Welcome to Grimgar!
What would it be like to awaken in a fantasy world, where each day is an adventure—and any day could be your last? Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, a series of light novels written by Ao Jyumonji and illustrated by Eiri Shirai, provide a realistic spin on the light novel fantasy genre. I highly recommend these books to readers who enjoy fantasy, video games, and alternate worlds. In this post, I summarize the reasons why I personally like Grimgar so much; but don’t worry, no spoilers!
The Grimgar series focuses on Haruhiro, a normal adolescent who suddenly wakes up in a fantasy world with only vague recollections of his previous life. Haruhiro has no money, no place to live, and no knowledge about the world he has entered. In order to earn a meager income, Haruhiro joins up with a group of teenagers who are in a similar situation. Together, they venture into the wild to kill goblins, kobolds, orcs, and other monsters. They don’t fight because they want to; monsters have valuable items that can be sold for a profit, and Haruhiro and co. are desperate for food, housing, and a sense of belonging in their new world. Much of the series deals with their day-to-day lives, and the relationships among the members of Haruhiro’s team. As time passes, Haruhiro becomes more established, and fighting monsters as a profession begins to seem more normal.
One of the most distinctive features about Grimgar is its realism. Haruhiro doesn’t defeat thousands of enemies at once, or coolly offer clever quips while his life hangs in the balance—instead, his party has trouble dealing with even the “weakest” opponents. Check out this clip from the eponymous anime, which depicts Haruhiro fighting his first goblin:
Author Ao Jyumonji really captures that Haruhiro’s life depends on the death of monsters. Although these monsters are humanity’s natural enemies, they are still living beings—and so every fight is scary, every death is meaningful. I think the author treats fantasy combat in a way that allows us, as readers, to see how we might feel in a similar situation.
A second major theme of Grimgar is decision making. Because every fight is so high-stakes, and could lead to the death of a close friend, Haruhiro spends a lot of time thinking about how the team should act, what each team member should do during combat, and how to maximize his team’s safety. The position of leader is not natural to Haruhiro—he has a introverted personality, and prefers to think about decisions at his own pace. As such, Haruhiro evolves a thoughtful, democratic leader who strongly empathizes with each of his companions, and takes their thoughts into consideration. His character provides the readers with lengthy internal monologues. Within these monologues, Haruhiro weighs up and explains the pros and cons of each decision: why he has chosen a particular course of action. I found that this decision making process really complimented the realism of these novels; it encourages the reader to think about what choices they would make, and highlighted the importance of even seemingly minor decisions.
Finally, Grimgar features a significant amount of character development. It might seem strange to call this a “theme,” but the relationships among Haruhiro’s teammates are so central to the novels that I felt like I needed to highlight this point. At the start of the series, the teammates all seem to satisfy some common anime trope. As the series progresses, however, several characters begin to stand out as really unique. In particular, one of the most interesting—and divisive—characters is Ranta. Ranta is loud-mouthed, a class-clown, and unnecessarily obnoxious. While he might at first seem like a mindless nuisance, as the series progresses we learn that Ranta is actually quite intelligent, to the point where he uses his idiotic jokes to distract others from their grim situation. The interactions between Ranta and Haruhiro are also especially funny since these two characters are fundamentally opposite. Complex characters like Ranta really bring this series to life, and prevent the team interactions from becoming stale. I genuinely laughed out loud at some of the jokes in this series, and—unlike some other light novels I have read—I didn’t feel like the characters were so simple that they became predictable.
In conclusion, I think that Grimgar is a unique light novel series which does an excellent job of transporting the reader to a fantasy realm. For readers who are familiar with other light novels, Grimgar has a sense of realism similar to Goblin Slayer. On the other hand, Grimgar also has some of the emotional and dynamic atmosphere present in the original Sword Art Online and Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?. I personally found Goblin Slayer to be a bit dry, with a writing style that was rather monotonous. Grimgar is much more lively and fun to read, but it does not have over-powered, in-human, harem-building heroes like SAO or DanMachi.
For avid readers of the fantasy genre, Grimgar is certainly worth picking up; I can’t wait to see how Haruhiro’s adventure will unfold!