There has certainly been no shortage lately of fantasy anime making it to the UK through either streaming or home video. The latest of these is a series from last year’s spring season, Grimoire of Zero, which is being brought to the UK thanks to MVM Entertainment. Time to jump in and see whether the series is a hit or a zero.
The story is set in a world where witches are hunted for causing harm to human kind with their sorcery. Our protagonist, simply called Mercenary, is a Beastfallen: a human who was cursed at birth to have the partial appearance of an animal. Beastfallen are hunted by witches, who wish to use their heads and blood in rituals, but they’re also feared by humans for their typically unkind natures. Mercenary spends his days travelling from place to place with the hopes of someday opening his own tavern.
One day while on the run from a witch, Mercenary stumbles across a young girl who uses magic to trap his pursuer. The girl reveals herself to be a witch called Zero – and promptly faints from hunger. Mercenary reluctantly feeds Zero, and in her gratitude she tells him that she’s hunting down the ‘Grimoire of Zero’, a book of magic that she wrote. Zero suddenly mentions that she’d like to employ Mercenary as her bodyguard, with the promise of ridding him of the Beastfallen curse once they find the Grimoire. With an end to his lifelong suffering in sight, Mercenary agrees to the conditions and the two set out on their quest.
The nice thing about Grimoire of Zero is that it’s a fairly traditional fantasy series rather than being an isekai or game-like world. There is both sorcery and magic in this series, the latter being something learnt from the Grimoire of Zero. Sorcery is performed with the use of magic circles, while magic is put into action through chants and keywords. It’s a surprisingly deep and well thought out portrayal and the series does a good job of explaining everything to the viewer. The same can be said of the concept of the Beastfallen, which could’ve easily been brushed aside but instead is explained straight away. Given how many other fantasy series completely neglect certain elements of the world in favour of the protagonist and (usually) a harem of love interests, it’s refreshing to see.
It’s not just the world that’s well thought out either. The characters have a lot going for them too. In a world where witches, Beastfallen and humans are fighting against one another (and Beastfallen are hunted by witches), it’s interesting to see things from the perspectives of various characters, who all come from different sides of the conflict. The interactions between Mercenary and Zero pave the way for understanding that not all witches are evil, which is also true of other witches Mercenary meets on his journey. As for Zero herself, we have someone who has no desire to hunt down Beastfallen nor harm humans; all she wants to do is find the missing Grimoire. It’s an interesting stance to take when her brethren are being burnt at the stake. This series spends a good deal of time on its character development and that definitely works in its favour.
Despite the fact that Grimoire of Zero is an anime adaption of a light novel series, it actually only adapts the very first volume of the series. For a twelve episode series it never feels as if the content is padded or being drawn out, and the ending is also fairly conclusive while leaving itself open for future seasons. It’s nice to see given just how many anime based on light novels end up having unsatisfying conclusions when there may never be future adaptations. This is especially important in a case like Grimoire of Zero’s where the original light novels have not yet been licensed for an English release.
Animation for Grimoire of Zero has been handled by studio White Fox (Re:Zero, Steins;Gate) and looks great overall. It’s perhaps not as captivating as their work on Re:Zero and other action series, but it certainly doesn’t do anything particularly wrong. I especially like the fact that there isn’t a lot of fanservice on display, and instead of Mercenary being a ‘cutesy’ beast he’s much more realistic as to how a human-turned-beast should look in my mind. The action scenes for their part are well done, they just didn’t grip me and draw me into the situations as much as I’d hoped. Overall not a bad job for the studio, though.
Where music is concerned, the score is by Akito Matsuda (Sound! Euphonium; Love Chuunibyou & Other Delusions!) and works well for the series. While I was disappointed to find that there isn’t a great deal of variety in the music on offer, what is there is used sparingly enough that it doesn’t become repetitive and it blends into the show to offer an upbeat and happy soundtrack. The opening theme for the series is “Hakken-sha wa Watashi” by Tapimiru and is an incredibly catchy pop song, while the ending is “Hajimari no Shirushi” by Chima, which is a softer balled that depicts some very cute scenes of Mercenary and Zero travelling together.
The voice actors for the show all do a wonderful job in their roles, and I was especially fond of Yumiri Hanamori (Evileye in Overlord, Nozomi Kusaka in Seven Senses of the Re’Union) who played Zero. Originally I mistook Hanamori for voice actor Ikue Otani (Pikachu in Pokémon, Morgana in Persona 5) because of the particular accent the two seem to share. Hanamori’s performance really brought a lot of life and mischief to Zero and made her a very likable character. Mercenary’s voice actor Tsuyoshi Koyama (Miles Meyer in Gangsta, Basil in Dragon Ball Super) also does a good job in his role and gives Mercenary a gruff but kindhearted personality.
There is also an English dub on offer here and although I chose to watch the series subbed, what I sampled of the English dub was entertaining and all-round great listen. In the dub, Zero is played by Amanda Lee (Miou Suguri in Anonymous Noise, Akiho Shinomoto in Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card), who does a fantastic job of conveying the same sense of excitement and bubbly personality of Zero that we see for the Japanese side. Mercenary is played by Jason Douglas (Joe Buttataki in Soul Eater, Miche Zacharius in Attack on Titan) and, like with Lee, does a good job of conveying a similar performance to what we hear in Japanese. Dub viewers shouldn’t be disappointed.
As previously mentioned, this release comes to the UK thanks to MVM Entertainment and is available as a Blu-ray/DVD collector’s combi edition, with a standard release set to follow in December (at the time of writing). The Collector’s Edition includes a 96 page artbook and six art cards.
Overall Grimoire of Zero offers a solid fantasy outing that will please both new fans and hardened veterans of the genre. With a likable cast of characters, strong, conclusive story, and brilliant English dub, this is a release not to be missed! I’ll certainly be keen to watch more of the anime if it gets a second series or to read the light novels/manga if they get licensed for the West.