Gleipnir at first glance seems to visually revel in the subversive dichotomy of twisting a cute plushie thingie into a monster. At least that was my first impression based on the key art – the reality is an interesting exploration that thankfully dives a little deeper than the potential edgelord premise it might have had.
In Gleipnir, Shuichi Kagaya finds himself mysteriously able to transform into a creepy, giant wolf plushie thingo one day, with no real explanation why. The change happens often without his control but grants him greater agility, strength and the ability to withstand fatal falls or blows. It’s within this context that he stumbles across a student from his school one evening in danger of dying amongst a building fire. Thanks to his abilities he’s able to save her, only to be confronted the next day as said student, Claire Aoki, has worked out his secret identity. Together the two of them team up (somewhat reluctantly in Shuichi’s case) to unravel the mystery behind his newfound power and investigate a slew of unusual supernatural events unfolding in their regional town.
Gleipnir’s an interesting, possibly even conflicted anime. On one hand it’s happy to revel in sexually suggestive imagery, but never succumb to unobscured nudity. The violence can often be incredibly brutal and at times wanders into a shounen battle archetype promising a drawn-out series of sluggish episodes only to wrap threads up unsuspectingly quickly. It plays the problematic predatory lesbian trope only to challenge it with flashbacks hinting at a loving relationship at odds with the power play on screen. As the series goes on it starts to challenge Shuichi’s reality and sense of identity. Then underpinning all this in the background is a seemingly silly fetch quest with a preposterous premise.
Outlining all of the above in the context of this review kind of suggests Gleipnir’s a bit of a hot mess. In some ways it is, but it remains an incredibly fascinating one.
The use of sex and violence seems to be in there as much for shock value as anything else, because when it takes the time to ease up on these elements (particularly the former), what we see is a production that plays with a lot of interesting themes. The revenge/power fantasies settle at the surface in many ways, but the way it explores Shuichi and Claire’s relationship and their hidden strengths makes for fascinating viewing. Claire’s iron-clad determination to upend her side of the mystery reveals a character who has been burnt to the point of ruthlessness but still wrestles with balancing this against her emotional state. By the close of the series we see Shuichi working through a form of undulating psychological collapse as he starts to unravel his newly-formed world view while learning how to trust others and bring his proverbial inner walls down.
But it’s also in the broader characters we see some interesting commentary. Many of the antagonists are often reflective of the isolating and often misinterpreted aspects of contemporary Japanese socio-political norms, and the way they take this and build it into a driving force helps offset the banal monster of the week vibe you’d normally expect (though if we’re being critical, Gleipnir also falls prey to some of these stereotypes).
The other layer bubbling beneath the surface (and left wholly unresolved) is the broader storyline hinting at the origin point for what set everything in motion. The deliberate opening left in the final episode hints at more to come, but at the time of this review there’s still nothing concrete if a follow up season is in the works. While at first I was a little disappointed, on reflection I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing because it would have been far worse to rush the conclusion. It’s not unlike the classic OVAs I grew up consuming that were often the result of a heap of crazy ideas that abstractedly manifested themselves onto celluloid and we all enjoyed the crazy ride and incomplete or incoherent narratives.
The important bit to rest on is that while Gleipnir revels a little too much in being edgy, those quieter moments reveals there’s a bit more here than unnecessarily suggestive sequences involving one’s private parts or conveniently blanked out nudity.
For the local release of Gleipnir, Madman’s brought across the Region A version complete with fancy foil-stamped cardboard packaging which was a nice touch. Encoding’s solid and shows off the art direction which can often be quite striking and is bilingual to make everyone happy. Extras are lean, consisting of promos and trailers, but it makes for a complete package.
Gleipnir – The Complete Season has more going for it than its apparent edgelord overtones, rolling in a little social commentary and narrative fuzziness to offset the hyperbolic action and sexual imagery. Hopefully we’ll get a second season at some stage to round out the story and get a little closure!
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.