As a fan of swords & sorcery style fantasy, anime is not always the best medium for me. There are few noteworthy fantasy series and those that do rarely see an adaptation. When we do finally get a Western-style fantasy anime, it often turns out to be something like Grandeek. And that’s not a compliment.
Grandeek is based on a Kohime Oose manga series, of which 1 installment went on indefinite hiatus and another was cancelled after 1 chapter. The story follows the adventures of Tia; a young woman with the mysterious power to talk with spirits. She travels with a sword that contains the soul of her dead grandfather and, together, they seek out famous swords from all across the world.
This OVA adaptation takes Tia to a remote island that shuns outsiders. As Tia attempts to sneak in, she encounters another spirit residing within a sword, though it vanishes before she can do much with it. Cut to the island’s capital, where officials are in a state of panic following a string of murders. Rumors are spreading that this is the work of a cursed blade enshrined on the island. With no way to counter it, they bring in an expert swordsman to find and retrieve this blade. A job that only becomes harder once Tia becomes involved as well.
I do like the story’s premise. Tia and her grandpa are fun characters and this one story hints at a fascinating world. It is very much medieval fantasy, but with some modern touches like sewers and pressurized water pipes. I’d like to see more of what Kohime was planning here, though that seems impossible given his manga’s fate.
There are two damning problems here, though. Firstly, the visuals are nothing spectacular. There were a few nice landscape scenes, but Grandeek is otherwise light on animation. There are a lot of static shots of characters talking and even that is sometimes too much effort. One scene is literally just sketches of the characters in conversation without the audio. An attempt to present a rush job as something artsy, perhaps? Other conversations play over a black screen or find other ways to cheap out on animation.
The OVA is also light on action. For a story all about cool swords, it takes forever until Grandeek delivers an actual fight. It keeps teasing you with action, only for something to get in the way every time. When you finally get that fight, it’s… pretty boring. No clashes between swordsmen, no cool choreography. Just a few quick shots and the battle is over in seconds.
Problem #2 is that the story doesn’t unfold in a particularly interesting way. Cursed swords and spirits are interesting premises, but their execution falters. It starts off promising with Tia’s introduction, only to then get bogged down in exposition. A huge chunk of the 45-minute runtime goes to a conversation between the hired swordsman and his employer. It lays out the entire backstory of the island, spoils the actual mystery, and then heavily foreshadows the big twist right after. This conversation just keeps on going and it’s just 2 dudes in a room. Surely there could’ve been more natural ways in which this story could be told.
Some characters also barely partake in this story. Several people are introduced or referenced that are allegedly important to the plot, but don’t actually get to do anything in it. For example, there is a legendary treasure hunter who is blamed for unleashing the cursed sword. She is mentioned constantly, but only has 2 scenes at the far end of the anime. They often mention her and then cut to Tia or the swordsman, almost as if to imply either of them is the character being talked about. Even though that doesn’t make any sense.
Tia is similarly absent for huge swathes of the story. You don’t really get to see her do her thing or explore the island much. She gets her intro, a few sparse scenes throughout, then disappears until the ending. Much more time is given to the swordsman, who just isn’t that fascinating. He’s a tough mercenary who styles himself as a respectable professional. He’s not bad, I’d just rather see more of the actual protagonist.
Grandeek ends up being kind of a bore. From its long exposition sequences to the lack of gripping animation, there is nothing that really sells the OVA. It can’t even function as an advertisement for the manga. So yeah… better skip this one.