What’s it about? 20-year-old Iori moves to his uncle’s seaside town for college, where he quickly gets roped into joining a bro-tastic diving club who primarily spend their time drinking and stripping.
Content Warning: Discussions of incest, adults lusting after minors, sexual harassment, fanservice.
Take an American frat house movie. Combine it with a Japanese gag manga. Now make them both profoundly unfunny. If you can imagine that, then congratulations! You’ve just seen the premiere of Grand Blue Dreaming.
I was going to start this with a preamble, but it’s late in the premiere season and this one finally kicked the tactfulness out of me, so let’s just dive (pun!) right into this: There is something soul-crushingly depressing about an anime that opens with a disclaimer about legal alcohol usage but doesn’t feel the need to mention the incestuous lesbian or sexual predator.
Oh yeah, Grand Blue has all of the above and then some. Iori’s cousin Nanaka is literally drooling over her sister, Chisa. Iori becomes frenemies with a pretty-boy otaku who’s looking for a college club “with a harem of high school girls who worship [him].” Straight-laced Chisa is publicly embarrassed in a distinctly sexual manner practically every time she’s on-screen, as if the episode desperately needs to punish her for not just loosening up already, GAWD.
By the time I was done, the slow-pan up Chisa’s bikini-clad cleavage in the opening minutes seemed downright quaint by comparison.
Those are the biggest deal-breakers readers should know about, but they’re not the only ones. This episode is steeped heavily in “transgressive” bro humor (i.e., dicks and alcohol), but not the fun kind where everyone is a willing participant having a good time. No, the first half of the episode is about Iori getting chased around by a naked dude and pressured into playing a strip-drinking game; and the second half is more of the same, except now he’s also getting tricked into drinking alcohol by upperclassmen who tell him it’s water.
Listen, folks, I love a good boozy beverage and am all for drunken shenanigans, but “peer-pressure binge-drinking” and “college kids with alcohol poisoning” are a scummy well to draw from. I watched that shit play out with various friends at a few parties in high school and college, and it ruined everyone’s night. I don’t need to be reminded of it in an anime marketing itself as a comedy.
Even the series itself seems to know on some level that this isn’t fun, given the disclaimer at the beginning and the one that pops up when Iori asks for “oolong tea” and gets a glass of vodka and whiskey instead (side note: gross). The ending theme even concludes with the guys saying “We’re sorry,” which is kind of like calling out your own fanservice—if you knew it was crappy, then why did you do it in the first place?
I tried to come up with some positives, but they all kinda get wiped out by the later scenes. The first five minutes are decent, I s’pose: there are some amusing jokes about naked dudes and a few nice moments about the danger of thinking about what you can do instead of what you want to be able to do. Grand Blue seems like it wants to be about the value of new experiences and being willing to get out of your comfort zone—but because Iori gets pressured and tricked at every turn for the rest of the episode, any potential upbeat message falls thoroughly flat.
Also, Grand Blue is just… not a very good comedy. It’s a lot of screaming, boring innuendo, and hammering the same joke so many times it goes into the wall and out the other side.
It also doesn’t seem to know where it’s punching or why it’s directing the punch there, as most of the gags are about the only two halfway-decent people in the cast getting coerced and/or embarrassed. So is Grand Blue punishing them for being “prudes?” Are we supposed to be laughing at them, feeling a sense of superiority towards them? Are our sympathies supposed to lie with the rest of the shitbag cast—you know, those “cool kids” with their incest and their forced binge-drinking, who really know how to have a good time?
Actually, you know what? Untangling the comedic intentions of this one isn’t worth the effort. There are better comedies this season, including ones that are more clear in the direction of their humor and more obviously about laughing at terrible people. I don’t need to spend more time squinting at this one. As of this premiere, I’d recommend others do the same.