Granbelm is an original anime series about seven magical girls who battle using mecha called ‘Armanox’. The anime became a topic of interest as soon as it was announced, as it reunites two creators related to Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World: director Masaharu Watanabe and original character designer Shinichirou Otsuka.
The show’s protagonist Mangetsu is an insecure girl who only feels she has any value when helping others. One night, she comes across a battle between massive mecha taking place by her school. She is rescued by a masked girl named Shingetsu and comes to learn secrets she could never have even imagined. The two girls have moon-related names (Mangetsu means ‘full moon’ and Shingetsu means ‘new moon’) and they join the Granbelm battle to decide who is worthy of being the only magus of the world.
MANGA.TOKYO invited Granbelm producer Takayuki Nagatani to ask about how the anime came to be and about his passion for the project.
–Could you please tell us how the idea for the anime came about?
I approached anime studio Nexus with the idea of creating a new anime together. They said that they were interested in chibi-style robots and wanted to create anime featuring them. I love those kinds of anime too, so I suggested they start the creative process right away and I would organize it as soon as possible. That’s how we got started.
I like to define this show as a ‘high-calorie anime’ because it requires a lot of enthusiasm, work, and energy. However, I feel this kind of anime is difficult to make these days as there are few animators now who can draw mecha and robots. As we’re seeing the emergence of 3D animation, I feel that hand-drawn mecha anime is on its way to becoming a lost technology. However, it’s not impossible just yet. My job as a producer is to materialize anime creators’ love and enthusiasm. Because their desire to create hand-drawn anime with chibi-style robots was so strong, I was sure that they’d create great anime. In short, the starting point of this anime is the robots.
–How did you proceed with hiring the creative staff?
We decided on the director first. Nexus suggested Masaharu Watanabe as director because they took part in the production of his show Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World. I felt excited when they told me that Watanabe was up for it. Jukki Hanada was appointed for series composition next. We then discussed who should be responsible for the character design. We wanted mellow visuals for the anime because it’s the story of girls fighting with all their might. Watanabe suggested Shinichiro Otsuka. We just so ended up having the creative duo behind Re: Zero. Nexus then recommended Jimmy Stone for the mecha designs.
–There aren’t many male characters in this anime.
Watanabe, Hanada, Jimmy, staff from Nexus and I started the scenario meetings. We had already settled on the idea of girls and magic before Otsuka joined us. Granbelm is a robot anime in a fantasy world where magic is used as a weapon. We also wanted to depict a clan who have been involved in the Granbelm generation after generation. The idea of magi families was set at an early stage and it was intended to be a mecha anime from the very start. The idea of the magic-powered mecha, Armanox, was a more spontaneous idea.
We decided that the Granbelm would be an all-girl battle pretty early on. I can’t even recall us talking about any male characters joining the battle. We called the participants of the battle ‘witches’ and the story was about the female line of the family. I think that’s why we didn’t even consider a male character. I’d say that it naturally became an all-girls affair.
–The story starts with ‘the world where magic has been forgotten’.
Magic was commonplace in the ancient Granbelm world, eventually becoming forbidden after it was abused. That’s the setting of the anime. However, magic didn’t disappear completely. It was not wiped off the face of the planet but was just sealed away, with magic handed down from generation to generation within certain families. Granbelm is a tournament which has been taking place for a millennium and decides on who can wield such magic. The series depicts one particular Granbelm tournament.
I hope for viewers to get immersed in the anime’s unique setting rather than focus on how its world may overlap with the real world. For original anime it can be difficult to convey the setting of the show, and viewers may struggle to know under what mindset they should be watching it.
It’s also difficult to find the right balance between providing too much information and too little. I like to provide as little as possible to let the viewers enjoy the show, as providing too much may spoil the story. However, we also don’t want to leave too little too late as some viewers may drop the series before it gets to the reveals. I want viewers to understand the world of the anime first and concentrate on the story afterwards.
–How did you decide on the show’s visual expression?
We left the visual expression largely to Watanabe. When we started reading through the scenario, we chatted about our favorite robot anime. It was a meaningful chat as I came to understand what robot anime he likes. Watanabe said he likes anime directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, especially some of his more controversial works. I thought we should let him do whatever he wants to make the most of his edgy taste. We decided to accept everything Watanabe has in his mental library including Tomino-style expression. I think that’s the best way to leave visual expression to someone.
I have to admit that this strategy is almost impossible nowadays. Watanabe and his staff must have had a very hard time creating this anime. I give the first episode ten out of ten. It’s a full-on episode but already had its own strong feeling when we recorded the audio. It was amazing.
It feels like Watanabe has picked up a little something from the robot anime works we talked about during the early scenario meetings. It’s difficult to expand upon the characters without taking something away. With this in mind, I think he must have remembered our chat during the process and added things here and there which were inspired by the shows we talked about. We had many discussions regarding the summoning scenes of the Armanox. We talked about whether they would be summoned with a chant or if they’d transform after being summoned. That’s because they’re the most exciting scenes. Armanox are the girls’ avatars in a sense, so their summoning style became like that in the anime.
–Do you have a favorite character?
I might upset someone if I choose one character, but honestly I like Anna most. I’d like to go out with Nene, though. It doesn’t mean that I like or don’t like Mangetsu, Shingetsu or the other characters. I just can tell that I understand Anna’s personality at this moment. I know she carries a heavy burden and I feel for her. I guess she is a controversial character. Hanada demonstrated his talent by making each of the main seven characters charming as well as unique. I know each character has their own great attributes but Anna fascinates me somehow. There is a reason I said ‘at this moment’, though. I think the viewers’ favorite character will change as the story develops. I recommend not to think too much about who your favorite is and just enjoy the story as it progresses.
–What do you want viewers to focus on?
Our staff really exerted themselves on the show’s mecha, so I’d love for the viewers to pay attention to those. I think creators in the anime industry would think that our staff pushed things too far as they managed to do something impossible so nonchalantly. The anime is mostly drawn by hand except for Magiaconatus, a clock in the magical world which 3D animation was partially applied to.
When I’m asked whether the series is a robot anime, I’d answer with yes. If someone asks me if it’s a character anime, I’d say it could be. I also think it will meet the expectations of the viewers who want to watch human drama. Granbelm consists of various elements that work together to give off good chemistry. It’s natural that each viewer will have a different impression of the anime. I really hope that viewers will watch all 13 episodes before judging this anime. Some viewers might wonder if we can manage to complete the series, because the first and second episodes are quite condensed. Please don’t worry, – we’ve already finished creating all the episodes. I can assure you that the initial quality won’t change till the very end. Please immerse yourself in the world of Granbelm at ease.
–Finally, could you give a message to our readers?
Our creators made this anime with a passion to entertain everyone. Please watch the anime with an open mind. I would be glad if you could leave your comments on our official Twitter account.
I must point out that creating this kind of anime is highly unusual in Japan at present. Such skills are becoming obsolete and an anime like this one could become an out-of-place artifact in a decade or two. I feel it’s an interesting coincidence that this anime is created when the new era, Reiwa, has just begun in Japan. I’d like viewers overseas to watch this anime from a creator’s point of view and understand the level of animation skills in Japan at this point in time. Some non-Japanese anime fans may believe that all anime made in Japan is great, however that’s not true. Furthermore, 2D animation is undergoing more and more restrictions while 3D animation is prevailing. Animation skills in Japan are changing and creators’ anxieties are rising. I truly hope that fans overseas can help us in protecting Japanese anime.
This anime is full of nostalgia for my generation. Some of these kinds of anime may be unknown outside Japan, so I’d like to know how it’s received overseas. Please let me know what you think of this anime.
–Thank you very much.
CEO of Infinite, Inc.
Born in 1977 in Hiroshima prefecture. Nagatani worked at STARCHILD and Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc. as a producer before establishing his own business, Infinite Inc in 2010. He has produced many works with P.A.Works including true tears, Canaan, Hanasaku Iroha – Blossoms for Tomorrow, Shirobako, Kuromukuro, Sirius the Jaeger. His other notable works including The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Celestial Method and Grimoire of Zero.