Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment
Title: The Grimoire of Zero
Anime Studio: White Fox
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Released: November 5th 2018
Language: English / Japanese
Extras: Japanese promos, Clean OP and ED, Trailers
Like most Beastfallen, the half-tiger known as Mercenary hates the witches who created them, so when he’s offered a chance to hunt witches, he quickly agrees. But things go spectacularly wrong when he’s rescued by a witch instead and she wants him to become her bodyguard! To make matters worse, she’s seeking a missing book, the Grimoire of Zero, which contains the secrets of Magic, which could possibly end the world if it falls into the wrong hands, and the witch is the author of the book, Zero herself! Worst of all, Zero actually seems to think that Mercenary is cute and cuddly, and wants to do terribly inappropriate things with him! But, if he does as she asks, Zero promises to make Mercenary human, and with that reward in mind, there isn’t much that he won’t do to help retrieve the GRIMOIRE OF ZERO!
The Grimoire of Zero is a strange beast. Having watched a few AMVs in the lead up to watching the show, I was aware of the action style that would be on show, and honestly, the design work made me think that it would be a very action focused series. As it turns out, it isn’t. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of action on display, and it’s executed with style. From the Beastfallen’s animalistic characteristics being utilized to the magic battle moments of the Witch characters, there’s plenty of variety on show. Best of all, it’s not only fluid, but feels like a natural part of the world the story is set in. All that being said, I don’t think it’s actually the action scenes that are the show’s strong point. That honour goes to the interactions between our leading pair of Zero and Mercenary, and to a lesser extent, their travelling buddy Albus.
The pairing of a human character and a non-human humanoid is nothing new in anime. For one, there’s Celty and Shinra and Durarara!! Then, in perhaps closer a comparison, there’s Lawrence and Holo in Spice and Wolf. There are a few things that set Zero and Mercenary apart in that regard though. First of all, Mercenary is clearly more of a beast than either Celty or Holo, at least in general appearance. There’s also the fact that Zero isn’t really viewed as human due to being a Witch. Finally, there isn’t an explicitly romantic arc here. It’s quite clear that the two leads care deeply for each other by the end of things, but it’s not outright stated. The important thing is that the way Zero and Mercenary interact comes across as very natural though, and they’re actually very good for each other from a growth standpoint. The way they talk often leads to Mercenary softening a little into what I think may be his more natural personality when he’s not ramping up the toughness, and he in turn is good at counteracting her apparent naivity by teaching her the ways of the world.
While none of the principal cast is lacking in terms of a backstory, Mercenary is again the one that shines there. Between his general demeanor and the brief moments we see relating to his upbringing, he’s actually pretty well-rounded. Best of all, he’s far from perfect too. Even if we put aside his stubbornly aggressive outlook on the world – which in fairness mirrors the views sometimes thrown at him – the comments he throws at wolfman Holdem do give the impression that he’s not without his own prejudices. If the fuzzy warrior isn’t your kind of character though, there’s plenty of others to latch onto. The world is pretty well fleshed at as a whole; there are even some parallels to our own world (such as the tales of humans being incorrectly burned at the stake as Witches) to go with the general history of witchcraft that we get to pick up as the series goes along.
From an art standpoint, everything is fine. It’s not quite standout enough to be an instant classic, but it certainly does enough to differentiate itself from other series with fantasy settings. The clothing designs fit nicely against the picturesque backdrops, but at the same time are varied enough for each character to be recognizable. The use of full blown anthro characters is also a nice touch, as it helps it stand out from the more popular kemonomimi style animal-style characters. Sticking with aesthetics, the soundtrack is very good. The music moves from laid back atmospherics to outright epic with ease, and the only thing that seems slightly out of place is the opening theme, though even that has a standard anime feel.
The only thing that will potentially scupper some enjoyment for viewers here is the ending. We do get a proper end to the arc, and the loose ends are tied up neatly. What happens is not even bad per se, but it’s certainly not in a way you would expect. I can’t go into details here without spoiling things, but for all the cleverness that the set-up reveals for Zero, it’s certainly not as satisfying as the build-up seemed to be promising.
Still, for the minor issues with the ending and occasional feel that we’ve seen some of this before, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Grimoire of Zero balances style and substance with a fun setting and some memorable characters. This is an easy 4.5 out of 5 for me.