Record of Grancrest War Part 2 – Review

The second Aniplex of America release for Record of Grancrest War covers the second half of the series, which consists of episodes 13-24. In the process it accomplishes a feat somewhat unusual for epic anime fantasy tales covering only two seasons: it brings the story to a complete conclusion, with every plot thread of consequence neatly tied up and all conflicts and romances resolved. That’s not to say that the ending is a completely happy one; like the first half, the second half features a couple of deaths of significant long-standing characters among Theo’s allies and the loss of a handful other minor but named allies. However, one character believed dead after the end of the first half does turn out to be still alive, and for plausible reasons, so on the balance the series ends on a happy note.

To get there, the second half plays out like an old-school epic flavored with elements reminiscent of a console game. Set battle pieces are interspersed with scenes of assorted leaders plotting or fretting over their situations, with little bits of romance stuffed into the cracks. However, for as many moving pieces as there theoretically are in this grand game of crest-making, the storyline in the second half is actually relatively straightforward: the hero must win over his homeland in order to establish himself as worthy of leading the Altirk Treaty, then his most potent martial foe must be defeated, and then two former lovers must be brought back together in order tore establish the originally-planned treaty that would unite the continent. That triggers the final event, in the form of the true masterminds behind the Great Hall Tragedy finally revealing themselves and having to be dealt with. There are some side conflicts as well, but nothing that distracts much from the main storyline.

In overall structure, the story is somewhat reminiscent of fare like Tears to Tiara, and it takes the same kind of “simplify the big picture” approach seen in big-battle titles like Lord Marksman and Vanadis. Anyone expecting a deep level of complexity here is going to be disappointed, as what efforts there are to flesh out the environment and characters generally either fail to impress or are inadequate for generating any desired impact; why one particular Mage commits suicide when his lord is defeated is a perfect example of this, as why he would be so fiercely loyal to a lord who typically treated him like crap, and only gives him a kind word near the end, is poorly-justified. The second half also continues one of the bigger flaws of the first half: trying too hard to make its lords colorful and distinctive. Do you want the lord who portrays a potentially sacrificial assignment as a stage play, down even to his men going along with it, or perhaps you prefer the lord who portrays his battlefield strategy like a painting exercise? The most amusing case is the voluptuous female lord who inspires her soldiers by appearing naked before them (in a “they’re taking so much from us that I’m even losing my clothes” kind of logic) and her loyal soldiers all strip themselves in response.

On the plus side, some of the characters can be compelling in their motives and action. The strongest example is probably Milza, he of the seemingly-indomitable will and fighting prowess, though this half does eventually reveal that some of his seeming invincibility comes from how he’s been using his crest. He’s so enamored with individual strength and willpower that he has difficulty accepting that he cannot do it alone, that there are other ways to fight than head-on confrontations, and that people will not bow to him automatically just because he’s strong. Those end up being his fatal flaws, and he seems to realize that. Marrine is the next most interesting case, primarily in the way that she keeps struggling to justify what she’s doing to herself. The way her story is resolved – by basically convincing her that having love and achieving her goals need not be mutually exclusive – is the stuff of classic romances, though her treatment could also be read as somewhat deprecating. The romance of Theo and Silica poses no such problem, though that is also open to interpretation; is this more an instance of Silica being downgraded in favor of Theo, or Theo just growing to the point where he’s strong enough to take the lead in the relationship? Either way, the series not piddling around too long on them formally committing to each other was a welcome turn. Silica’s fidgeting when her betrothal is announced in front of her father is also adorable.

On the technical front, the animation style and quality continues to be variable in the second half. At their best the visuals offer sharp character designs, impressive backgrounds, and a respectable sense of motion, with emphasis given to overhead shots for most of the bigger battles (which hence minimizes the need to rely on complicated CG). However, on several occasions even staying on-model slips. On a few occasions the animation style also shifts into a more fluid mode to depict the livelier and more complicated battle scenarios, with mixed results; sometimes this looks cool, but other times it is just sloppy. The quality of CG-dependent special effects vary; spell effects, crests, and magic circles are generally impressive, while the crest-created flag designs are more dubious. Graphic content has been upped a notch from the first half, with the final fight with Erik the Red in particular being an almost literal bloodbath, and fan service is mostly limited to a couple of prominent doses of near-nudity involving the “stripping before the troops” scenario.

The musical score for the series is a little stronger and more impactful in the second half, even though the style has not change at all. It still primarily uses symphonic orchestrated numbers to achieve dramatic gravitas, and does a good job at that, but still does not distinguish itself much from similar titles. The singers who performed the opening themes for the first half switch roles for the second, with ASCA‘s “Rin” making for a rousing but also typical fantasy epic opener which comes in three different visual versions: each has some common shots but one spread out the focus among characters, the second focuses most heavily on Milza, and the third focuses on events later in the series. Contrarily, closer “Shodo” by Mashiro Ayano has only one version, which is solid but doesn’t stand out much.

Aniplex of America is releasing this one in the same fashion as the first: the 12 episodes are split across three Blu-Rays, with on-disk Extras only including clean opener and closer, Web previews for each episode, and an English dub trailer. The case comes in a sturdy artbox which also included a 38-page booklet containing profiles of assorted characters featured in this half and a collection of “scene design materials” which include objects, creatures, and settings. The release also includes the English dub, which is solid across the board. The highlight this time is probably Kaiji Tang‘s depiction of Milza as a perpetually angry, intimidating presences.

On the whole, Record of Grancrest War sufficiently accomplishes what it sets out to do, and nothing more should be expected from it than that. It doesn’t aim higher or allow any deeper meaning on anything, really; it just delivers a run-of-the-mill epic fantasy story in competent fashion and with usually-solid technical merits.

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