The Labyrinth/Eden of Grisaia (TV)

Last Fall, my absolute favorite show from the season was The Fruit of Grisaia, a visual novel adaptation that somehow combined all the best and worst qualities of the most lowbrow of otaku media outside of porn ...and I loved it. It was just so in your face with how utterly ridiculous it was that I was enraptured with it and how damn odd it was. A lot of the individual arcs work surprisingly well to boot. It's something I truly think is fantastic, though it's also one of those shows with such specific audience appeal that I can't really see many people liking it. I can see even less people liking the two follow-ups, Labyrinth and Eden, and that includes fans of the original series. There's this old saying among otaku circles that the answer arcs always suck, and there's some truth to that, as the series' attempts to flesh out its back story for the main lead and create a massive new conflict barely work. Yet, I'm not sad I watch it.

Yuji Kazami, stone faced and sarcastic government sniper trying to get a normal life in a school filled with lunatics, has seen some shit. After his adventures in helping his five fellow classmates previously, we learn about his horrific past, including death in the family, molestation, forced into being a child soldier, PTSD, and other such fun things, along with the people who made him such an erratic mess of a human being. Shortly after, the now somewhat emotionally stable Yuji absolutely loses it as his old terrorist mentor, Heath Oslo, reappears on a strange assignment, and he's framed for a crime. The students of Mihama academy find out about Yuji through shredded documents and quickly take action to find him, stumbling onto a conspiracy with a computer that could take over the very infrastructure of the entire world. Meanwhile, Yuji is dealing with his horrid past, seeing old faces he never expected to appear again and preparing to finally end things with Oslo.

The interesting thing about the first Grisaia is that we didn't know anything about Yuji. We could pick up bits and pieces, but he was just so out of place in the setting, and that made him interesting. Here, everything is laid completely bare, and it robs him of a lot of his mystique. Said back story is also somehow both generically mundane and utterly obtuse. A lot happens to Yuji in a relatively short time, and an entire ninety minute special (Labyrinth) was made to just deal with his childhood, with the series proper going for several episodes on his military service. The show is condensing A LOT of material, but it hurts things by giving little breathing room and focusing on things that feel like we could have used less of for the sake of something else. The actual main story, once it picks back up, is oddly empty and simplistic, with major events happening off-screen and trained terrorists somehow easily outsmarted by some crazy high school kids and a nymphomaniac in a helicopter, all because they listened to a stupid smart girl who's pulling out more plot conveniences than L-Elf in Valvrave, and he was called a prophet! The entirety of the part of taking down Oslo is done within one episode, and it's not particularly engaging, not helped by how little build up was made for the other Yuji, who's billed as a major villain, but only gets one speaking line before this, where his personality completely flips in such an idiotic way. There's also so much focus on explaining things that we get very pointless, thematically empty tangents to tie up loose ends, like the fate of Yuji's sister.

This really felt like it needed to have a few more episodes so things could breathe, but considering how certain segments go on for far too long, that may not be the wisest idea. On the bright side, a lot of focus is put on the most interesting material, mainly Asako, Yuji's mentor. Asako is a beer guzzling, foul-mouthed gun for hire that takes pity on Yuji when she finds him drugged up in Oslo's base, and we have some prior context for her existence based on a line here and there from series one. She surpasses all expectations and really comes off as a good mother figure for Yuji, supportive but tough as nails and super pushy. She takes everything in stride, but buckles down when necessary, and builds a really sweet relationship with Yuji, making her appearance later in the series really resonate. I really do want another story just about her hunting Oslo. The scenes with the girls aren't too bad either. They go on far too long, but prove to be really entertaining, especially whenever the focus of the scene is Makina. Tomoe Tamiyasu is just hilarious as her, using every bizarre line to its maximum effect. Sachi is also even more fantastic than she was before, getting a badass moment where she takes out an entire group of terrorists and gives off an amazing action movie one-liner. Michiru is the only real load of the group, and even then, the series is smart enough to make that a running joke.

The rest of the cast is mixed. Yuji's military pals are either obnoxious or dull, with exception to Millie. She's a strange Kallen Standfeld look-alike and possible expy, and she is incredible. She is practically the id of this franchise, a sexually active tomboy obsessed with Yuji that re-enters the main story by knocking out a pilot and stealing his ride by temping him with free sex (which she's apparently done more than once, based on the conversation) ...and then leaves him with her panties on his face anyways. They call her an idiot, and man, that is accurate in the best way. We get more development for JB, but it just makes her come off as a very confused character that the writers couldn't really nail down. Heath Oslo is an effective villain in how evil he is, but he's about as deep as a puddle. It's not entirely clear what his actual goals are, and they seem to conflict at points. None of his men are of any interest at all. And Yuji's sister, Kazuki ...oh boy.

Grisaia is a series that thrives on straddling the line between genuinely great and entertainingly trashy. You never really know if it's going to have a well written moment, or have Yuji be slightly annoyed that he found a girl masturbating on his bed. Kazuki's entire existence destroys that line. She basically molested Yuji as a child, and she's not much better in the present, and this is resolved by YUJI HAVING OFFSCREEN SEX WITH HER WITH HIM IN CHARGE. TO PUT HER IN HER PLACE. THEY STILL BOTH LIKE EACH OTHER.

...I let this series get away with a lot because it's just so fun with how far it goes, but this relationship crosses the line (though the favorite food conversation is quite possibly the best moment of this entire franchise). Child molestation and incest, then ending with implied rape, or at least very misogynistic incest. It's not funny. It's not amusing. It's just disgusting. The first sequence in Labyrinth could have worked if they showed less and made it clear it was a large part of why Yuji became so fucked up, but that one scene towards the end just shatters everything. There are a few more crossing the line moments like this, like one particularly gross scene with JB and what Yuji sees his father do before he kills him, and they do not help things. The worst the last series went was having a horny gunman at the end and the loli kissing Yuji at one point. Sure, there was other grotesque stuff, but usually for a good joke or for sheer shock value. This stuff has no real need to be there, or it's so gross that there's not really a joke to be had.

The series does manage to be entertaining most of the time, despite these many flaws. The girls are still a lot of fun and get most the screen time in the main story, while flashbacks have a lot of weird skits that always get some sort of reaction. Unfortunately, so little is explained or given proper context that all these new characters and content just feel hollow. I wanted to love this sequel series like I did the first, but it's just such a mess. But if you saw the first series and enjoyed it, I would recommend finishing it. There's some great moments mixed in there, and the good does outweigh the bad. Just be prepared for some pretty low lows.


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