soundtracks are also very good. The opening by Eir Aoi is breath-taking with a hint of epicness to it. The lyrics are about “two people under the moonlight” which is very fitting with the theme of the series. The ending “Negai” express the wish of Shingetsu to Mangetsu, or even vice versa. They taught each other a lot and they walked together on a common road. The BGM are also very well crafted to convey the atmosphere in certain scenes.

Granbelm undoubtedly took the tropes of many other series in the same genre, mostly Mahou Shoujo. The format of 1-episode of cute-girls-doing-cute-things and 1-episode of fighting for the first half did a great job at establishing the characters as well as setting the audience up on who to root for. The second half of the series quickly turn dark and depressing as we’re hit with waves of despair after despair. Finally ending up with a light at the end of the tunnel that is left to the viewer’s imagination. An impactful series with a good use of its clich√© with high production quality that make it pleasing and entertaining to watch (although you might wanna watch the volume control whenever Anna’s on-screen).

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