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Horrible fun / Exhuming Ga-Rei -Zero-

If just because there’s something exciting about proving yourself wrong every now and then, I’m trying to watch a bunch of recent series that I’ve snubbed or otherwise ignored in past. This all started when, on a whim, I began watching the kendo anime Bamboo Blade and felt stupid for ignoring it for so long.

Ga-Rei -Zero- is another amongst those I’d passed over in recent years, and, well, it’s a violent story about monsters and stuff, too! If nothing else, I knew I’d get to see some weird creatures breathing fire and crushing people underfoot!

Having now seen the whole lot, though, I will freely admit that it’s also quite good, let down only by the occasional lapses into weak humour and illogical, frustrating angst. It’s the kind of show where the lead character, Kagura, is forced to kill her demoniacally possessed (now-cannibal) school nurse, only to be guilt-tripped by her dumb class-mates for having done the deed, the very same weepy girls the school nurse had been trying to bash to death just seconds earlier. It’s also a show where Norio Wakamoto is voicing one of his non- Mechazawa funny characters and, sadly, isn’t very funny at all.

Alas, I’m only complaining because, as a whole, Ga-Rei -Zero- is like Natsume Yuujinchou’s evil twin. At the centre of both are characters in contact with the ‘spirit world’, but where Natsume’s spirits are fundamentally well meaning (if just a little misunderstood,) Ga-Rei -Zero-’s are snarling, fanged hell-beasts. As is evident in the first two episodes in particular, the show takes no prisoners; characters are painfully maimed or outright murdered, many of them good guys trying to do the right thing but just in way over their heads.

At its best, Ga-Rei -Zero- is completely unpredictable. Swords are mechanically propelled through the air, as the gradual fall of Yomi, the series’ truest villain, culminates in a number of deliciously cold, over the top face-offs versus dear fiancés and best friends (no sympathy is spared.) The craziest of all has to be when (a recently-turned-evil) Yomi fights her wheel-chair bound chief, the wheels spiked and zooming around at a crazy rate of knots; one of her legs, it emerges, is prosthetic and sheaths a machine gun (attached to the stump, of course.) I’ll admit it, I laughed.

It’s a series at its most infectious and fun when chaos abounds and heads roll, so much so that it’s a shame when it inevitably slows down and delves into episode long bouts of guilty consciences and high-school hijinks (all in the name of ‘character development’ (yawn,)) but with only 12 episodes to spare, that’s hardly enough to ruin what is an exciting and bloody spectacle.

Comments

Ivy says:

Hey! I’m glad you checked out Ga-rei! Nothing wrong with a little guilty pleasure every now and then (truthfully I think its much more than guilty pleasure, was one of the highlights of that season). Of course it helps that the show starts with such an enticing set of episodes its hard to put the damn thing down. Plain character design aside the animation and art work was quite good, if I recall correctly? And then came the quintessential angst…over killing a mad nurse with a (cleaver?memory has failed me). Ya that whole part really left a bad taste in my mouth after the promising start. I chalked it up to anime being anime and just played along lol (happens all the time, a little suspension of disbelief goes a long way in enjoying most/all anime). I wouldn’t be against a sequel, prequel or anything in the Ga-rei universe.

bateszi says:

The action scenes are nicely animated, but the fight choreography itself lacks a certain spark/individuality to put it up there with the best (Sword of the Stranger being the very best of the best, really.) But honestly, I’ll take what I can get with a show like this, because by now I’ve seen far too many average Gonzo/Bee Train-esque actions scenes (where all we really see are pans across a bunch of stills.) These were at least a good notch above that fare.

***

I was quite tempted to read the manga since Ga-Rei Zero is supposed to be a prequel to it, but I’ve since heard that the manga is fairly… mediocre, and that turned me off some. I’d welcome further opinions on that, if anyone has any?

Ivy says:

This brings up a great point, fight scenes in Ga-rei weren’t necessarily excellent or very good even they were merely ok. Its just that our perception of a satisfactory choreographed fight scene consists of a few animated swings here and there (of course don’t get me started on the stills). Have our standards stooped so low that when something like Ga-rei comes along, we’re genuinely impressed? Goes a long way in showing how we’ve become so accustomed to badly animated fights in anime. Movies/Ovas aside, one of the only shows to elicit a strong reaction from me (as in me being on the edge of my seat) would be Seirei no Moribito. Now that show had some very inspired fight scenes. The fantastic animation mixed with Kenji Kawais powerful music and Balsa’s resolve really struck a chord with me. I’ll be surprised if a show beats SnM’s fight scene let alone come close to it, ahh and thats that :P

bateszi says:

I think that’s why I needed to see a series like this in isolation, really. Ga-Rei -Zero- aired in the same season as Casshern Sins, Mouryou no Hako, Toradora and Michiko to Hatchin. In that company, its flaws are all the more apparent and back then, I remember finding the first episode really generic, yet this time around, I was much more willing to give it a chance. I suppose some anime are just better appreciated when saved for a rainy day!

As for Seirei no Moribito, I’m totally with you there. The one episode that really sticks in my mind is episode 3, especially when Balsa is having her hallucination; the muddy water kicked into her face. The spear fights are especially good if just for that unconventional quality; we’re so used to seeing sword fights that it’s refreshing to watch someone wield a different weapon.

Have you seen Sword of the Stranger, yet? It’s one of the few anime I’d put above Moribito, the other being Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal.

Ivy says:

Sword of the Stranger is one of those movies that I keep on pushing back and further down my deepening backlog. Is it all about the gorgeous animation and art assets? Or is there something in it that fends off that feeling of watching something skin-deep? But since you seem to be so enamored by it, I assume theres some substance to be found ya? Maybe I should just put it in and watch it instead of being overly organized.

bateszi says:

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at my backlog and realised I’d never get through it all, so I just deleted the whole lot. The sheer bulk of anime on there and the length of time it’d take to get through it all was so intimidating that contemplating it became quite hopeless. I recommend you do the same, it’s better to be impulsive about anime.

As for Sword of the Stranger, there’s certainly some substance to it in the same way that there’s substance to something like Bebop or Champloo. It’s all very visually-driven and action packed, but it’s all weaved together with a cast of thoroughly sympathetic and interesting characters. Watch it, it’s seriously one of the best anime movies produced for a while now.

Ivy says:

Oh ok, thats good to know. I’ll definitely give it a try.

Krozam says:

If you’re looking for well-animated fight scenes, I recommend Tears to Tiara. The battle animations are godlike. It’s one of those stories where I enjoy every episode on its own, not just as a complete story. It’s also an exceptionally epic story with a surprising amount of wisdom to share.

Krozam says:

The manga is good, in my opinion, although not great. I especially enjoy the main character, who’s more badass and less retarded than most shounen protagonists. In fact, I’ve been pushing off watching Zero only because it takes place in time before he’s introduced to the story. There are a couple of major flaws, such as the rarity of good humour and the last arc being somewhat… stupid. But, in the end, I think the things you found entertaining in the anime – mainly the ruthless violence where nobody is spared, if I understood correctly – are present also in the manga. I do recommend that you read it.

karry says:

“Norio Wakamoto is voicing one of his non- Mechazawa funny characters and, sadly, isn’t very funny at all.”

Character song is rather likable, though.

bateszi says:

Got a link for that? I presume it’s just him saying Naboo over and over again?

Necromancer says:

I noticed you started watching Bamboo Blade not long after I finished acquiring it, I’ve yet to actually get round to watching it (distracted by alot of things, finished the Children of Dune miniseries today, awesome soundtrack! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSKerYDSTOc ) and now I might have to pick this up again after initially dropping it at around ep 2 I think.

bateszi says:

Bamboo Blade gets off to a slow start (and it’s another one that is quite generic visually,) so it takes some effort to get into, but by the time Tamaki joins the club, it starts getting really good. It’s one of the purest sports anime I’ve seen, in the sense that it’s about the love of Kendo, not about winning competitions, etc. Ookiku Furikabutte is a good, similar series. Well worth your time, I’d say :)

(Ta for the Dune rec. too, I might check it out (IMDB rating seems promising.) I’ve always liked the live action film!)

Michael says:

Without knowing your post, I wrote one mentioning Ga-Rei Zero! Amazing … that your post referred to my site … what a coincidence indeed!

Anyway, I thought it was the best series of that year (2008). I didn’t think there was a surfeit of angst, because I’d feel worse than angst if I were in the position they were in. I mean, I don’t disagree it’s angsty all right, but I wouldn’t be anything else if I was in Kagura’s shoes. I’m even glad she moved on despite all that.

bateszi says:

It’s not really the presence of the angst that I object to, but rather its specific placement in the story. I think its dumb that her school mates would heap on the guilt, given they’d just watched their school nurse kill a guy and then try to do them in, too. That’s the type of thing that really pulls a show down in my opinion, because it’s just lazy writing and takes me out of story.

Baka-Raptor says:

Nothing like lesbians and revenge.

bateszi says:

And lesbians provocatively, constantly advertising Pocky?

TheBigN says:

I enjoyed the “character development”, thank you very much, as I was emotionally involved seeing Yomi’s inevitable turn towards darkness as everything comes against her, as well as how a happy sisterly relationship is painfully strained. :P

That being said, the fights were great, the action was awesome, the music was nice, and the weapons were pretty cool. As I’ve probably said to you before, don’t knock it stuff before trying it, so it’s great that you’re trying stuff like this and Bamboo Blade who it seems that you initially bypassed before.

bateszi says:

The show, in general, just felt like it would make a great 6 episode OVA series, kinda in the vein of something like ‘Read or Die.’ I got really frustrated by Kagura’s hesitancy, exasperated by her class mates, and that the show never really bothered much with her bad-ass father. But, whatever, whenever I’m writing something like this I feel like I’m detracting from a series that I still really enjoyed, so, yeah, just for the record, I’ll say it again, I liked it.

Anyway, I’ve got a system now that forces me to start watching some rather out of (my) character series. I followed up Ga-Rei Zero with Maria+Holic and now I’m watching something even more… divisive! And all thanks to the god of random numbers!

dengar says:

I got really invested in the characters in the first episode. I know they were supposed to be flat, generic types, but I found myself drawn to them anyways. I never really recovered from that episode’s conclusion.

bateszi says:

I know what you mean, the first episode comes across as quite hard boiled and adult-orientated (in terms of the characters, at least) but obviously that changes quite fast. I was quite looking forward to seeing how they might intersect with future episodes too, but that never really happened either.

Laura says:

I would have dropped Ga-Rei with no remorse if it wasn’t for that last minute of the last episode. I realized then that it might be a series with balls and it actually turned out to be quite catchy despite de mixture of kitsch and awesomeness ( or maybe because of it?!). What I liked most was the fact that death was death, not an eternal a la Bleach resurrection and healing. I’m glad you remarked it! Ga Rei makes cliche’ look good! :))

The volume of scenes wherein good/innocent characters get brutally killed makes me tend to class Ga-Rei-Zero in with shows like Vampire Princess Miyu, Nightwalker, or Yami no Matsuei. And if I’m going to class it with those, I’d say it easily is better than Nightwalker or Yami no Matsuei.

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