If you’ve done more than glance at anime over the last thirty years, you’ve probably noticed two prominent genres: magical girl, represented in the west by Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura (released in English as “Cardcaptors” in an extremely ill-fated attempt to turn this into a show that would appeal to boys) and mecha or giant robot shows, known to westerners due to…a whole lot of things, but if you were watching anime during the late 90s/early 2000s boom years then you probably saw Gundam Wing before anything else.
These genres have been around for a very long time. They’ve become codified and stocked with tropes and cliches. They’re been deconstructed and reconstructed multiple times over. But what happens if you slam them together??? Well, you get Granbelm.
The first episode opens with our plucky heroine Mangetsu running back to school in the evening to retrieve a lost lunch box, illuminated by a blood red moon that only she can see. As soon as she arrives, the world disintegrates and is replaced by a destroyed fantasy realm where extravagently dressed girls in giant robots fight each other. Once she gets someone to realize that she has no idea where she is or what’s going on, Mangestu gets answers to both questions: she’s been whisked away to an illusory realm that contains all of the world’s lost magic and the girls are descendants of the seven great mages who created it, battling in a monthly contest to decide who’ll control it. And wouldn’t you know it, Mangetsu is one of them.
After the success of Madoka Magica in 2011, there have been a slew of magical girl shows trying to ride its pastel coat-tails by filling their episodes with violence and other “shocking” edgelord content. All of them are uniformly awful. The opening moments of this episode, which focus on a pink-haired protaginist running through an eerily silent city beneath a red moon, made me immediately fearful that Granbelm was going to be the latest one.
Thankfully, the show doesn’t seem to be taking itself entirely seriously, as evidenced by the absurdly over the top action scenes (there are two gigantic mushroom cloud explosions in this episode alone) and the thick vein of humour running through the episode. I found Mangetsu’s reactions to being teleported into the middle of a giant robot war particularly chuckle-worthy.
So there’s clearly entertainment to be had here, but Granbelm couldn’t quite convince me to keep watching. One major sore spot is the giant robot designs, which are startlingly ugly. Their squat, undetailed bodies and giant feet and shoulder pads both harken back to the mid 90s (yes, anime’s visual low point was also the 90s) and obscure the action in a distressing Micheal-Bay’s-Transformers way, as it can frequently be hard to tell a robotic limb from a torso in the middle of a fight.
On top of that, all of the characters seen so far slot neatly into stock anime cliches. As such, I’m not too keen on watching these stereotypes fight each other in thier ugly Playstation-era JRPG robots. Pass.