Iniquiate got the chance to read the first volume of Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash. BookWalker describes the light novel:
Why are we doing this…?
When Haruhiro came to, he was in the darkness. Not knowing why he was here, or where “”here”” even was. With him were others who also remembered little more than their own names. What they found when they came out of the underground was a world that was “”just like a game.”” In order to survive, Haruhiro forms a party with others in the same situation as him, learns Skills, and takes his first steps forward into the world of Grimgar as a Trainee Volunteer Soldier.
Not knowing what awaits him… This is a tale of adventure born from the ashes.
Here’s her thoughts on the light novel.
In the recent years, there has been a boom in the isekai (“other world”) genre with popular series such as Re:Zero and Knights & Magic. Typically, you have an unlikely protagonist from the real world who is suddenly thrust into an alternative dimension full of magic and intrigue. In the midst of a political upheaval or a magical crisis, the protagonist must use their modern-day experiences, knowledge, and wit to solve the alternative world’s problems. Soon enough, they gain a popular fanbase among their peers and anime audience because of how “smart” they are.
But what happens if our protagonist was reborn the alternative world with no memories?
In comes Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, an atypical isekai light novel that revolves around characters who are absolutely lost and have no recollection of their past lives. They find themselves on the fringe of the “frontier” in the Grimgar World, an expanse of land crawling with monsters and fallen kingdoms. To survive, the characters become Volunteer Soldiers, or disposable mercenaries who earn a living by weeding out the monsters and looting their corpses. Unfortunately, the six main characters are complete newbies. Most of them have never lifted a weapon before, let alone taken another life. In the midst of all this confusion and chaos, they somehow form a long-lasting bond that carry them through this strange world and help them come to terms with their new life.
Perhaps the characters’ inexperience may seem like a turnoff for many viewers who are used to badass characters with certain skillsets. We cringe a bit whenever we see a character trip on their feet while they are advancing on their prey or fumble more than once while casting a magical spell. But, because the isekai genre is often full of overpowered characters, it’s refreshing to read a story about noobs on the field. You sympathize with the characters much more and understand that it takes time for them to build up their skills and experiences, not to use a broken skillset to win all of their battles. In that sense, Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash seems a bit more realistic than most isekais, which something that I greatly appreciate.
Another thing I liked about this series is that it’s an easy read. Other isekais or fantasy light novels tend to be dense in content, explain the environment in excessive detail, and dwell on heavy themes like mortality and conflicting personal beliefs. In Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash, everything is simplified into a stereotypical European fantasy world, letting the story focus more on the light-hearted bantering between the characters and the monologues/streams of consciousness from the appointed MC Haruhiro. Any “new” concepts about the Grimgar world are already outlined in the mini-index that precedes the opening chapters, which gives the reader a bit more insight about the world from the very beginning, instead of being info-dumped halfway through the plot. Call me basic, but I like to take a break with simple stories like this where the characters’ interactions are more important than the progression of the plot.
(However, I’d like to note that Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash is sometimes very heavy on the dialogue. Those who are used to reading works like Fate/Apocrypha or Spice & Wolf may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of conversations happening all at once. The key to reading the first volume is to keep a mental record of who says what, notice certain habits or speech patterns a certain character has, and maybe tag on a specific kind of voice for each character. That way, it’s a bit more bearable to read and sift through the conversations quicker.)
Character-wise, no one from the main cast stands out in particular. Each character embodies a typical anime trope, ranging from the quiet and shy girl who is nervous about her large breasts to the most obnoxious guy who barks more than bites. But once these characters are thrown in a team and forced to interact with their polar opposites, they each mature and either improve their relationships with others or reflect on themselves. Haruhiro is by far the most interesting character as he carefully analyzes his comrades’ actions/reactions and gauges how he could aid them, mediate the situation, or learn a lesson from each of them. Then again, the story is set up in a third-person limited perspective that focuses on Haruhiro, which does deprive the readers any insight on the other characters’ thoughts and inner emotions.
Personally, reading through Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash was nostalgic and entertaining. I had already watched about more than half of the anime when it aired back in 2016, so it was easy to simply tag on the voices and read the dialogue as if the voice actors/actresses themselves were reading off of a script. The only thing that bothers me after reading the light novel is the vast difference in visual designs (I will admit, I am being biased here because I watched the anime first).
I feel that Eiri Shinrai’s style from the light novel (the above image) is too rugged and angular for the characters. In Meiko Hosoi’s anime designs (the bottom image), the characters’ overall face and bodies are filled out to give them a more babyish appearance. By maintaining a degree of softness in the anime designs, the audience can clearly see that the characters are still growing up rather than being battle hardened after only a month of fighting.
All in all, Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash is a light novel that I recommend for those who are looking for an introduction into the isekai genre or who want a break from light novels that are dense in information. The story doesn’t compel you to keep reading with its fast-paced action or with an intriguing premise, but the light-heartedness of the light novel keeps the reader yearning for more character interactions and exploration of this new world. I highly recommend watching the anime as well–either or before reading the light novel is fine–to witness A-1’s beautiful usage of watercolor backgrounds and see the characters be brought to life. Onwards to a brave new world!
If you’d like to read Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash, you can check it out here.