What’s it about? Lyria, a young girl with mysterious powers, is on the run with Lieutenant Katalina Aryze when they are chased to the peaceful village where Gran lives. Through a chance meeting with them, Gran, a boy who dreams of becoming a skyfarer and travelling to mythical lands, finds his destiny intertwined with theirs.
Reviewing last season’s premieres was pretty painful for me, starting with the fanservice-heavy Akiba’s Trip (which apparently went on to lean into its otaku parody elements so might be worth another watch if you can stand everything else) and ending with the gloomy Onihei. As a result, I’ve been dreading this season’s premieres, and when I saw Granblue Fantasy had a double episode start I was not impressed. However, those two episodes are action packed, with just enough exposition to be intriguing and a decently balanced mix of gender and power dynamics. They flew by, and I look forward to the next episode already.
I’ve said this here before, but what a show does in its first minute or two tells you what kind of show it wants you to think it is. Our first impression of Granblue Fantasy‘s female characters comes in the first 30 seconds: Katalina holding a sword in one hand and Lyria’s hand in the other, protecting Lyria as she leads her out of harm’s way.
Katalina’s armour is weirdly flexible around the torso and moulded around her chest, to the point where I wondered if it was even supposed to be metal, but her breasts aren’t emphasised when you see her from the front. Not realistic, sure, but this isn’t a fanservice outfit and neither is Lyria’s. A metal garment bending is far less jarring for me than a metal garment jiggling.
It’s a solid introduction to female characters in a fantasy world, one that isn’t undermined in these two episodes. Lyria has powerful magic; Katalina has physical strength and fighting skill. Lyria is sweet and gentle; Katalina is courageous and kind. Lyria admires Katalina and wants to stay by her side; Katalina is unafraid of Lyria’s dangerous abilities and determined to make her life better.
Are you shipping them yet? Because the show seems to be on board with that reading, at least so far, and there’s an easy queer reading of a couple of male characters too. Even without knowing this franchise I’m guessing nothing comes of this, but I appreciate how they shut nothing down at this stage. At the very least, Granblue Fantasy is a show that prioritised letting viewers know that it is unafraid to show intimacy and affection between characters of the same sex.
It is also a show which explicitly prizes agency and consent. There is a repeated motif of someone reaching out a hand to the other, who can choose to accept it or not.
When other people frame a character as being victimised, that character corrects them. When characters apologise for events beyond their control, others immediately shut down that internalised victim-blaming. These moments are a subtle but important inclusion, particularly for a story in which people saving other people is a recurring plot point in the first episode alone. People make choices, understanding the consequences, and ensure that the people around them are aware that this is their decision. When people cause harm they would not have chosen, those affected will not allow them to blame themselves. That’s a pretty feminist foundation for later character interactions.
My one concern is that including Gran into the mix may shift the power balance in a way that reduces Katalina’s role.
Katalina is probably as strong as she’s going to get, but Gran has spent his whole life in his village just practising swordfighting. How he is able to take on experienced soldiers in what is probably his first ever fight is a mystery, but it means that he and Katalina are protecting Lyria as equals right now, and he’s going to get a lot stronger. From the opening credits it looks like there are multiple other woman still to join this cast, which I’m hoping will keep the overall gender dynamics as balanced as they are right now, but I still hope Katalina isn’t relegated to irrelevance as Gran becomes an over-powered fantasy protagonist.
Granblue Fantasy is a very story-driven anime; there isn’t a whole lot of character growth on the horizon. Our main characters have goals which they are already well equipped to achieve, and their arcs are more likely to be about overcoming external obstacles rather than internal weaknesses.
However, their handling of the story so far has been my favourite approach: plunge viewers straight into the action, then consistently drop exposition breadcrumbs about the past while the characters push forward towards a clear goal. There’s a lot we don’t know about Lyria’s background, Katalina’s motivations or Gran’s family, but we know just enough about each to be interested to see more. That’s all you can really ask of a premere.