Please Note: This’ll contain some Minor Spoilers for the anime and the manga.
After having watched this anime, I couldn’t help but wonder if my lofty expectations are themselves a problem when watching a TV series. Also, I wonder if I should re-evaluate my belief that older anime pre-2010s isn’t as worthwhile to check out due to the majority of them failing to live-up to their interesting premises. Both Rokka no Yuusha (Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers) and The Pilot’s Love Song (Toaru e no Koiuta) had intriguing premises, but in the case of The Pilot’s Love Song, it absolutely failed to live-up to them and in the case of Rokka no Yuusha, not enough was done with the storyline after the initial premise to make it interesting. Rokka’s light novel makes things worse by recycling the same seven heroes when there should only be six plotline immediately after the story where the anime leaves off at. It’s a very dull method of storytelling, usually because the context is very different. It can be done well, such as in the case of One Piece’s rescue story arcs, but the same plot conflict isn’t recycled immediately and One Piece offers very different political contexts and polar opposite conclusions for its rescue arcs. In the case of Grenadier: The Smiling Warrior (or, Grenadier: The Beautiful Warrior as per its idiotic dub name), the plot conflict begins with an interesting premise and then it does become a generic story, but similar to Birdy the Mighty: Decode, the story is done exceptionally well for the most part. I will have to admit bias too, because the moral reasons for the main characters, Tendou Rushuna and Kurenai Mikan, following the method of non-violence really appealed to me. It’s probably my favorite reasoning for why people should be non-violent, unlike the disgusting Christian precepts. I don’t want to spoil it, but despite the generic story arcs, the story itself is beautifully foreshadowed, the character arcs are satisfying for all of the main cast, and their behaviors are believable, exemplary, and to my genuine shock, they’re never annoying.
The most intriguing and fun aspect about this story that made me want to write this review is that unlike most stories during its time period of the 2010s, the main character really is Tendou Rushuna and her plot, character development, and moral compass take center stage throughout the entirety of the anime. The other characters are given good subplots that interweave with Rushuna’s story specifically and never detract from the narrative focus being on Rushuna. If anything, they just add to how impressive her skills and moral values are throughout the anime. One of the few issues with Anime in general that has always vexed me is that some of them come-up with intriguing premises usually advertising Female protagonists as the lead character, but then they completely relegate the Female Lead into a glorified side character position and a generic, bland, and utterly boring main character is who the focus of the story is on. Sometimes, it can become even worse, with entire sections focusing on the most boring side characters while what was supposed to be the main plot as advertised in the anime’s description is ignored entirely. The Pilot’s Lovesong anime had an intriguing love story as its main plot only for both the Female and Male lead to be relegated to background information while some stupid generic male idiot and his equally generic and stupid female co-pilot took center stage for multiple episodes for a very boring “tragic death” as a prelude to the aerial war that took place later. The story of Riannon and Arawen from Tears to Tiara is relegated to Arawen being unconscious for most of the series as he’s bed-ridden from Arthur attacking him and the entire plot becoming the most generic, stupid, and boring King Arthur rehash when it wasn’t advertised that way during the years it was released; Arthur ends-up being the main character in the most boring and trite way possible that I couldn’t even finish because of how stupid the Tears to Tiara anime was. Tears to Tiara honestly made me wroth with how absolutely awful of a story it was because of its wasted potential. In contrast, I can safely say that despite the generic plot, Grenadier’s potential wasn’t wasted, the main themes didn’t have a jarring tonal shift, the middle-half was incredibly well done and wasn’t a major letdown unlike most anime of its era, and most importantly, Rushuna was the central protagonist from start to finish. Despite what may seem like odd powers at first, even the worldbuilding aspects such as their gun-kata styles make sense in the context of their fantasy world and don’t need too much in terms of detailed descriptions to understand what’s going on; they avoid the trap of deus ex machina as the story seems to flesh out and connect specific plot points. I found that aspect of the story pretty surprising. My expectation was that the deeper I probed the story, the less it would make sense due to how it initially presented itself. However, the deeper I probed after the connections were revealed, I realized the plot and gun-kata style of Rushuna’s made sense entirely since the enemies that she faced had specific wind-styles for their respective fighting styles and that meant Rushuna’s ability to avoid bullets via twirling in a circle was her specific defensive wind style. Even the comedic technique of using her boobs to throw bullets in the air so her revolver can catch them was part of her specific wind technique and that part is even confirmed at the end of the anime.
However, what really endeared me to this anime was that after episode 1, Tendou Rushuna doesn’t get pushed to the sidelines as a glorified side character in favor of her romantic partner, Kojima Yajirou’s story. This never happens. The two episodes devoted to Yajirou’s growth establish his former master as the enemy to takedown, confirms the opening to be a red-herring since Tendou Rushuna’s specific character foil is the major female antagonist of the story whose own life philosophy is antagonistic to Tendou Rushuna’s adopted belief in baring oneself to others with compassion and a smile. It fits snugly with the ending of the final fight too. Kojima Yajirou’s revealed past only builds on the plot to further exemplify both Tendou Rushuna’s life philosophy and gives more background to why her gun-kata skills are so significant in impact for the people in her war-ravaged world. He’s a great male lead because he doesn’t steal the show or behave as a gary-stu like most other anime coming out nowadays. To be clear, I mean in the context of the show’s own premise since it is supposed to be about Rushuna. Even the major character conflict that Yajirou has to go through is centered around choosing between helping Tendou Rushuna who is implied to be his current lover or a former lover who went through a tragedy that Yajirou feels guilty about his part in. The other main character, the kid character of Kurenai Mikan, is probably one of the best representations of what a kid character should be. Instead of the typical whiny, self-absorbed, and annoying characters in many anime who make the world all about them, after Kurenai Mikan’s initial introduction and character development, she behaves in the most useful manners possible to help Rushuna. When Rushuna is fighting an enemy under a lake, Mikan immediately passes her underwater breather invention to Rushuna to help Rushuna fight on more equal footing. When faced with dangerous climates and areas, Mikan provides her personally created tents and an onsen-created accommodation. When Mikan is at a loss for what to do, she calls for help. Mikan never complains, never makes herself out to be the victim for any of her bad behavior, and to my surprise is never annoying after her initial character arc. Instead of certain other anime where the character goes through long periods where they revert to certain behaviors to create forced plot events; Mikan is always helpful, tries to remain cheerful, and internalizes Rushuna’s lessons on letting go of grudges even towards the most murderous people because they’re too worthless to continue hating and you’re wasting your own life by trying to seek revenge. Mikan’s character arc personally appealed to me because it exemplified that the best revenge was living well and that her parents would obviously prefer that she lives a happy and carefree life instead of trying to avenge them.
Kojima Yajirou is established to be much weaker than Tendou Rushuna right from the start when she takes down a militia group that’s taken over a feudal lord’s home and kidnapped the feudal lord himself. Yajirou is a random mercenary; his skills while above average for a swordsman and superhuman like other cast members isn’t on the level of Rushuna herself until perhaps near the end of the series. For most of the anime, Yajirou may be able to survive attacks from the Ten Heavenly Enlightened that work under the Empress as glorified quasi-warlords and quasi-military agents under the authority of the Empress, but Rushuna is the only one shown to have the capability of taking them all down through her wits, gun-kata, and skills of perception because she’s received her own form of gun-kata skill training in the Empire itself. Arguably, this shows Rushuna is even more skilled than at first glance because she works to incapacitate and never kills. Yajirou only slowly changes his mind and there is character conflict on their philosophies early on, but Yajirou is almost readily convinced since he lacks his own purpose. I watched the dub and sub’s first episode and I can safely say that the dub butchered what Yajirou’s motivations actually were. He wasn’t interested in ruling the world like the dub suggests; it is made clear later that he just felt establishing power through force was the obvious means of ending bloody conflict despite the rabbithole of violence begetting violence until Rushuna came into his life. The dub seems to add some bizarre dialogue implying that Rushuna jokes about getting naked with Yajirou and embracing him in the water despite her having done exactly that in the first episode and which she is shown to freely do again to help him with a medical bath so he can recover his injuries at the end of the series. While the first time may seem like a one-off event to protect his life and to start the main theme of non-violence, in the subbed version of later anime episodes, Rushuna casually says that Yajirou is free to join her in bed if he’s jealous of the time that she’s spending with Mikan. The implication for this isn’t actually sexual, but refers to cuddling together in bed within the context of the story. Nevertheless, the casual way in which she says it and both of their mannerisms throughout the anime does carry a subtext that they have a sexually active and romantic relationship throughout their journey. While watching the anime, I discovered that the two of them got married at the end of the manga and confirmed it for myself after finishing the anime. This seemed to come to no surprise for the fanbase and having watched their interactions, it does seem that there was a legitimate romantic subtext. It never devalues the plot nor does it ever take center stage, but just the few mannerisms and comments that both of them make are suggestive enough. Interestingly, whenever Rushuna takes one of the bathes that she often enjoys as her personal hobby, Yajirou doesn’t behave like a pervert unlike many of the other male characters. He turns away if there’s no way outside of the room, if that’s not possible then he faces away from her to respect her privacy, and he leaves when asked. At no point is there ever a joke about spying on the female characters and he only bathes with them (on the opposite side away from them) when explicitly invited. He always keeps his distance and never attempts anything sexual either.
Tendou Rushuna herself is a fascinating character. I think the dub dropped the ball on the translated title “Beautiful Warrior” when “Smiling Warrior” should have been it because the transliterated title exemplifies the philosophy that Tendou Rushuna has internalized and follows throughout the anime. Each of the story arcs that she goes through probes into the deeper conflicts of violence just enough to keep it engaging. For example, after Mikan’s story arc where Rushuna manages to convey an important lesson in understanding others are flawed people and some are too worthless to hold a grudge against. In the next arc, Rushuna almost instinctually dropped the lesson when in a heightened combat frenzy after Yajirou is seriously injured from one of the Ten Heavenly Enlightened’s attacks. Mikan has to snap Rushuna out of it and Rushuna has to remind herself how easy it is to lose oneself in battle when fighting an enemy aiming to seriously kill you or loved ones who are unable to fight back. I found this particular part to be a very good portion of the storytelling because it shows the difficulties of the philosophy of compassion that Rushuna internalized from the Empress when in active combat and further demonstrates how easy it is to slip from those teachings. Rushuna hadn’t convinced Yajirou in the earlier portions of the story and Yajirou himself had to kill an opponent that faked accepting Rushuna’s compassion in order to conduct a surprise attack to kill her. Rushuna’s philosophy is always tested and never easy throughout the story as she gradually fights and defeats more members of the Ten Heavenly Enlightened through her wits and gun-kata skills without killing them. The story’s pacing is exceptional and never feels as if it has dropped the ball in the middle arc like so many other anime. Rushuna’s philosophy is consistent throughout and the foreshadowing for future – albeit predictable – plot events is fantastically executed. All three of the main characters, and especially Rushuna herself, feel as if they undergo satisfying character arcs. Rushuna is depicted in various fanservice mannerism, but nudity is never an issue for her and the fanservice was never gratuitous. Surprisingly, some of it offers their own unique challenges to Rushuna’s preparedness in engaging with different enemies and forces Rushuna to use her wits to defeat her opponents non-violently while handicapped. That was a moment of serendipity for me when viewing this anime as I could appreciate both the concept and the execution of the handicaps.
Overall, I’d say this anime is a sleeper hit or hidden gem that was too easily discounted during its time. I decided to purchase the few remaining DVDs off of Amazon as I couldn’t find any Blu-ray versions available on either Amazon or Ebay. I’ve added it to my favorites and I’m now beginning to rethink my perception of both 2000s anime and older material which didn’t become as popular as the 1990s Berserk anime. If I had to rate it, I’d say the pros far outweigh the cons so a 7.8 out of 10 and rounding that up to 8/10. I’d say most of the negatives would be the animation of some of the battles, it can be fast and fun but oftentimes it relies on the viewer seeing through the battle with average passerby eyesight unless we’re in Rushuna’s internal perspective. It balances out both views well, but it can definitely be seen as a drawback that hasn’t aged well. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend watching this anime.
7.8 – 8 / 10.