Moving on from a tragedy is never easy, and I admit that I like that Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash hasn’t made too quick a move to get the characters past Manato’s death. Not that I particularly enjoy depressing stories (because I tend not to), but because it grounds the fantasy in a recognizable reality that then feeds into why Mary, the new priest who has (physically) joined the party, is so prickly. As the girls started to realize last week, Mary maybe hasn’t been the friendliest person, but the rest of them haven’t precisely been welcoming either. On some level, they wanted Mary to be Manato 2.0, and now that Yume and Shihoru (and later Haruhiro and Moguzo) have accepted that, they can begin to try to like her for herself.
Not that Mary makes that easy. She’s pricklier than a porcupine and appears to have the social skills of a radish, and worse than that, she has exactly zero interest in learning how to work with the party. When Haruhiro asks her to explain her play-style (for lack of a better word) as a priest and explains how Manato functioned, she flat out says no, shutting him down completely and expressing no intentions of learning how the six of them might best work together. She appears to be deliberately off-putting, tagging along only because she has no other means of making money, which is hardly how you’d want your healer to act.
Of course, there is an explanation. That’s a given, what with the episode title and all, but what’s good about it is that it actually makes sense. Mary’s tragic past, which so very closely mirrors the rest of the party’s, gives her a viable reason to be the way she is. Unlike Haruhiro’s group, who ultimately chose to become a tighter-knit band, which we really see starting to set in with the girls’ inclusion in the tavern outing, Mary isolated herself, making a familiar decision to keep everyone out in lieu of getting hurt (or hurting) again. It’s Shihoru and Yume who first truly understand this, noting when Mary ignores the party in the tavern that they’re as much at fault as she is – she may not have smiled or said hello, but neither did they, thus feeding into her isolation from them. If they had said hello, she may not have joined them at their table, but by not they indicated to the emotionally fragile young woman that she wasn’t welcome, thus confirming her belief in her solitary lifestyle. It’s a basic high school social scenario played out better than in most high school set stories, the presence of everyone’s ghosts making it feel as serious as it always does to the participants, no matter where it happens.
Speaking of ghosts, there is definitely a reason why Manato hasn’t been removed from the ending theme and the new opening theme’s imagery: he may be dead, but he is not gone. That’s not to say that he’s a literal ghost – the scene where he appears and talks to Haruhiro is just as likely a figment of Haruhiro’s insecurity – but no one has truly let him go. The same might be said of Mary’s own ghosts, whose burden influences the way she lives. The Manato scene is particularly effective, however, in part because many viewers may still be mourning him, but also in the way that it is handled: all of the ambient night noises and the music are completely shut off. This gives the air of either Manato’s appearance being unnatural (or at least not of this earth) or it taking place in Haruhiro’s head. Either way it makes you notice, and when the sounds return, it somehow feels like a release.
Part of the adjustment that the characters are now making is becoming a more inclusive group. While Ranta is clearly worried that Haruhiro is getting something from Yume that he’s not (or just really loves gossip; given his maturity level, it’s hard to decide), the fact that the girls are being included in more of the boys’ discussions and outings, that they’ve divided the party into three teams of two for combat, and the group decision to band together to get Moguzo a helmet so that they won’t have to worry about him taking a blow to the head as much all really speak to how much more linked they all feel. The story is still moving slowly (though I’d argue that this is a character piece rather than a more traditional fantasy) but the people are growing as they come to the realization that they have to go on despite their sorrow, and that the only way out is through.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is currently streaming on Funimation.