I can't say for sure what convinced me to stick with Grancrest Senki until the end, but it became a surprisingly good JRPG inspired action-adventure series.
Record of Grancrest War is, in my opinion, a shining example of how a story can be brought to life remarkably with a talented director. The director Shinichi Omata previously perfected his craft with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, he’s proven by now that he’s capable at adapting a good source material; plenty of his visual storytelling quirks are visible in the political drama this series offers. Grancrest is quite different from the drama oriented Rakugo in that its story is
fantastical and its setting revolves around the battlefield.
In adapting this different kind of story, Omata employs new methods to realize the more battle-focused structure. However, this adaptation would prove to be a much tougher ambition. The light novel Grancrest Senki was adapted from is quite long, which is the cause of pacing issues in the first half. The plot moved quickly at first, but upon rewatching all 24 episodes at once they're not nearly bad enough to ruin the show. After all, this is a fast-moving adrenaline-pumping battle show, moving from one battle to the next prevents it from growing tiresome. However, the fast pacing does make it hard to keep track of all the characters and plot lines when watching it weekly. This is likely the cause of so much hate for the show, I know it turned me off at first, but giving it a second chance was definitely worth it. I highly recommend watching this series all at once to enjoy the story at its best.
The story’s premise is relatively simple, Chaos reigns throughout the world and only lords with the power of Crests can stop it. Rather than focusing their efforts to put a stop to the chaos, the lords choose to fight and take one another's Crests because having the power to purify the chaos means control over everyone in the continent who needs protecting. Enter the mage Silica, the series heroine who despises the lords for their greed, through a chance encounter she meets the compassionate wandering knight Theo, seeking to save his homeland. Together they join forces and in a style not dissimilar to a standard JRPG or Dungeons & Dragons, they assemble their party of lords and gradually grow their army. With the goal of unifying the crests and ending Chaos, so more or less world peace, they’re really easy heroes to root for.
This isn't an original story by any means, but it did manage to engage me in spite of this. Not even the fast pacing of the first half could make it difficult to understand what is occurring, although it does help to watch the show consecutively rather than weekly. Rewatching Grancrest after witnessing how it develops in the second half led me to pick up on many details I had initially ignored. The first time I watched it I was mostly disinterested in the plot until the pacing slowed and allowed the main cast time to develop enough to be likable. After rewatching the first half I noticed how despite the cast being incredibly large, the series always makes an effort to give it’s characters motivations.
The source material is probably more in-depth with backstories and more extensive dialogue, but somehow this adaptation is able to compensate for what it’s missing with fantastic directing. One of the best and most frequent examples of this is during important discussions, the director loves to clue you in on how one of the major characters is reacting. He uses very purposefully uses close-ups to consolidate a subtle emotional reaction at the perfect moment. It’s like how you could praise a joke for being well timed, the close-ups are timed right when a key phrase is said invoking a small but important reaction. Perhaps using close-ups like this is sort of a shortcut in writing, but when you have so many characters to juggle with so little time it’s a very helpful way to keep the audience engaged with the cast.
The cast themselves are a fairly standard JRPG party with Theo Cornaro as their leader. Theo is your typical nice guy protagonist, except he actually uses the power he gains to make the world better throughout the show. He’s sort of misguided at first; one of his best lines representing this being “Why can’t we get rid of taxes?” and as usual Silica gently implies that he’s kind of an idiot in the same way a kindhearted little kid is. Even without having the most complex personality, he proves consistently that he is a compassionate person by always putting others ahead of him. Regardless of how high his status rises throughout the series, he doesn’t let himself forget even his foot soldiers.
Frankly, Theo’s simplicity isn’t an obstacle for enjoying the show because he doesn't dominate center stage, he shares it with his partner and eventual love interest Silica, who is a considerably more compelling character. Thankfully Silica is given plenty of agency in the story, she strategizes Theo’s wars with and sometimes for him while he riles up his army with niceness. I hate seeing the love interest character shuffled off into the corner with no pull in the narrative, so Silica’s defiance and individuality are quite refreshing. Their burgeoning romance throughout the series feels incredibly organic, they don’t fall in love because Theo is the guy with the power but out of mutual respect for one another and passion for the same goal. He wants to unite the crests so they can be used to protect everyone and she expresses disdain for the lord's misuse of the crests; they’re a dynamic duo and they have genuine chemistry together in and out of the battles.
And the battles, so many battles. I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much fighting would be in Grancrest Senki, but I suppose it does live up to its English title Record of Grancrest War. The battles are how the series progresses its story, similar to the JRPGs that inspired it. If you want an ally, fight them and prove you’re worthy. If you have a disagreement, fight them and prove who’s right. Thankfully, the action is passionately animated. Action scenes are dynamically directed with many different fighting styles used, with different animators hired throughout the series to keep this approach to telling the story refreshing. Even the guy who animated the breathtaking sakuga in Fate/Apocrypha returned to do a few episodes here, and dare I say they fit Grancrest even better thanks to its strong emotional core. There were, however, a few times where the visuals weren’t up to snuff and it was clear they were saving the budget for a grand climax. Other than those low points, it’s visually quite solid.
The various art styles and animation techniques used to great effect make Grancrest Senki feel more experimental rather than the standard look you’d expect from A-1 pictures. Director Shinichi Omata reminds us of his penchant for well realized dramatic moments with great editing on and off the battlefield. Notably, some of the storyboards used for one of the show's cruelest antagonists Milza are suitably moody with alienating points of view constantly hiding him in shadows. Another great way the villain is portrayed is through the striking thicker lines and his character design being engulfed in darkness aside from his eye and weapon, perfectly conveying the intimidation meant to be felt by the heroes. The visuals superbly define the tone at many points throughout the show; whether it be sweeping establishing shots of lush castles, the dark abstract style to show the presence of chaos, and especially the hopeful horizons illuminated by the setting sun to convey levity after a war. Also, the use of its thrilling orchestral pieces and occasionally uplifting ones do wonders for ensuring emotional beats are on point.
The most impactful part of the story comes at the very end with the most satisfying and rewarding finale the series could have possibly had. Resolving the conflict in a way that beautifully reincorporates the uplifting themes and previously unresolved character arcs. Although the plot's direction is predictable to anyone who has played a JRPG of its type, what matters is the execution. This isn't some kind of mystery story, although there are plenty of twists and even a couple of shocking betrayals sprinkled in, the story's main success lies in how it's stellar story-telling. I can't say more without spoiling it, but just know that the ending truly feels like a reward for completing the series.
[Final Score: 7/10]
Grancrest Senki’s standard tale of underdogs rising to power is so engaging because of great visual storytelling. If you’re looking for a combat-oriented action-adventure, with plenty of in-depth strategizing, and a romance featuring two compelling leads, then chances are you’ll find this series as enthralling as I did.
* Your list is public by default.
English: Record of Grancrest War
German: Record of Grancrest War
Spanish: Record of Grancrest War
French: Record of Grancrest War
Status: Finished Airing
Aired: Jan 6, 2018 to Jun 23, 2018
Premiered: Winter 2018
Broadcast: Saturdays at 00:00 (JST)
Producers: Aniplex, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Good Smile Company, BS11, ABC Animation, Kinoshita Group Holdings, Kadokawa, Cromea, Sonilude
Licensors: Aniplex of America
Studios: A-1 Pictures
Source: Light novel
Duration: 23 min. per ep.
Rating: R - 17+ (violence & profanity)
Score: 7.221 (scored by 121144121,144 users)
1 indicates a weighted score.
2 based on the top anime page. Please note that 'Not yet aired' and 'R18+' titles are excluded.