It is a shame that Granblue Fantasy the Animation‘s second season never quite manages to get itself off the ground in terms of being a rollicking good adventure. That was true of the first season as well, maintaining a sense of being okay enough to keep watching without ever doing anything truly fantastic. That may be different for viewers who have played the source game(s), but for the casual watcher just looking for an old-fashioned fantasy adventure, it’s difficult to deny that this one is mildly disappointing, even if it never descends into anything worse than that.
Perhaps the greatest sign of what this show could have been but is not is the story arc set on the Mist-Shrouded Island. The very nature of a journey tale like this one means that each season will see our protagonists landing on multiple islands (a formula nicely solidified by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels), but the duration of a visit does not need to indicate the quality of the adventure had during it. The three episodes taking place on the Mist-Shrouded Island cover a lot of ground that is ripe for emotional storytelling – forced immortality, the demise of an entire population, the bitterness of loss, and lack of family. It’s a combination of themes and events that by all rights should make for very compelling plot, touching on not only the pasts of the protagonists, but also showing them the way through to their sought-after ending, if they can take what they learn from helping the islanders and use it on their own quest. Instead what we get is something that’s moderately sad but lacking in the harsher edge it needs to really make its mark on the viewer, as if the show was more interested in playing it safe than in actually making an impression. Ultimately this does the series a real disservice, robbing the storyline (and several others both before and after) of staying power. The length of the arc is no excuse for this – if we compare the series to other fantasy titles of similar length, such as Sundays without God, we can see much more being done with the same framework and thematic elements. Granblue Fantasy simply isn’t willing to take the needed risks to make the impact it wants.
This is not to say that the series is devoid of all emotional content. It is possible to see the tragedy underlying several of the storylines, most notably Katalina’s relationship with her friend Vina along with the aforementioned Mist-Shrouded Island, and there are elements of others that are really quite heartwarming. Certainly, Gran and Lyria’s relationship continues to be charming, and the depiction of their bond really benefits from being kept largely platonic. We can infer more romantic feelings if so inclined, of course, but the quiet closeness that the two maintain is almost more rewarding than a romance, because it emphasizes the trust they have in each other and how important it is. Until it is mentioned in the middle of the series, it’s easy to forget that their lives are physically tied to each other because their closeness feels so natural to their interactions. They’re still both separate characters with their own thoughts and goals, but they do better together, and that’s lovely.
More striking, however, is the relationship between Rackham and Noa in the final episodes of the season. Rackham has to this point basically been the Grumpy Coxswain, the reason they have a ship in the first place. With a stop at his childhood island, however, we get to see a bit more, most specifically the young man (really a primal beast, which is evident from the opening theme) Noa, with whom he makes a promise and forms a bond as a child. Due to Noa’s nature, Rackham has forgotten him when they meet again, but their relationship is strong enough that he’s able to overcome that spell, and we finally have the chance to see Rackham commit himself to something that’s not the Grandcypher in a much more human display than is typical. Again, there’s nothing overtly romantic in their closeness, but this time the interpretation feels much more up in the air, with lots of physical contact and a surprisingly keen emotional edge. As with most of the series, it isn’t given the care needed to fully develop it, but Rackham and Noa’s relationship does stand out as one of the strongest pieces of the second season.
Another particular strength here is the opening theme, “Stay with Me” by Seven Billion Dots. The song is a rhythmically interesting piece, and it does such a good job gearing you up for an adventure in the skies that it’s easy to forget that the show simply isn’t as good as the theme promises. Likewise the character designs are attractive and interestingly diverse, particularly the different animal people, with the series’ take on zombies being markedly different from the norm. Animation isn’t fantastic, but it certainly does have its moments, and the layout of the various cities offers a real sense that these are places you could visit and explore, if you could just find your way into the sky.
Granblue Fantasy the Animation‘s second season most simply offers more of what season one gave us. That’s not a bad thing, but it isn’t a particularly memorable one either. It is nice that there continue to be Djeeta (the female option in the game) episodes for her fans, but there really isn’t much here to elevate it about comfortably mediocre. It’s a nice way to spend a little easy-viewing time, but nothing more.