[Review] Grimoire of Zero – episode 1

Zero is a witch who is ignorant of the world and travels with a half-beast half-human mercenary who longs to be human. Witches who practice sorcery exist in the world, however, in this era no one knows how about the art and study of witchcraft. Zero is going on a journey to search for a magical tome called “The Book of Zero” that hides a power that can destroy the world. The mercenary travels with her as her guard.

Source: Anime News Network

Grimoire of Zero manages to pack an enormous amount of information into its premiere, most of it laser focused on the two main characters, Mercenary and Zero, and the fundamentals of the worldbuilding most relevant to them. We learn more about Mercenary’s situation as a ‘beastfallen’, the opposite to WorldEnd‘s ‘disfeatured’, from the origins of his species to the day-to-day discrimination he experiences. We are introduced to the difference between sorcery and magic, and given some intriguing details about the connection between names and power, witches and religion. It is an impressive amount of detail for a premiere, delivered at a fast enough pace in a (mostly) natural enough way to avoid losing the viewer’s attention.

Perhaps more impressive is that it delivers all this information without scrimping on characterisation. This seems to be the story of an odd couple road trip, found family and marginalisation, told through two distinctive and well rounded leads. I’m already looking forward to episode two.

I’m particularly invested in Mercenary’s beastfallen status, which has clear parallels to race. His place in the world is one of rejection and unwilling violence in society’s underbelly, and he wants nothing more than to be free of it. When he finds out Zero can see the human face behind his beast form, he agrees to help her in return for having that face ‘restored’ to him. As a POC myself though, I can’t help hoping that this journey ends not by revealing Mercenary’s human face, but by carving out a place in the world in which he can become truly comfortable with his beast form, surrounded by those who see it as simply one part of his unique identity. Mercenary’s internalised racism and wish to escape the social consequences for his appearance is understandable, but I have my fingers crossed that Grimoire of Zero is building such a detailed world in order to address the root causes of this discrimination.

This goes for witches too. In a nod to intersectionality, one reason the beastfallen are discriminated against is because of their association with witches. However, where the beastfallen are pursued by bounty hunters, witches are persecuted by the much more powerful and organised church. That said, witches have access to significantly more power than the beastfallen, whose animal forms simply have much greater physical strength and capacity to injure humans. I appreciate that marginalisation in this world is neither straightforward nor a two-tier system, and I am keen to see how they build on this theme.

However, the biggest reason to watch and to keep watching is the chemistry between Mercenary and Zero. Mercenary has lived a difficult life of conflict and self-preservation and keeps himself to himself, but will still scramble to hide behind a tree stump when he sees magic. Zero is supremely confident, aware of her power and beauty but showing both only in moderation for now. Each is a fully realised individual with a complicated background, clear goals and agency.

Together, they become even more interesting. Zero seems to be technically more powerful than Mercenary, but he encounters her starving and she takes him on as a bodyguard. Mercenary hates witches, but disposes of a formal contract between them in favour of a blood oath to protect her. Zero looks like a child right now, but is apparently older and more experienced than she seems, teasing Mercenary about finding her desirable. Mercenary seems tough and battle-hardened, but blushes at the very suggestion.

Their respective positions in society are very different but equally complicated, and they both choose to position themselves as equals. Whatever their relationship becomes, this kind of power dynamic is a solid foundation for an odd couple road trip and I can’t wait to see where they go with this.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

Comments are open! Let us know what you thought of the show! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

Want to see feminist reviews of more anime by more people? Make it possible for us to pay multiple people to review shows by becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month!

  • (Been waiting for this review… weird it’s posting date was April 10th since it didn’t appear on your site until today for me.)
    It’s been a long time since a show opened with a setup similar to The Twelve Kingdoms‘ famous third arc… where the main characters arrives bitter at the entire world for the societal treatment they’ve been subjected to and wants to vent back that hatred, and Mercenary is right up that alley. Meanwhile Zero represents a molded maturity, temperance, and a desire to explain/explore/understand the world. Combined and on a journey, there is so much character growth potential between these two…

    But a friend of mine identified that the 1st ep doesn’t quite hold to scrutiny, and while I disagreed at first it grew more obvious in the 2nd ep.

    Mercenary feels rather inconsistent… mostly in how his entire life he’s been caught in a terrible bind because of the witches and in return, wants to hunt/kill them, yet he lets Zero slip past his defenses for well, very little reason at all. Course he meets Zero as a person and not a witch at first so it provides a little leeway, but then in chapter 2 (from start to end) he does this with more witches, so easily overcoming what had been decades of trauma with very little personal turmoil. I end up finding this rather hard to take seriously, and the fact it played several scenes off for laughs didn’t really help.