Review: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Vol 1)

(art by Eiri Shirai)

(art by Eiri Shirai)

  • 灰と幻想のグリムガル — Hai to Gensou no Grimgar — “Grimgal of Ashes and Illusion” — Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
  • Author: Ao Jyumonji — Artist: Eiri Shirai
  • The novel: Amazon.jpBooks Kinokuniya — YesAsia
  • The fan translation (by “TOM”): NanoDesu Translations
  • MAL EntryForum

(Note: This site’s central focus is on light novels officially translated and published in English, but at times I will post reviews for stories that have only been translated by fans. Please support the Japanese books that don’t get English releases.)

Vol 1 - A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening

Vol 1 – A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening

This was one of the fan-translated light novels people voted for to read in the summer 2016 reading program (the other being The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria, which I had already read and reviewed.) Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash gained a bit of popularity thanks to an anime adaptation in winter of 2016. Nobody commented on this light novel during its time in the summer reading program though, so perhaps its popularity has since waned.

It is one of many light novel series about characters who find themselves trapped in a fantasy world (a la Chronicles of Narnia), and one of the many light novel series intended to feel like a video game. The characters are more or less in a kind of Dragon Quest world.

grimgar-ill-rev

To be honest, I didn’t think this story was good. Somehow the author is able to go on for page after page about all sorts of banal things, and still I feel like I learned nothing of significance about the world. Everything came off as quite plain to me. Generic medieval set pieces, bland dungeons, uninspired monsters, and blank-slate characters who all have amnesia. The characters at first don’t want to be monster hunters, but they decide to go along with it anyways because the plot calls for it. To me it felt like a missed opportunity for the characters to try fighting the system that had been forced upon them. But instead they simply follow the dots: train -> kill level 1 goblins -> train -> kill level 2 goblins -> train -> kill level 3 goblins… and so on.

In the second half of the volume a new character is introduced whom I found somewhat interesting (Mary), but there isn’t enough done with her to make me want to try reading more volumes. The rest of the cast is just too dull, with the exception of a boy named Ranta–but I’ve decided he is my least favorite character in all the light novels I’ve ever read. Ranta is loud, obnoxious, whiny, and rude in just about each and every page he has a line of dialogue, which is almost each and every page. I kept hoping for him to change, but he never did. Maybe in a later volume.

For at least a couple positives: I did like the artwork (which I think captured the tone of the story quite nicely), and I did appreciate how the characters had to really struggle to improve. But that’s about where my compliments end. Is there a chance you might like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash? Of course. If you are a big fan of “trapped in a fantasy world” and video game-like stories, feel free to give it a try. Otherwise, I think there are better entries for that subgenre to be had out there.

Cho’s Rating: Maybe Recommended

6 responses to “Review: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Vol 1)

  1. In all honesty, the sheer mundanity and glacial pacing was one of its draws for me. Team Haruhiro, effectively level 1 adventurers cutting out a meager living in a fantasy world that wants to murder them- watching them improve inch by inch from rock bottom and conquer each new hurdle thrown at them is satisfying. You can see Haruhiro’s almost defining concern for his friends over himself in every one of actions after he’s given command of the party. It’s surprisingly enjoyable and really comfy to read, even if it was really drawn out. It’s definitely not for the fast reader or easily bored, but I’m now neck deep into Volume 4 and I can say that the characters and pacing improve greatly, as well as the stakes.

    • That’s great to hear! There are a lot of long-running fantasy series out there (both East and West) that improve significantly the further along you get into them.
      I did appreciate Haruhiro needing to make an effort to work out how to lead the party effectively. There are some stories lately that have gotten quite popular, where one of the main draws is “an OP protagonist” who is essentially perfect and unstoppable. Which I generally can’t get into? I like competent protagonists, but I also value strong character development. Perhaps it’s just a matter of finding the right balance appropriate for each story.

  2. Well for me, I have actually read the fan translation of this up to the 3rd Volume. What makes Grimgar such an excellent light novel is that they aren’t some super powered team. The point quite literally is that they suck… just like a 1st level party in Dungeons and Dragons. This isn’t about a video game… its more like a real life scenario of a bunch of gamers put in the real world and having to survive there. Yeah they’re pretty weak. LN1 is mostly about the struggle for survival and the mystery of who they are and what happened…. Eventually as you reach LN2 and 3 they get better and better, but more team members die. Things really heat up in LN3 during the siege at Capomorti. What makes this light novel good, is quite literally the struggles…. of a team that isn’t good at anything. This may be why you’ve not adapted to it… its not a trapped in the video game scenario… it’s a trapped in a real medieval world scenario… as your real self… not some superhero.

  3. First of all, I would like to address some issue on lack of follower of Grimgar. I think that many people fail to realize that Grimgar is incorporated with slice of life genre. Because of this, they find it boring. After all, slice of life centralized story are slow paced and very relaxed (I’m a fan of slice of life btw). Maybe mainly due to this, Grimgar is underrated and overlooked.

    After first watching the anime, I got totally immersed in the world of Grimgar. And after reading the LN, I fell in love in it more. Other than settings that are cliche such as summoned to another world or adventurers fighting monsters, I got hooked with Grimgar mostly because of the characters. Although, it is not from a physiological genre. The characters’ personality and interactions are embedded with psychologically realistic elements that I believe to be the backbone of Grimgar. As stated by others, Grimgar is a place where you have to struggle to live, especially for Team Haruhiro. Indeed, there are exceptions such as Renji who is considered genius who are having it easy. As others have stated too, the “ash” in Grimgar’s title may have the context of death or returning to nothingness(ash). Based on this idea, the world of Grimgar is where death is just lurking around the corner(something like that). This is represented by the deaths in Grimgar. Moreover, the impact of these deaths to the people around them are carefully and accurately described by the author through the characters’ action/expression, etc. The “illusion” part is intertwined with the context of “ash”. It might have the meaning that the life they are experiencing are merely illusion, because at any moment of their life, they can lose something dear to them when they least expected it. Analogically, just like how wind comes and goes which is hardly predicted(kinda).

    Looking from the psychological perspective, let us observe Team Haruhiro. Particularly, Ranta’s behaviour and how his teammates respond to it. This circumstance is highlighted in vol 2 and it absolutely hits home (if you know what I’m saying). Another element that I love about Grimgar is the subtlety of romance. I have only read properly from vol 1 to 3. However, from vol 4 to 9, I was only able to read the summary which were written by the raws reader. Up until vol 6 or 7(if I’m not mistaken), the author would always never explicitly hints that this guy likes this girl or vice versa. Only after vol 6(if I’m not mistaken), the romance element starts to get clear but it is still not explicit for some characters. At least we can start to make smart guess of who actually likes who. After vol 4, our main casts will begin to explore more of Grimgar. From this point on, the story and settings grow and becomes very interesting ( i can assure you). Definitely, there will be more fights too . About fighting scenes, the final fight in vol 3 was absolutely engaging and somehow hilarious? (I’m sure those who have read understand). Definitely, there are more awesome fights as the volume progresses.

    In essence, again i would like to point out that the characters are the ones making Grimgar so engrossing and enjoyable. Properly indulge yourself in their dilemma or drama or any other circumstances and realize the splendor and richness of the LN’s writing.

    • Thanks for the in-depth response, Fuez! Glad to hear the series progresses in interesting ways for you in subsequent volumes. Luckily the series has been picked up by J Novel Club, so you should be able to read the full series soon enough.

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