#1 A new take on classic fairytales
Instead of having a singular universe, the world of Grimm’s Notes is cut up into various worlds that are all themed after famous stories. A band of heroes consisting of the warrior Tao, the ditzy heroine Reina, the gun fanatic Shane, and newcomer Ex, travel between these worlds to fight against a malicious force that attempts to change the storylines and corrupt its residents.
Despite literally naming itself after the Brothers Grimm, the anime does reach further for its inspirations. You certainly get your Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, but it also touches on the work of other renowned authors and folklore. It even ventures briefly into romanticized world history, which ended up being my favorite episode actually.
I really enjoyed the premise of a bunch of outcasts dropping into someone else’s story and having to team up with its main characters to set things right. Each episode is a bit of a mystery-of-the-week, as Ex and his pals attempt to figure out in what way the villains have messed up the world this time, mixed in with a healthy amount of battle scenes where said villains and their henchmen are confronted.
#2 Destiny as a narrative device
A fascinating theme that encompasses all the different storybook worlds is that its residents all live predetermined lives. Each and every person possesses a book that only they can read, which contains every minute detail of their lives. And most of them get very pissed off when anything happens that distorts this destined outcome.
Several of the worlds exist in a cycle. The Snow White who is saved from the poison apple grows up to become the next wicked stepmother who’ll hunt down her beautiful daughter. This is what makes Ex, Tao, Shane, and Reina outcasts; their books are completely blank and thus their every action upsets the carefully plotted story everybody else is living. They keep this concept interesting by constantly introducing new twists, but also by making this the ideological throughline that separates the heroes and the villains.
Because are you truly alive if you are living your entire existence according to a script? Your victories are always just destiny playing out as intended and you are forced to knowingly make mistakes that you know will lead to failure, or even your death. The villains are looking to end this regardless of how content the people are. They want to end the reign of the storytellers and give people back their lives, while Ex and his comrades are fighting to keep things as they are.
Does that make our protagonists the real bad guys? Well, both sides have their own, compelling philosophies that frequently get to clash. Give the show a look and judge for yourself who is in the right.
#3 Transformation-based action scenes
There is no denying that Grimm’s Notes is a bit of a budget anime and certainly not up to par compared to the lavish action series we’re used to nowadays. I mean, it aired in the already miserable winter 2019 season and still somehow ended up ranking below The Magnificent KOTOBUKI on most popularity charts. People did not take kindly to this show, but I personally felt that it compensated for its mediocre animation with sheer creativity.
The anime is based on a mobile RPG published by Square Enix and you really notice this in the flow of battle. Fights have a very game-y feel to them with hordes of monsters and imposing bosses, during which each character in the team has a very specific role. An interesting twist here is that the protagonists rarely fight as themselves. Their power is that they can transform into any of the friends they have made across their adventure, borrowing their equipment, their skills, and even their magic.
It’s cool seeing what kind of strange powers characters like Little Red Riding Hood or Don Quixote might wield, and it’s also a neat way to make each episodic adventure feel meaningful in the long run.
#4 Kingdom Hearts vibes
So I gotta ask: is this giving anybody else Kingdom Hearts vibes? The concept of traveling between fairytale worlds, the cutesy monsters, battling villains trying to meddle with the storylines, it’s all awfully familiar.
I used to be interested in Kingdom Hearts as a teen, but I haven’t really enjoyed any of the games outside of the original and that one DS title. There is a manga adaptation of the games, but no anime ever materialized, so fans of the series might want to check this out instead. Grimm’s Notes runs with a very similar concept, but with all the stories purged from the Disney corruption that infested them, and with a less melodramatic tone to it all.
#5 Great character designs
While the anime doesn’t go too far in altering the contents of the classic stories it visits, it does go wild with stylizing its characters. The designs that result from this are so memorable and appealing that I honestly considered looking into the gacha game attached to this series.
The designers play a delicate balancing game where they want their characters to look like cool, modern anime heroes while also keeping the centuries-old inspirations clearly identifiable. It succeeds at this amazingly well and had me constantly looking forward to what tales we’d jump to next and how the characters there would look. By far my favorite designs, however, were those few times where they turned the more cartoonish characters into anime hotties, as is the case in the picture above with the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland.