Granbelm was one of 2019’s biggest surprises, I had no idea what to expect going in and it ended up being my favourite new series of the year. I also blogged about the whole thing so feel free to check that out if you want. On the surface of it Granbelm is just another battle royale deathmatch type show, this time with cool robots, but it’s got a few tricks up its sleeve to help it stand out. Today’s topic is one of those tricks; its use of meta expectations as obfuscation.
By the series halfway point only two characters had been eliminated from proceedings; Rosa in the first episode and Nene in episode 5. Nene resurfaces in epiosde 6 no worse for wear for her defeat and willing to help Mangetsu and Shingetsu going forward. This is an interesting development because most of what it does happens outwith the show proper. In story it serves to confirm for the protagonists that losing isn’t fatal and the losers get to go back to their ordinary lives (the viewer already knows this as Rosa was shown alive back in episode 2) and brings Nene into the fold to allow for her later role in the show. What it does more broadly though, is subvert conventions a little. It’s kind of an assumed thing at this point that shows in this vein will kill off their casts as the show progresses, to the point where having that not be the case feels weirdly novel. It often feels like a bit of a waste of good characters to just throw them into the grinder because the structure of the series demands it, so it’s a nice surprise when they get to stick around in a supporting role after they lose. So we’re presented with a less typical take on the format which lets a fun charcter stick around for longer. Except there’s a hitch. Nene is wrong.
In the very next episode Anna, one of the remaining competitors, finally forces Shingetsu into the one on one duel she’d been avoiding for the entire series. Anna loses, and she dies, and she’s forgotten. It’s not that nobody dies in the course of the Granbelm tournament, it’s that the Magiaconatus (the omnipotent magical artifact responsible for overseeing proceedings) has been erasing the losers from existence, altering the world and its history so that there’s no proof they ever existed. Nene throws us a bone; nobody dies, there’s a chance for losers to keep going and overcome their traumas. It’s one I was willing to accept because on a meta level it was novel, and because Rosa was a supporting piece of evidence, we’re not given any reason to doubt Nene’s account because she’s proven herself to be the most knowledgable authority on the nature of Granbelm thus far. And then it’s immediately pulled away.
It was all a lie. A convenient, happy lie to distract from the reality. A lie perpetuated unknowingly by people with good intentions, but which nonetheless acted to hide the truth. It’s impossible to ever know how many people originally entered this latest itteration of the Granbelm contest, and how many died in the process. The system grinds people up and they’re lost forever. It’s every bit of tragic and wasteful as other similar shows, we just can never know the true scale of it.
The show’s eventual trajectory becomes about tearing down this system and this bluff sets the tone for that perfectly. Grambelm needs to end. It’s a system which by the time the anime begins serves no purpose but to perpetuate its own cycle of suffering and conflict, which deceives participants into its unwinnable game with a convenient lie. It’s a little thing which helps raise the stakes in a much more interesting way than if it hadn’t been there. If they’d been up front about the potentially fatal consequences it would have been just another battle royale, by pretending otherwise it manages to be something more interesting. It can be harder to care about characters who you know are going to die at some point. But if you’re told that they’re going to live, against convention, then the equation changes a lot.
Also, Nene has a tiny crown, who doesn’t love tiny crowns?
Today’s discussion was about a new series that I loved, tomorrow we’ll be looking at a long runner which holds a special place in my heart.