The fight isn’t going well. Despite you and Ranta attacking the monster together, it has managed to dodge or fend off all your attacks. In the confusion, you lose your footing as you trip over a downed Ranta.
As you pick yourself up, you hear a whistle and a sudden thud against wood just inches you.
A short distance away, Yume yelps and cries out, “Sorry!”
You hear Manato shout, “We’ll hit our allies with arrows if this turns into a melee! Use your hand weapons!”
In the corner of your eye, you see Moguzo swing his huge sword at another green-skinned creature, only for it to nimbly dodge the attack and getting the sword lodged in a tree. Shihoru then attempts to cast a Magic Missile, but the creature suddenly attacks her instead! Fortunately, Manato swats it away with his staff.
As you face your own opponent again, exhaustion threatens to overwhelm you as you struggle to stay on your feet.
Next to you, Ranta irritatingly asks, “Aren’t goblins the weakest monsters on Grimgar?!”
“Yeah, they’re supposed to be…”, you say warily.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (灰と幻想のグリムガル, Hai to Gensō no Gurimugaru) is a light novel series, manga and anime written by Ao Jūmonji (十文字青, Jūmonji Ao). At the beginning, the young Haruhiro and eleven other young men and women wake up in the darkness with no memory of their lives before that moment. Following a light leading them outside, the amnesiac group finds itself at the base of a white, featureless tower overlooking a town nestled in a mountain valley. In the starry night sky above, they see a crimson moon, which all of them find odd for a reason that eludes them.
The group is then directed to the town’s office of the Red Moon Volunteer Army. There, the Red Moon commander Brittany gives them a brief explanation of their predicament: they are now on the world of Grimgar, specifically in the frontier town of Alterna. The wilderness outside Alterna is rife with hostile humanoids and monsters, but the standing Frontier Army is already stretched thin defending the town and the frontier forts. To address the lack of manpower, the Volunteer Army was founded as an Army subdivision to recruit civilians as reservist soldiers. Brittany then offers everyone a job as a Volunteer Army Soldier, so they can fight monsters and sell whatever spoils they acquire.
Haruhiro joins up with five others from the group: Manato, Ranta, Yume, Moguzo and Shihoru. They all agree to form a party with Manato as their leader. A week later, they all complete their novice class training, with Manato as a Priest, Haruhiro as a Thief, Ranta as a Dread Knight, Yume as a Hunter, Moguzo as a Warrior and Shihoru as a Mage.
Despite initial difficulties, the party eventually learns to work together as one. After experiencing many successes in fighting goblins in a nearby forest, the party moves their hunts to the ruined city of Damuro. Unfortunately, Manato dies after an ambush there and he entrusts responsibility for the group to Haruhiro.
Grieving for their fallen leader and friend, the party nearly fractures as they realize how much Manato had done to keep them all together. After the party comes to terms with their loss, they take on a new Priest named Merry.
Initially distant and traumatized over the loss of her original party, Merry gradually comes to see the party as friends. Returning to Damuro, they avenge Manato by killing the group of goblins responsible for the fateful ambush. Afterwards, the party decides to move their monster hunts to the Cyrene Mine, a cavernous complex now infested with dog-headed kobolds. It was there that three members of Merry’s first party were killed by the infamous giant kobold, Death Spots. After many close calls and a lot of luck, Haruhiro narrowly manages to kill Death Spots and the party claims the reward for its death.
Merry finally gains closure with her past and the party continues its adventures in Grimgar with a newfound understanding of life and death.
Haruhiro, a male human Thief. In the beginning, he is rather awkward and shy, but he steadily becomes more responsible, outgoing and self-assured. After Manato’s death, Haruhiro becomes the new party leader and struggles with keeping the team together at first. He gradually adopts his own leadership style, staying calm under pressure, using foresight to keep the party focused on its goals and being mindful of its needs, such as the investment in Moguzo’s armor. As a Thief, Haruhiro provides melee combat support with skills such as Backstab and the occasional Gleaming Line, which allows a Thief to inflict a deathblow to an enemy.
Manato, a male human Priest. He was a caring, responsible person mindful of those he considers friends and he shared a brotherly bond with Haruhiro. Manato was also charismatic and good at analyzing people, making him a natural leader. As party leader, Manato was the one person everyone can talk to. Using his skills as a Priest, he kept the party in good condition with his Cure spell and acted as support to any struggling party members in combat. Unfortunately, he died when was shot in the back by a goblin, having used up all of his magic for that day and leaving him unable to heal himself.
Ranta, a male human Dread Knight. Abrasive, brash and loud, he is the troublemaker of the party, often trying their patience with his crude comments and impulsive actions. As result, no one in the party particularly likes Ranta, only tolerating him since he pulls his weight in a fight. Ranta doesn’t mind this for most part, but he still cares for the party’s survival. He is the main damage dealer and secondary tank of his party, using Dread Knight skills such as Anger Thrust and Hatred’s Cut to attack and then retreat a short distance using Exhaust.
Yume, a female human Hunter. She is brave, cheerful and energetic, serving as pillar of emotional support for the party, particularly the shy Shihoru. As a Hunter, Yume acts as the party’s archer and wilderness expert. Her aim is horrible at first, forcing her to use close combat skills such as Cross Cut to compensate. As her targeting skills improve, Yume gains access to ranged skills such as Sharp Sight and Star Pierce.
Moguzo, a male human Warrior. Tall and strong, he is a quiet, kind man who enjoys cooking and wood carving in his spare time. As the party’s Warrior, Moguzo is their primary tank, acting as defense for the other party members and as a target for powerful foes to allow the others to attack as a group. He uses the powerful Rage Cleave or Forward Thrust to cut down his enemies or War Cry to paralyze them.
Shihoru, a female human Mage. She is a painfully shy and timid girl with poor self-esteem. As the story progresses, Shihoru gains the confidence to speak up more often. She had a one-sided crush on Manato and was hit particularly hard by his death. In battle, she uses Mage spells with a variety of effects such as Magic Missile, Phantom Sleep and Shadow Bind.
Merry, a female human Priest. Although cold and distant at first glance, is actually mature, responsible and loyal. In her first party, she often used her magic to heal even minor injuries sustained by party members. When they fought against the giant kobold Death Spots deep in the Cyrene Mine, Merry had used up her magic for that day and was unable to heal her dying comrades. Traumatized by that horrific encounter, she now refuses to use her healing magic any more than necessary. Joining Haruhiro’s party soon after Manato’s death, Merry uses her Cure and Heal spells to heal critical injuries during and after battles, but she ignores minor injuries. Unlike Manato, Merry usually stays away from the front lines since Priests are often targeted because of their ability to heal.
The pace of the story is a bit slow, with much of it covering daily struggles such as saving money for expenses, learning to work together with others, planning out strategies, mulling over personal issues and relaxing after work. The backdrop is a high fantasy setting with a novice adventuring party, but these struggles are the same as those we face in order to survive.
The biggest mystery is the fact that all of the Volunteer Soldiers retain no memories from before their arrival on Grimgar. It is most likely that they are from modern-day Japan, judging from the hints occasionally dropped such as Haruhiro attempting to reach for his cellphone and not knowing what a cellphone is a second later. Moguzo once makes a carving that looks like an airplane, only for that idea to disappear from his mind. They seem to remember things on reflex but have no memory of what such things are, like having a word on the tip of a tongue just short of actually saying it! How and why this has happened will have to be answered in due time.
Throughout the story, the heroes have to fight for their very lives on actual battlefields where the situation could get ugly very quickly. Clever use of a skill or a timely split-second decision could often mean the difference between victory and defeat. On the other side, enemies such as goblins and kobolds are fighting just as hard for their own lives, displaying the same determination to survive as the heroes. An act as grievous as taking a life in battle should never be taken for granted, especially where you are just as likely to be killed. The story hits this point home with Manato’s death, which nearly results in the party’s breakup as they struggle with the grief of losing someone dear to them and the fear of being unable to cope without him. Instead of letting that death consume them, the heroes find the willpower to move forward and resolve to use that experience to improve their future choices. Their friendship with each other becomes important here, as they find solidarity with each other and improve their teamwork.
There is quite a bit of philosophizing in the story, but it covers a lot of important issues that we can relate to. What the story of Grimgar teaches us is that our lives are full of challenges and struggles and only we can find the strength within ourselves to carry on. Death is always a possibility and an inevitability, so one must prepare for it, whether it involves preventing it or dealing with the consequences afterwards.
Life itself is a struggle full of ups and downs, but one must always persist and move forward to survive.