Fantasy is such a majestic genre. It creates some of the most spectacular settings, worlds full of wonder and amazement, creatures that we could only imagine come to life to take us on an adventure that we could only dream about, we witness epic events unfold before our very eyes as huge monsters fight a group of adventurers that are ready to take it on. Granblue Fantasy is definitely an adventure that encapsulates all of that, amongst many other things that make fantasy so great, not to mention that thanks to some great directing and stellar action sequences, the people over at A-1 were able to put together some of the most pleasant and wonderful anime in recent memory.
Gran is a simple boy. He lives his day on one of the floating islands with his pet Vyrn and dreams of becoming a captain that could one day venture into the unknown world on his own ship, with his own crew, and find his father that sent him a letter from a legendary island back in the day. The opportunity for such an endeavor arises when an object flies from the skies right into the middle of a forest near Gran's house. That object turns out to be a girl, more specifically: Lyria, a government experiment that's been hid in special facilities until she was rescued by her guard Katalina. After defending themselves from the knights chasing her for a while, Gran get struck down and dies. Thankfully, he is able to return to the world of living thanks to Lyria, who shared her life force with him. They summon the powerful dragon Bahamut and chase away the intruders, after which all of them quickly decide to leave together, Gran with the intention of fulfilling his dream and defending the newly met girl, and Lyria with the intent of understanding her reason for living. On their journeys they meet new adventurers, some of which join their crew, discover new lands, some of which they have to save, and uncover the corrupt reality that was created by the ruling force: the Empire.
First let me pose a question: What's the most important part of an adventure in a piece of fiction? To me, it all comes down to a couple of things: What kind of people do you follow, what places do they visit, what kind of cool experiences they go through and how far can my imagination reach with the presented setting. I"m going to tackle each of those elements.
Granblue Fantasy is set in a universe where people are constrained by the place they live in, that being a flying island, with the only means of travel being airships. People who fly on those vehicles are called skyfarers. The world is mostly ruled by the Empire that tries to become even stronger and expand even further, but there are still islands that oppose them.
At the start of the story, we are presented to a small chunk of the world, the cookie-cutter island where Gran lives. We see boring, normal houses, with a boring, normal forest and other boring, normal places. This helps with building up the excitement for the moment where the viewer first hears of a greater prospects, a huge, open world with numerous beautiful islands full of life and mystery, legendary islands and adventurers traversing the wide, blue skies on huge airships to find fame and treasure. That doesn't mean that the show is boring at the beginning though, there's a lot of movement and despite the fact that the first island isn't as rich as the ones we see later, the build up and the actions that take place during the first act are enough to take your mind off of that.
At a certain point the characters start traveling, the first time we see them fly an airship, it's a small, crappy machine that nobody actually knows how to fly. As such, we get to see very little of the beautiful sky or the important parts of piloting and traveling, however, the second island is already much more spacious and bright. It starts filling the void that the first island left. That's only the beginning though.
The world of Granblue Fantasy is huge and epic, each island is characterized by it's own architecture and color pallet, each has its own purpose and different types of merchants and craftsmen. For example the second island is full of skyfarers and the entire place is dedicated to a Sky Goddess Tiamat. Another one is full of mechanical craft, or another one that's dedicated to water and looks like Venice on steroids.
Creating a vast and imaginatively impelling world allows this show to put in new things at will, but also makes the viewer more interested in new arcs. The camera placement surely helps with that, there's a lot of wide, expository shots that give the viewer a sense of space, creating a place that you can comprehend and see how it works, by that I mean both how nature does its own things and how busy towns, inns and shops work on a daily basis. As such, this series has successfully created a living, vibrant world that allows for endless fanfictions to be based upon it, which is a huge success on its own, but that's not the end of this show's strengths.
The world is created only to be explored, and that can't be done without characters, so let's take a quick look at them.
Gran works pretty well as a self-insert protagonist, but unfortunately not much more. His ideals, morals and dreams are all fairly simple, the show made sure to put them out there. However, the show itself takes the stance of Gran every single time, it lacks a gray area that could separate Gran from the viewer's understanding of the world, thus making him the self-insert MC. Every directing trick and each camera shot is supposed to reflect on Gran's mindset so the viewer naturally follows it. Still, that's not the worst thing in the world. The character interactions between Gran and others feel more real this way, his ideals of wanting to meet his father and just be an adventurers are actually invigorating and make him almost feel like his own character, not quite making it in the end for me.
Lyria is an experimental being that stores a deadly power. She holds different beings inside of her, most of which are deadly. In the wrong hands, she can be used for evil, she's pretty much a walking political pawn, a weapon that was supposed to be used just as that. However, thanks to Gran who she quickly connects with, she finally considers herself to be a person, a human being with emotions and personality. Not only that, but on her journeys, she discovers that she can help Primal Beasts, powerful beings that are being used by the Empire. That's the first step for the process of discovering herself, that slowly becomes the main theme of the show. It gets interrupted later on, which leads to a great scene in episode 11 as Gran ventures inside of her mind to search for her sanity and ends up winning her over with charisma and by bringing up the progress she already made. She's a solid heroine, works well with Gran, who's characterization is on the low side, and makes for someone worth defending, weak at first serving only as support without any offensive capabilities of her own, but one that's getting stronger and smarter with each new adventure.
Katalina, who was Lyria's guard when she was still in the hands of the Empire, feels like a mother to the group of teens that don't really know what's going on. Incredibly strong and swift in battle, she's also very level-headed. She does a good job at contrasting with the rest of the rather rash cast, but unfortunately that's about it. Seems a bit lacking, especially if you consider the amount of time she's on the screen and her level of importance to Lyria.
Rackam is the first person the crew meets after leaving the first island. He's a helmsman who hasn't piloted a ship since youth. He dedicated his entire life to repairing a single ship, but somehow he doesn't seem to remember that once he is able to start it with Gran on board. The problem with his character is that, while he spent so much effort on this one ship, after his arc is done, he quickly forget about it and shows no affection to it when adventuring later on. This could be a good plot point, the fact that his travels would bring him peace and make him feel fulfillment or some sort of a justification for his actions, but no, there's nothing like that. However, his interactions with other characters are well written and likable. If Katalina is a mother of the children, he's definitely the cheeky, yet smart older brother. The thing that makes him a well thought out addition is the incredible resolve that kept him from flying on other airships, and if you remember, flying is something Gran always dreamed about since childhood. It makes a strong point about how larger the world truly is, with all sorts of different people, completely different from the ones that we've seen in Gran's village. Just imagine finally leaving your small piece of land after all this imagining of how it would be to fly free, and the first person you meet is someone who neglects your life-long dream by wanting to fly on only one specific machine.
The next person that joins the crew is Io: a young mage. Thanks to her cheerful, somewhat childish yet clever and dedicated personality, an interesting backstory and a simple motivation, she balances out the cast rather well. After all, the last addition was Rackam who she refers to as "old man". She may not be on the screen so much and her characterization may have become stale after her arc, but she does bring some extra life by being another person to join the bunch, and quite the presence when she does get some time.
Towards the end of this season we also get to meet Eugen who later joins the crew, though we don't see much of that. He's Rackam's old friend and when we see him for the first time, he is helping the water island stand on its own two feet after some natural disasters occur. He's a good leader, calm and collected, but he likes to let loose once in a while and drink beer when the time is right. He is surely the oldest crew member, thus giving him the title of the crew's grandpa feels appropriate. After all, he's an experienced skyfarer and a good shot.
So overall, the crew is diverse and fun to follow, while certain interactions unfortunately are a bit neglected, there are other strong relationships that carry the cast forward. The writing for the dialogues between then isn't particularly good, barely does it's job, but during fights that require some tactical approach or even ones that don't, you can see how well can they work together, the best example being the small ruin exploration quest in episode 8, where some great fight scripting and some proper banter between characters proves my point.
In episode 12 a lot of other adventurers come to save a city with Gran and others, and while this could be seen as a missed opportunity, I think it didn't affect the flow or atmosphere of the series negatively, instead it made it feel even more alive. Adventurers would join a battle if they saw a chance, they would show off a lot and help the weaker city defend itself. I'm sure this was just an attempt to force in some characters from the game this show is based off of, but it laid out another part of the world and added some depth to it.
The villains are not the stronger part of the series, they mostly create some inconveniences that end up helping the team find the Primal Beasts faster, or they just stand around and act mysterious. That's not a good thing, it feels sort of lazy, but then again, having a big villain right out the gate would most likely ruin the feeling of audacity that comes from all the experiences that were about to happen. However, if that's the case, the series shouldn't be afraid to hide its characters. It showed previously that it can take risks and do random things to consolidate that feeling in episode 4, when Rackam's airship miraculously started working after all that time, so why not do that again and insert those character later? There's very little reason for them to be present so far.
So, for the second point of my own version of "How to make an adventure series for dummies", the characters you follow do their job well because they have very specified roles to fulfill both in casual and relaxed moments and during fights, they coordinate well and work off of each other surprisingly naturally, but they are definitely far from being the most impressive thing about the show. That title would have to go to the audiovisual side of things.
No matter how much you try, no matter how much you struggle, you can't have a proper feeling of amazement and wonder in adventure series without some good looking locations and designs, and if there's something that Granblue nails almost perfectly, then this is it. The world itself looks stunning, the previously mentioned wide camera shots, the stunningly bright and expressive color pallet, the diverse and interesting architecture are only a part of it. Take a look at the CGI in this show, look at how well it blends in thanks to other special effects that are on the screen, such as fog, clouds and other similar things. Look at the moving skies in the background. Look at the natural facial expressions and movement. Most importantly though, look at the character designs, as they seamlessly bring back the old look, the RPG look of fantasy that went a bit missing during the moe era. I mean, it's still visible, but there are things that help with it. Proper armor designs are one of those, but another is the lack of consistently distinct outlines, which allows for a much more expressive facial movement and additional elements that could be added around it without the need to draw those lines at all times. Shots like Rackam pulling out his gun in episode 4 as Gran is being threatened looks so well, because the outlines of the said gun almost fill in the lack of such on his face. It looks great!
The designs work well with the sound, as both are directed extremely well. You can often hear the sound of armor moving when characters run, the wind and other natural effects sound wonderfully real, it's as if they embrace you from all sounds. The music doesn't lag behind either. Do you know who composed the music for Granblue Fantasy?
Nobuo fucking Uematsu.
Do you know what else did Nobuo Uematsu compose for?
FINAL FUCKING FANTASY II-XI AND CHRONO TRIGGER!
If someone knows how to compose music for fantasy, it's this guy. He's a master that should be celebrated much more than he already is, but thanks to his work, Granblue Fantasy gets this much better. All the tracks are magical, enticing and special in their own way, but I have to give credit to the people who utilized them, as they did a great job. The background music often helps to create the mood and even indicate the tempo of a conversation during the not especially well written dialogues, the battle music is epic enough and picks up at just the right moments. It feels like most of the scenes were created for the music, as they probably should.
So, this series looks and sounds amazing, but how about the fights? That's also pretty important. Well, I'm happy to say that this series has a properly established battle system with a good diversity in weapons and some cool additions as it goes on. There are sword users that rely mostly on their strength, such as Gran, swordsmen that utilize magic and agility, such as Katalina, mages, such as Io, and sharpshooters (using big ass guns!), such as Rackam and Eugen. There's also the support - Lyria - who uses her powers too boost attacks of others, and later she learns how to summon the Primal Beasts she helped, which is sweet seeing as their designs are also great, they look strong and threatening from the first glance.
Well, the animation for the most part could be clearer and more refined, there are some shots where the characters almost look like they're different people (probably different episode directors), but I have to say that the squashing and stretching works really well in some sequences, like Gran running on broken pieces of land in episode 5. They look spectacular, perfectly flashy and fluid, with some creative camera angles and movement, such as a top down perspective while Gran was flying down onto the Primal Beast in the same episode.
The scripts for the fights are well done, with some of the craziest idea I've seen in a while. Example: dunking a bomb into a golem's mouth. If that's not enough to sell you, then let me also mention that during fights, each character has a purpose of their own, magic works differently on some enemies, so different types have to be used, guns are less effective on armored people, but they sure can knock them back a bit, close quarter combat isn't the smartest against a strong foe, but nailing in that one specific, powered up attack will lead to victory. Stuff like that, consistent yet fresh animation, sound and scripting, is what elevates this show higher than other, similar shows.
However, the last episode caught me a bit off guard. It features a new MC called Djeeta, who I only assume is the female counterpart of the Gran from the game, and it introduces new crew members joining alongside, which I also assume are from the game going to the beach to rest. I would be annoyed if not for the fact that it's probably one of my favorite beach episodes of all time, featuring a clear narrative and just the same amount of adventure, but with some more cute girls, some good comedy and the heroine that's pretty overpowered compared to Gran. It seems to take place far from the events that we see in the show. Consider it as an OVA and a nod for the fans, it doesn't belong in the actual season for sure, but where else would they include if there's no manga that it's based off, there's only a mobile game. If there's nothing to attach such an episode to, I'm glad that I at least got it in this form. Entirely skippable, but pleasant nonetheless
Left this for the end because I didn't want to disrupt the flow of the review, but I want to talk about the opening and the ending, which also strengthen the adventure feeling when you start up an episode. Thanks to some amazing transitioning and the way it works with the music, the opening creates the feeling on its own almost immediately, there's a lot of atmospheric shots and play with shadows, but it all ends on a positive note with the airship leaving on a blue sky. The ending, while consisting of a lot of still shots, adds a bit more positivity into the mix. Starts off with Lyria standing on the edge of a cliff with her hair blowing, transitions to worried Fran and Vyrn looking on a dark night, after which we see all the characters smiling to the camera and both of the main pair joining them for a final happy shot. The music in both is seriously amazing and climatic, but the opening uses the most popular song by the well known band Bump Of Chicken called "Go", and nobody can rival that.
Granblue Fantasy is the epitome of adventure, a damn near perfect combination of atmosphere and world building that turned it into one of the seasonal highlights. Despite the lack of a strong, impactful cast and it's rather simplistic storyline, this show really gets things done, and it does so incredibly well. Want to sit down, relax and live out a different, more fantastical story in a form of a Japanese cartoon for a while? If so, this is your fix. I highly recommend it as such.
As always, this is purely my opinion. I recommend you to develop your own.