Grimoire of Zero is licensed by Sentai Filmworks, MVM Films, animated by White Fox, and the original creator and illustrator is respectively Kakeru Kobashiri and Yoshinori Shizuma.
Yes, I’m reviewing an anime. Sue me.
And in case you’re wondering: this is not a comparison between the anime and the light novels, which I will read and review in the future. For now, I’m simply reviewing this as its own thing and not an adaptation.
Okay? Okay. Now where was I? Oh yeah, I should also mention this review contains spoilers, so go at your own risk if you haven’t seen or read Grimoire of Zero.
This week, I’m not going to review a book, but instead a certain anime that’s taken the furry fandom by storm for its use of kemono characters in Japanese animation. There’s been fanfiction and fan art galore, and a real split on whether or not it is deserving of praise. Of course, if you’ve read the title above, you would know that the anime I am talking about is Grimoire of Zero.
In the Year 526, the Kingdom of Wenias is in a heated civil war between humans and witches, with the latter constantly hunted and burned at the stake. This has resulted in both sides blaming the other for their misfortunes, deep misunderstandings and even a witch beloved by the masses, named Sorena, being killed for a plague people assume she’s responsible for.
And in the world, there are also half-man, half-animal creatures—referred to as ‘beastfallen’—either scorned as outcasts or hired to hunt witches, who often desire the beasts’ heads to help strengthen their grasp of sorcery. One of these beastfallen is a nameless anthropomorphic white tiger simply dubbed ‘Mercenary’, who trudges through life having a hatred of witches due to their hunting him, and wishes to be human.
And one night, he discovers his wish may come true after a mysterious witch girl, named Zero, asks for his help in being her bodyguard as she searches for a special book of hers called the ‘Grimoire of Zero’. Why is it so special though? Well, it happens to be a tome of magical knowledge that can allow sorcerers and witches to use magic without the need for complex rituals or incantation circles, and having it in the wrong hands could tip the balance in the kingdom’s civil war.
Despite his reluctance, Mercenary relents and agrees to help in Zero’s search for the Grimoire in exchange for his becoming human. Along the way they come across other colorful characters, including a mysterious witch boy named Albus (insert Dumbledore joke here) and a wolf beastfallen named Holdem tasked with protecting Sorena’s granddaughter. However, they do not have much time, as a mysterious sorcerer—named ‘Thirteen’—plans to use the Grimoire of Zero for his own diabolical purposes and end the war between witches and humans once and for all.
Animated by White Fox—the same studio who did The Devil is a Part-Timer!, re:Zero, Steins;Gate—and comprising of twelve episodes, Grimoire of Zero is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is into anthropomorphic characters in Japanese animation. Seriously, I haven’t seen any recent anime involving furry characters since The Boy and The Beast, and to suddenly discover something like this makes one hope they’ll make a second season of this.
And it isn’t just because of the inclusion of anthropomorphic characters, but also because of the story as well. In this world of witches, sorcery and magic are simplified in a way that is easy to understand, kind of like how it has done in Chaika: The Coffin Princess. The more I think about it actually, Grimoire of Zero does have a bit of a Chaika feel. The society the characters live in is harsh, but also beautiful. At times the kingdom isn’t much of a unique setting compared to other anime titles, but the adventurous atmosphere and scope of such a small kingdom does make it feel like a community. However, I must say this: the characters in this are wonderful.
Mercenary is a simple but understandable character with a great design in the first episode you see him in. You see his flashback to his childhood, the sadness in his appearance, him being comforted by his mother, his attitude in the present, and you immediately connect with him. And like I mentioned, Mercenary’s personality is nothing grand or Freudian, yet it is there. He’s polite, but doesn’t let others walk all over him. He’s tough and strong, but isn’t a pushover. And despite his professionalism, Mercenary is very awkward when it comes to Zero’s flirting. XD
I especially love his outlook on other beastfallen, and how he has a deep double consciousness (look it up) towards how humans view him. All of it comes from simple actions and words he says that makes such a simple character inherently complex. And when you have him with Zero and Albus, we get some comedic gold.
Speaking of which, Zero and Albus are distinct too, with the former being an intelligent witch naïve of how the world works and the latter a renegade optimist. They aren’t the most complex of characters either, but you understand them.
I think that’s what makes these characters great and memorable outside of their designs (did the series’ creator base Mercenary off of Guts from Berzerk?): they are simple people with simple dreams and goals. Mercenary wants to become human and be accepted, Zero wants to have her book back and explore the world (and use Mercenary as her new bed XD), and Albus wants to live in a world where witches and humans can coexist together.
Unfortunately, the series does have problems. Now, that doesn’t mean the series is bad, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ground-breaking anime either. And some if it has to do with its pacing when it doesn’t work. It isn’t Sword Art Online bad (yeah, I went there), but it shows in some obvious places.
However, the biggest problem has to do with a character I cannot get a grasp on. It isn’t that he’s a bad character, but how they handled his introduction and role into the story. And ironically, he happens to be Holdem.
Don’t get me wrong: he has a very original backstory of being a naïve nobleman who goes on the run after being caught cheating with someone’s wife, and has Sorena transform him into a beastfallen to become her manservant. Much like Mercenary’s flashback, you immediately understand it and understand him, and you even grow to like his personality (and is it just me, or is he an anime version of Don Karnage?). And it’s great to see the connection he forms with Sorena, and makes me wish we’d focused a bit on that as well.
However, that’s not how we first meet him. How we DO meet Holdem for the first time is in Episode 3, when we see him holding kidnapped women hostage as his sex slaves for our main trio to help set free, and then after he tries and fails getting revenge on Mercenary and suddenly reveals he’s searching for Sorena’s missing granddaughter Albus? And now, he’s supposed to be a good guy?
What? Are you kidding me? I’m sorry, but that’s just horrible writing there!
Look, I get that it’s probably better explained in the light novels or something, but why didn’t the anime ever address this issue? It’s like White Fox’s writers forgot his role halfway through the production and suddenly remembered what Holdem is supposed to be by the time they were making Episode 7. Hell, based on the intro, I always thought Holdem was going to be a side-villain working alongside Thirteen or something.
It isn’t just with some characters either; the story can be very clunky as well, and make some moments feel forced. Take Episode 2, when the villagers turn against Mercenary, Zero and Albus at the flick of a dime over a stolen ring, and hunt them down. It’s not funny nor built up well as a misunderstanding, and it needlessly distracts from the plot.
Looking this over, as well as hearing how many devout fans consider the light novels superior, I feel conflicted over how the story flows. Maybe if this had gone through one more rewrite or two, or maybe even extended this to more than twelve episodes, it could work better.
That doesn’t mean Grimoire of Zero doesn’t have its strengths too, such as its action and comedic charm. My favorite action scene is in Episode 9 where Mercenary, Albus and Holdem are escaping the Sorcerers of Zero through a canyon, and the way Mercenary and Holdem work off of each other is both thrilling and hilarious. And that scene where Mercenary tosses Albus over the collapse wall like a football? XD
Probably the strongest element in Grimoire of Zero has to do with its comedy and character interactions. They aren’t as quick and clever as Konosuba, but they do range from amusing to downright hilarious.
There’s also some amazing touches that I think is impressing, from the most obvious things plot-wise to tiny details you wouldn’t notice watching for the first time. For example, the intro—which isn’t that special compared to other anime titles—goes the Bojack Horseman route. You ever notice how when Holdem joins our main trio he appears alongside them in the final shot of the opening? And the same thing happens to Thirteen when he realizes what his evil plot has done?
And remember when Thirteen is with Mercenary and convinces him that Zero planned to kill him for his beastfallen head, and how she eventually got Mercenary to snap out of it after he draws his blade on her in the castle? Well, you ever notice how Mercenary’s eye color changes during Thirteen’s monologue, indicating he’s under the sorcerer’s spell? You notice it afterward, but you can actually see it change beforehand. That’s great detail right there!
And of course, there’s Thirteen. The villain, though not the greatest compared to others, still has a devious charm, and his plan is really diabolical in the end. It’s thought-out well, it’s incredibly credible and the way he plans to execute it would impress Lelouch vi Britannia.
Overall, that are my final thoughts on Grimoire of Zero? Well, I can best describe it in four words for any furry who wants to watch a kemono anime:
“Short, simple, but satisfying.”
It’s not hard to see why someone cannot be interesting in this. The plot can be rushed in some moments, but there are many things that are really entertaining enough to make this a good fantasy-adventure. The characters, the whimsical charm, the comedy, the drama, the fact that we finally have another good anime TV show that has anthro characters as the main cast. Seeing this made me feel like I was enjoying Hyper Police, Wolf’s Rain or Solatorobo again, and it makes me hope Japan will make more kemono-based works in the future.
It isn’t perfect, nor was it meant to be. This was meant to be a low-key story that doesn’t break the mold but has enough unique things to make it stand out. If you have the time, look this up and give it a watch, and be sucked into the sorcery and magic that is Grimoire of Zero.
That’s it! Why not White Fox work on an anime adaptation of Solatorobo? 😀
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