Review: Grisaia no Rakuen

[Synopsis]: Grisaia no Rakuen continues on from the recounted events of Grisaia no Meikyuu and conclusively explains the entirety of Kazami Yuuji’s (Sakurai, Takahiro) past. Subsequently, an old enemy reappears and Yuuji must prepare for his final fight after being framed as a terrorist and used as a political bargaining chip in order to protect the mysterious Thanatos System. Meanwhile, the time draws near for Mihama Academy to close due to financial reasons and the girls must choose whether to continue on individually or aid Yuuji in his greatest conflict yet and abandon their normal lives forever.

[Characters]:

Going into Grisaia no Rakeun it quickly becomes obvious that the show’s approach to its characters has changed a good deal from the first season. With the inclusion of the hour long special Grisaia no Meikyuu Yuuji starts out this season already far more fleshed out then he was in the first installment of the series and the first several episodes of Rakuen attempt to capitalize and expand upon this retrospective insight. Additionally, the show no longer treats any of its characters in an introductory fashion as it did in Kajitsu when exploring the pasts of each of the girls and bringing new characters to light – Rakuen behaves, rightfully so, as if the characters have been entirely fleshed out beforehand and allows for them to act more naturally this time around in accordance with their priory established personalities. I’ll soon speak as to why this approach was both good and bad for the show.

Due to the presence of Grisaia no Meikyuu and the nature of the first handful of episodes in Rakuen I think its important to first talk about Kazami Yuuji as a character as he changes drastically between the two seasons. Before he was enigmatic in the worst way possible – hard to define as a character, unpredictable in how he would behave in given situations, and woefully under-present in contrast to the focal events of the first season. Now given extensive insight into his backstory he becomes a far more interesting and sympathetic character. The sheer amount of time the show spends on his character development is perhaps the first and biggest difference between the two seasons as it represents a total change in pace; Kajitsu with its often over-crammed, fast-paced episodes and Rakuen with its slower, methodical approach spanning roughly the first third of the show. This was definitely a strong improvement made by this season and completely changes Yuuji as a character as he feels fully legitimized and important within the plot this time around rather than the emotionally convoluted coping mechanism with legs he appeared to be the first season.

With all of that said, Rakuen is unfortunately not devoid of its character issues and while its new-found, better paced approach brings some great things to the show it quickly becomes problematic as well. By developing Yuuji to the point that it does, the show puts a lot of pressure on him to utilize these traits and come into some sort of catharsis or culmination of character and while Rakuen arrives at this point by the end it is a footnote within the second half of the show. The primary issue that arises in how the show handles its characters, chiefly the girls of Mihama, is that it spends a lot of its time creating a compelling character out of Yuuji only to dismiss him for the better half of the show in place of girls he helped in the first season.

This is the point where my previously mentioned method of treating the characters as pre-established becomes problematic as, given the content of the first season, we full-well know that the characters were not fleshed out well or given the time they needed in order to feel legitimized. By behaving as if they were the show frees itself from the constraints of its previous season and is able to spend its time and content on other members of the cast and events rather than offering some form of follow-up however while this enables the plot and characters to behave in certain ways it also leaves the girls under-developed and more importantly, under-explained. By focusing on the girls in the latter half of Rakuen, the show disregards its greatest success in the characterization of Yuuji who is instead replaced with the characters the show performed worst with. Furthermore, while the plot of Meikyuu and the beginning of Rakuen flesh out Yuuji’s relationships with Asako, JB, and his friends from the military, they do nothing to improve upon his relationships with any of the Mihama girls which are integral to the show’s plot as they are a driving reason for why the girls act as they do; without proper meaning attributed to their actions the plot of the show flounders a bit in terms of rationalization and character’s capacity for empathy.

In short, Rakuen behaves as if its predecessor was functional and all-explaining in regards to many of its characters and while this approach frees up its episodes for other content the show also suffers because of the heavy involvement and integral role of the girls in its latter half who remain poorly established. By changing of the focus of the story to them over the recently elaborated upon Yuuji the plot loses one of its core strengths and the show again becomes weaker.

[Art/Animation]:

The art and animation of Rakuen were more or less in-line with the aesthetic and quality established by the first season. Meikyuu I think stepped up the game a bit in terms of quality and had a handful of more dynamic angles and such to liven up the presentation and I think Rakuen continued this trend, approaching but deviating slightly from the visual style of ‘Angelic Howl’ from the finale of the first season. I think the art and animation improved a bit in this way but failed to intrigue me to the same extent as Kajitsu’s earliest episodes.

Another positive visual change to report on is the difference between the two season’s approach to its ecchi elements. This trait is dialed back rather extremely in Rakuen and for a good deal of the show is non-present entirely, only showing up occasionally as if to remind us that it was there. I see this as a good thing because the manner in which the first season explored this genre element was highly problematic in how it muddied a lot of the more important scenes. While the show’s ecchi element occasionally showed up at inopportune times Rakuen didn’t come close to approaching the untimely nature with which Kajitsu utilized this same element at the worst times possible and I found this difference to be a breath of fresh air between the two seasons.

[Story]:

Much like how Rakuen had its pros and cons in how it handled its cast its plot shares a similar tone of successes and failures. One on hand, the show starts rather strong coming off of the Meikyuu installment which allows the show to ease itself into its plot because of a pre-existing narrative and sense of direction. On the other, the conclusive arc of the series, taking place in the second half of Rakuen, left a great deal to be desired and raised more than a few problems for the series.

In a lot of ways the backstory of Yuuji and the content of the first half of the show is its greatest strength for a number of reasons; it took the right amount of time and episodes to flesh out his characterization, the content itself was interesting enough and rather drastically different in subject matter from the first season of the show, and it offered satisfying insight into some of the mysteries concerning Yuuji raised during the first season. Though it is somewhat unfortunate, part of this arc’s success can likely be attributed to its separate identity from the rest of Grisaia and its retrospective nature; the story doesn’t bother itself with some of the weaker characters of the past season and only serves to flesh out a handful of known cast members and in this way avoids a number of qualities that originally made the show as weak as it was.

The area where the show starts to falter and fail is essentially where the story of Rakuen truly begins, after Yuuji’s framing as a terrorist and where the girls if Mihama become the focus of the plot as they depart from the school, gather information concerning Yuuji, and consult with the enigmatic Thanatos System. On paper the plot might make some sense however its execution within the show was questionable. I feel that Rakuen was in an awkward position coming off of the Meikyuu content because of the short number of episodes in the show and the necessity to continue the plot in the manner that it did without improving itself retroactively elsewhere. Though the story has these problems among others I will admit that Rakuen’s ability to present a coherent over-arching narrative was a point of immense relief after the first season which jumped rapidly from story to story, detached from the overall presentation.

Perhaps one of the most damaging qualities of Rakuen’s plot was that it was not believable. While this is somewhat indicative because of how Yuuji lacked proper chemistry with the girls of the first season and that their lack of characterization made them poor subjects of interest for the plot the problem of plausability runs far deeper than Grisaia’s characters. A great many elements of the plot of Rakuen were simply over-the-top and those that weren’t strained the viewer’s suspension of disbelief to the point of snapping. The entire idea itself of one man essentially having a troupe of militarized lovers that come to his aid during his darkest hour is ridiculous in and of itself and I think represents quite well one of the issues present in the show – that it becomes ridiculous; that it becomes unbelievable. There is something to be said for ‘what the viewer signs up for’ and that the harem-focus of the show should not be surprising however I think that Rakuen crosses the line in this regard and while the viewer may have been expectant and ready to welcome some of the plot elements present in the show I don’t feel that any genre tag or preface could really prepare them to realistically accept what is essentially a militia of romantic interests.

In the most direct sense, the plot lacks plausibility. The manner in which the story unfolds beggars disbelief and the action scenes especially are over-the-top and contrast somewhat poorly with the otherwise pseudo-realistic setting of the show. It’s one thing to have Yuuji, a highly-trained, battle-hardened solider perform many of the action sequences throughout Rakuen but something else entirely when it falls to Amane or Makina.

[Music]:

The music fell into a similar place as the previous season of the show for me in that it didn’t detract from the show in any meaningful way yet didn’t do all that much to better it either – the soundtrack is fairly forgettable because of this and had no noticeable moment of triumph or individual scene I can pick out.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

Because of how the first season of Grisaia transpired I think there are several important questions going into Rakuen that need to be answered. Was it worth watching the first season to arrive at this point? Did this new season make up for what the first season was lacking? If I had to answer I think i would regretfully say that Rakuen didn’t make a good enough case for itself and that while there were a few points of success throughout it is not nearly worth it to brave the first season of the show when its latter installment doesn’t offer much either. I think as a whole Grisaia might be a case of wasted potential however some of the core plot developments make me even wonder about that – similar to how the first season had ‘Angelic Howl’ the second season featured The Cocoon of Caprice, what is essentially the Meikyuu content. Both of these flashback arcs are quite interesting by themselves and are the strongest parts of their respective seasons however neither succeed to the point where bad content of the shows they belong to is outweighed and thus worth watching.

Rating: 5

I gave Grisaia no Rakuen a 5 because of how improved upon its style of narrative delivery, how it better characterized a small number of its characters, and because of some of its interesting subject matter. The show still suffers from a variety of character-related problems and poor story execution which lowers its score to this point. While not entirely forgettable because of the few areas where it did succeed, a majority of the characters and content did approach feeling this way.

[Recommendations]:

I would recommend Grisaia no Rakuen to fans of the first season first and foremost as I believe that, while it may seem self-indicative, the second season of the show still felt like it belonged to itself and did not divorce its content from that of the first season – if you enjoyed the first installment you are likely to enjoy the second. I would caution viewers that watched the first season of the show primarily for its ecchi content because this area of the show is greatly diminished in Rakeun and nearly non-present. This season offers decent action however its somewhat ridiculous delivery coupled with the other elements of the show might be a turn-off to those seeking the genre itself. People that enjoyed shows like Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom might enjoy this season of Grisaia as it plays at similar plot developments involving government agencies, terrorists, and trained assassins and Yuuji is similar in design to it’s protagonist though is perhaps a shade more developed.

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