Funimation // 2008 // 288 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // May 6th, 2011
"Those soldiers were already dead; it's my job to make sure they stay that way."
A prequel to the manga Ga-Rei, Ga-Rei Zero tells the story of how the two main protagonists, Yomi and Kagura, came to the events of the popular comic book. Both girls are members of exorcist families, and as such are destined to grow up to be members of a department within the Japanese ministry dedicated to tackling paranormal threats known as the Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division. Kagura, the younger of the two, begins a close friendship with Yomi following the death of her mother. Helping the younger girl with her loss -- having also suffered the loss of her parents -- Yomi and Kagura become like sisters. Yomi works as a special operative of the SDCD, and in time Kagura begins her training. The two are called into action following a series of paranormal attacks, and form an effective team. When an evil force takes control of Yomi, Kagura must face the prospect of confronting her best friend in battle.
Hurtling along at breakneck speed, the opening episode of Ga-Rei Zero does as much as it can to grab hold of its audience. It's confusing, noisy, explosive, and -- if truth be told -- a bit of a mess. That is until the final sequence, where a samurai wielding, demonic spirit infiltrates the PDCH fourth platoon, and proceeds to slice them up. Unlike what has gone before, this scene is both coherent, exciting, and, most importantly, is capable of holding one's attention. It's certainly enough to ensure the viewer sticks around for Episode Two, especially as it effectively kills off the entire lead cast in one fell swoop, leaving one confused as to what will happen next. As it turns out, the beginning is actually the end, and the rest of Ga-Rei Zero sets out to explain the events that preceded the devastating attack.
Despite the disorientating nature of its opening episode, Ga-Rei Zero works best when it places action at the fore. As is made evident in Episode Three, which is particularly heavy on exposition, the series frequently stumbles when attempting to establish the mythos. As is common with anime, there is much philosophical musing that -- perhaps in part due to the translation -- comes across as both pointless and pedantic. All too often episodes grind to a halt to focus on incidental details, such as a lengthy discussion on what to have for lunch. I've seen few anime that stands out for the sophistication of its dialogue, but Ga-Rei Zero is especially poor. There's a deliberation on what it means to lose in battle in episode two that stands out due to both its awkward dialogue, and its ability to kill the pacing of the episode stone dead. Meanwhile a quasi-lesbian undercurrent, which leads to a sequence where two schoolgirls share a bath, is hardly going to help shake the notion many have of anime -- that it is made by and consumed by perverts.
There is potential in Ga-Rei Zero, but, as someone who has been watching anime for over twenty years, I found the show offered very little that was either new or done particularly well. With so much time spent on getting to know the characters, it's a shame that the end result is so disappointing. Much like the character designs, the personalities are generic to the point that the show is almost a cut-and-paste of other series. It's also true that the show is extremely boring, with several episodes playing out with nothing in the way of any actual plot development. The second half of the series does pick things up a little, thanks mainly to the main storyline finally coming to life; by this point it's hard to care much as -- rather than being invested in these characters -- the viewer is most likely to be ambivalent towards their fates, rendering any dramatic decisions taken by the writers mute. Likewise, the decision to open the series with what is effectively the end of the story has little effect on how the viewer digests the events. It's a classic case of misdirection on the part of the writers, but it also really adds little to the plot. As the twelve episodes of the series drag on, it becomes clear that what little there is in the way of story is being stretched far too thinly. Perhaps a six-episode series would have been more satisfying? Still, Episode One will do enough to ensure fans of anime at least stick with it for the next installment, but any interest quickly peters out as the show dwells in energy sapping melodramatics.
Funimation's 3-DVD set -- exclusive to Best Buy -- contains a number of special features, six of which are made up of "Location Specials." As the title implies, each of these featurettes sees the show's creators scouting locations for the series. Also included are the original Japanese promos for the series, commercial spots for the DVD release, as well as clean opening and closing credits.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is blessed with rock solid black levels, and a natural-looking color palette. There are two options available for the audio, either a stereo Japanese track or a 5.1 English dub. Though I always argue the case of opting for the native language track -- with subtitles, of course -- the English dub is actually one of the better I've heard, and the jump to a 5.1 mix makes for an all-around superior offering, with a more dynamic track.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 288 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Open/Close