The Grimm Variations

The Grimm Variations
The Grimm Variations
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But The Grimm Variations is beyond “Grimm, but grimmer.” It’s an animated anthology series on Netflix that reinterprets well-known characters from folklore and places them in new situations with different styles.

And boy! WIT Studio (they behind Attack on Titan, Vinland Saga and more), animates it, a studio whose character designs were done by female manga artists who go by the name CLAMP. However, beautiful drawing would be nothing if there was no story line to keep it going hence the scripts of Michiko Yokote are cleverly subversive of many familiar characters and ideas.

Each chapter (there are six) begins with a short painterly episode where the brothers answer their little sister Charlotte’s questions or tell her stories. These last anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes, each one a topsy-turvy take on classic tales such as Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel.

Those are the drawings through which this book is conceived. Imagine if Cinderella could have been wicked? What if instead of being eaten up by a granny wolf was actually a serial killer? What if everything we knew about fairytales was not true?

Can’t you see why people like them? This isn’t Disneyfying classical narratives; nor is it trying too hard to be “dark” just for shock value. That strategy did not turn out well for ‘Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,’ since in order to make an impact beloved figures must behave antithetically unnatural. It has got to count.

The Grimm Variations does better because they think about what these characters embody and what the texts themselves signify before recasting them in new environments with altered genres. There is purposefully stressful contrast between traditional fairy tale idealism and how they are portrayed here much bleaker than before; it also means that some scenes seem excessively gory or sickeningly violent sometimes too. But that’s not everything.

Admittedly, it does take some time to reach this point. Most start with a clear-cut premise that is gradually messed with over the course of the episode. The characters who were either good or evil transform into something more complex and ambiguous; meanwhile, a setting evolves by becoming more shocking as fresh revelations arise. And so forth. It is the slighter transformations rather than the big ones that make this set powerful. This is not just about Cinderella is bad but how Cinderella’s usual position gets twisted according to a new context.

These fables are being presented in much more interesting ways. What these tales must include: innocent princesses, villains without any redeeming qualities etc.; however, it can be surprising to find how far these defaults can be pushed before distorting their shape completely. In “The Shoemaker’s Elves,” which is about an author fading away from recognition and relevance, much of The Grimm Variations feels like clever and ironic writing prompts.

However, on this level it is mostly a successful case though proviso of anthological regularity applies. Other episodes are superior to some while it is tempting to measure the collection by its best or worst cases and not mean average. Some of the stories appear as if they could be lead-ins to much richer interpretations, which we do not receive due to time constraints and episode sequence, while others definitely act as palate cleansers with less thought and imagination.

Having said that, The Grimm Variations is an excellent collection of stories that reimagine fairy tales that have been long overdone in different ways. This, I think Yokote has done more impressively than he will get credit for hence this piece serves to make a point on this.

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