What’s it about? A thousand years ago, seven powerful mages sealed away the world’s magic in order to keep humanity from destroying itself. Since then, the descendants of those mages have battled in the Granbelm to see which among them is the strongest. One fateful night, a seemingly average girl named Mangetsu is drawn in and becomes the Granbelm’s newest combatant.
“Magical girls in giant robots” is a fantastic concept, and yet I’m hard-pressed to name another series that’s tried it between GRANBELM and 1994’s iconic Magic Knight Rayearth. The former certainly wears its debt to the latter proudly on its sleeve, with an end-card image that references Rayearth’s most famous image.
In fact, GRANBELM wears a lot of its influence pretty openly, from Madoka to Evangelion and SD Gundam. It’s also smart enough to know that in an industry that’s constantly chomping its own flavor, the show that makes a unique mix of concepts is king. Now it just has to stick the landing.
This first episode rides high on that concept, which makes it somewhat difficult to forecast. The characters are functional, with designs that aren’t especially memorably but also aren’t too fanservicey aside from one character wearing a bikini top as a shirt. There are a few major relationships and conflicts set into motion, and the exposition is shuffled out of the way in a minimally painful way—even if it feels the need to trot out a bespoke word for every single fantasy concept no matter how minor.
It also sinks a lot of time into showing off its combat, which is pleasantly smooth but not intense, despite what the eerie music of the opening few minutes seems to be going for. Most of the fighting is conveyed with flashy lighting effects from the spells over dynamic combat choreography, which makes certain pitched moments feel a bit like a game of pretend where each child is insisting their attack was more impressive and painful (the show also immediately removes the danger of collateral damage by taking place in a pocket universe). That’s not the worst thing, but it doesn’t sync up with the other atmospheric details of the scene, and hopefully the show can build up the emotional investment in its fight going forward.
You know what it is? Pretty darn cool, and if that’s what the series is going for I’m down. It would be a real breath of fresh air to have a magical girl series that doesn’t feel like it has to gild itself in shock value to be taken seriously. I would be nothing short of ecstatic if this series managed to be an action-drama without going grimdark. There’s a place for that kind of series, but right now the market is decidedly saturated, and it’s none too fresh anymore. There’s also some truly gorgeous use of color, making composed scenes look gorgeous even when the action isn’t top-tier.
While I hope that the series finds away to dial back from Mangetsu’s miraculous end-of-episode win so that she’s not protagonist-powering her way through every fight, I’m down to watch her learn more about this wild magic battle royale and her mysterious rescuer Shingetsu (who is totally not Homura, except that she is Homura; if they’re not going to hide the color-coding neither am I).
The next episode looks to be taking a step back for some real-world shenanigans, which will hopefully flesh out the cast–big robot battles are great, but they’re going to ring hollow after a while if the show can’t back it up emotionally. And as always, the grade gets a whole letter bump if it’s gay and consensual. Come on, GRANBELM. I believe in you.