I was originally going to do a review of each episode, starting from the first. You know, when I got to it. When I got the pictures together. And so on. Then the second episode came out, and I was going to do a review of the first two. I had the pictures, but I didn’t put them on THE CLOUD, so I couldn’t do them at work or school, so it was hard to review. Then the third episode came out, and I figured I should probably actually get on that. So, now we have a review of the first three episodes of the second season of the Granblue Fantasy anime. So the three-episode rule applies: watch the first three episodes, to see if it’s worth it to continue.
Now, I come to this as someone who has played the game. I know, generally, how it’s going to go. There may be some surprises along the way, some anime-original stories, or side-stories from the games, thrown in there, but I basically know the plot. I also saw the first season, so I have that as a base to go on, even if the director, writer, and even studio are new this season. So I’m a bit biased as a reviewer. I already have my opinions of the plot. But, what I don’t know is how they’re specifically going to go about it this time.
I guess it would be helpful to give a short review of the first season. In short: it wasn’t that good, but it wasn’t that bad either. Its main problem was focusing on the worst part of the story. As an adaptation it’s pretty true to the source…to its detriment. It’s a very basic RPG story at this point: small-village boy and mascot have a mysterious girl come to them, needing protection from the evil empire, and then they are on the run, and have to gather the elemental thingys to go to their ultimate destination. Along they way they gather a crew with various skills at various places, solving various problems and fighting various bosses. Occasionally, an anime-original story would pop up, showing the normal day-to-day adventuring, which were the best parts of the show. They did deviate a bit at the last city visited, and showcased some of the other gacha characters, which was neat. But they also added a ‘boy-meets-girl’ romance that’s kinda-sorta hinted at in the game (at least the girl likes the MC, who can be a girl or boy (most players choose the girl)), but really played up here, which no one but the creators asked for. (That’s one of the troubles with adaptations of popular stuff – there’s an audience expectations aspect to it, that is only ignored at the creators’ peril.) There were a couple of extra episodes that featured the female MC doing holiday type stuff with a bunch of the gacha characters, which were both the best episodes, and the most popular. The art style was controversial: it had a kinda sketch feel to it, which was supposed to invoke traditional hand-drawn animation, but instead just clashed with all the digital and CGI elements.
As for this season so far…I have to say the same thing. Not so bad, not so good. Oh, it could be good. The story in general is also more interesting, just because they’re finally getting to some of the more interesting material. The writing is also better than the last season, even with just the little bit we’ve gotten so far. The first episode, wisely in my opinion, gave the audience a ‘filler’ episode (in both senses of the term, as it’s both an anime-original story, and is outside the main plot). It shows both how a standard skyfarer crew operates, and what makes our heroes special. Even in the first scene, it gives a good summary overview of the characters, for those that have forgotten. It even gives a glimpse into the world – how normal people live their lives on floating craggy islands in the sky. And to top it all off, it also features a fan-favorite side character, in a way that doesn’t have to do with her story, but fits her into the story of the episode.
The following two episodes return to the main plot of the game, and do a good job filling out 10-20 minutes of dialog from the game into what is probably going to be three 20-minute episodes. There is a bit of mystery and intrigue going on, which leaves me wondering how exactly they’re going to make things play out, even though I, as someone who played the game, know about what’s going to happen. As far as the writing goes, it’s about as good as one could ask for with this sort of adaptation.
So, what exactly makes it “not bad, not good”? Well, the thing with visual media is that the ‘visual’ part matters too (otherwise, just read a book). And here, there’s a lot to be desired. A LOT. While the animation itself isn’t too bad (unlike the last season), here it’s the art style itself that’s bad. It’s as if they forgot to do key frames, but instead everything is in-betweens. Off-model? How can you be off-model if you don’t have a real model to base it on? Genius!
So basically, it looks cheap as hell, and very bad in general. And this isn’t just a cheap move, but a very intentional one, as even promotional stills look like this. It occasionally looks nice, when they feel like it. But apparently only girls get to look good: Gran looks silly in almost every scene, and Eugen looks like a little kid’s drawing of a muscle man.
Last season it was pretty blah all around, but here there’s a mix of good and bad that kinda averages out to blah. Which is really sad, because they had everything they needed to make it good, with lots of feedback from fans, and no shortage of funds: the first season was one of the best-selling anime of the past two decades, thanks to the power of in-game prize redemption (and I was one of them, paying hundreds of dollars in total to import the blue-rays). This season will sell well, too, regardless of quality, though I figure it will do a lot less, since the in-game prizes aren’t nearly as good.
As far as the translation goes…it’s functional. But they’ve decided to stick with the game’s translation conventions, which I feel is a bad move. The early game was translated pretty poorly (by people who had trouble with both Japanese and English), but the current, competent translators of the game have stuck with it, and it looks like the anime is too. This is rarely a problem at this point of the story, but it still really bugs me when names and such are changed.
Though, there is one major, HUGE issue that’s come up in the last two episodes. In Japanese, Vira calls Katalina “Oneesama”. Literally translated, this means “most revered older sister,” which is of course awkward in English. As usual, this is merely translated as “Katalina”. However, “Oneesama,” when used by other, younger girls/women, is often a huge red flag for PSYCHO LESBIAN AHEAD. You know, the kind that would do any and all sorts of unacceptable things to get with the target of her affection. “Katalina” just doesn’t have that same connotation.
In the end, will I continue? Yes, of course. I can get over the bad art, even if it does make me mad. But what about someone who isn’t already invested in the universe? Well, I don’t know about that. I’d show this to a friend, at least.