This is Granbelm!
What’s the Story?
1,000 years ago all magical power in the world was sealed away. Now, under the light of the full moon, candidates to become the one true mage battle it out for control of that power using giant mechanical dolls. There are those who wish to use the power for selfish reasons and those who wish to destroy the power completely, but then there’s Mangetsu, who very literally stumbles into this contest. Mangetsu believes that she has nothing special about herself and longs for that one thing that can truly be hers. Could becoming the one true mage be her special thing? There are certainly odder reasons to enter a magical death match, not many, but I’m sure there are some.
Okay, I’m just going to be upfront about this, I love this show and I mean the heart throbbing, head-over-heels kind of love, so be prepared for gushing (Honestly if it wasn’t for the existence of Given I’d be tempted to call this show my favourite series of Summer 2019, and that was a fantastic season). I don’t even know where to start with this series I love it so much. I suppose the best place would be why I think this show hit me so hard with Cupid’s arrow and it all comes down to one of my favourite anime of all time, Madoka Magica. Ever since I finished that series I’ve been searching for another dark magical girl series to fill the void, and while the subgenre has had plenty of entries over the years, none of them feel like they’re even the same species as Madoka (at least until the spinoff series came along this season).
Then this show comes along, completely out of nowhere as far as I was concerned. It starts off flashy and cool, with some exhilarating fights and lots of pretty visuals, as well as some nice characters (I really love the friendship between Mangetsu and Shingetsu, but more on that later), but the more I watched this show, the more I realised this show understood something that a lot of dark magical girl shows forget, it knows how to make things hurt. See, a lot of these shows about magical girls battling it out for their heart’s desire, or their wish or whatever are just that, battles. We watch the girls get killed off one after the other and oh isn’t it shocking, isn’t gruesome. Yeah, no, not my thing. Granbelm though, it gets that what makes a fight truly epic, what makes a scene utterly heart-wrenching, is the emotions behind it. This may be a show about magical girls in mechs firing fancy lasers at one another, but it’s also a show about these girls throwing everything into a fight, all their heart and it is something I truly adored watching.
Whether it’s Kuon battling to avenge her sister, Mangetsu going into a blind rage and activating her kill mode, or just Anna going on a psychotic rampage, this show is packed with emotion. Maybe it crosses into melodrama a few too many times, and maybe we could have spent a bit more time getting to know more about some of the characters, but I was enjoying the episodes way too much to care about that while I was watching them (that’s actually my definition of a good show, be entertaining enough to carry me away and not notice your flaws until well after I’ve finished watching it, which Granbelm did and more). Not that this series is all flashy action and big emotional moments (though there is a lot of action in this series). It knows how to do quieter scenes too, a lot of which go to Mangetsu and Shingetsu. I mentioned before that I love their friendship, and some of the quieter moments of them wandering around town are some of my favourites scenes. You really feel the bond between the two of them, which only makes the revelations towards the end of the series all the more heartbreaking.
Also I do just want to mention the score for this series, because that is fantastic as well. There’s all these big orchestral pieces and, especially towards the end of the series, I was really starting to notice them and they honestly made the last few episodes of this series feel so epic I could barely take it. I seriously need to track down this music. While we’re on the aesthetics of the series, let’s talk about the visuals as well. As I said there’s lots of action, and while the mech designs took some getting used to, the action is frantic and exhilarating from the start. A couple of times it’s a little too frantic and I lost what was going on in all the laser fire and brightly contrasting colours, but for the most part you feel the speed and weight of these mechs as they clash against one another. Admittedly sometimes a fight can go on for a bit long, you think an enemy is finally defeated and they’ll come right back at you with an even more powerful attack (seriously this happens so many times I was getting Dragonball Z flashbacks, you know, except shorter and without the constant reaction shots and talk about power levels). I never minded that though because this show so perfectly captures the epic feeling that it’s going for. Each battle feels like it means something and I’ve missed that feeling in so many other shows.
Now I started this review talking about Madoka Magica and I guess that raised the question of how this show stacks up against that one. Is this show as good as Madoka? No, not by a long mile, but it does at least feel like its in the same ballpark and that is something I have been searching for for a long time.
All in all, Granbelm is a fantastic series and I’d recommend it to everyone, even if I don’t think this is a show for everyone. It’s worth a watch at least. Yes, some of the fights drag on, the pacing is a bit of a mess and some of the character motivation is a bit iffy until you get to the proper explanation later down the line, but I don’t really care about any of that, because this show has me by my heart and soul. The fights feel epic and the characters are all loveable in their own ways (even the ones I love to hate). Give this one a shot because if you’re like me and it hits you in that sweet spot, you’ll have a really great time with this series.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.