Judge Brett Cullum really digs ancient Babylonian poetry.
When you don't know where to turn, when you don't know who to trust…
It is the near future. A terrorist attack on a supernatural archaeological site (the tomb of Gilgamesh) has transformed Earth's sky into a gigantic magnetic mirror. Computers have stopped working, and civilization is in a chaotic state of anarchy. Out of the pouring rain come two orphans—Tatsuya and his sister Kiyoko. They are running from debt collectors, who are trying to claim a hefty sum their mother owed. If the orphans can't come up with the money, then Tatsuya will become a living organ donor and Kiyoko will be forced into prostitution. After running through alleyways and hiding where they can, they find refuge in a strange mansion with three boys wearing black leather robes with abstract white tribal symbols on the chests. The strange boys help them fend off the loan sharks, but just when they are feeling safe the candles flicker and three black hooded teens emerge from out of the rain. A vicious fight ensues between the two groups of teens. The boys in black leather turn into demonic looking alien creatures, while the other mutant kids attack them with psychic force fields and teleport around them. Everything goes black. Tatsuya and Kiyoko suddenly find themselves in a black limousine heading to meet the leader of the psychic warrior teens, the mysterious Countess. Soon the brother and sister find out that they are wanted on both sides of a fight they never knew existed. Who can they trust?
Gilgamesh—Orphans of the Apocalypse (Vol.1) is what the anime genre is all about. It's a wild sci-fi fantasy ride that could never be made into a live action movie without a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's also a mind-bending plot with dizzying twists, and characters who seem too cool to exist anywhere but in a world built on its own physical terms. You'll recognize the color palette (black, white, and gray, with only occasional splashes of color) from graphic novels and the recent theatrical movie Sin City. The costumes come straight out of Dark City or Hellraiser, and the action sequences give a shout out to The Matrix. The creature designs hearken back to Ridley Scott's Alien. But don't think just because it feels like it's paying homage to some of the Occidental classics of the fantasy-science fiction genre that it doesn't feel like it's own wonderfully Gothic revolution. Gilgamesh—Orphans of the Apocalypse (Vol.1) is a neo-noir thriller with a lot of style and a blustery pace.
Gilgamesh—Orphans of the Apocalypse (Vol.1) offers the first five chapters of a series released in Japan in 2003. It's a gorgeous yet simply drawn Gothic anime with traditional elements meshed with exciting storytelling. The style is heightened by the restrained color palette and decidedly retro feel to the animation. You feel as if you are watching someone like Frank Miller spin out a graphic novel, because most of it is based on held frames where the camera often moves over still artwork. Some people are going to find this refreshingly artistic, while others will moan that it looks "low tech." Let the debates begin, but I really got sucked in to the story, thanks to the stark and surprisingly Western look of the show. The lips and eyes look like they came out of American comic books, and it's dark and grungy. Self-styled Goths will appreciate the look of the show, while fans of bright and sugary robo battles will run for the hills. This feels a lot like Boogiepop Phantom or Hellsing.
The story contains a lot of familiar elements and themes found in anime. You have the warring tribes of teenage mutants who can shoot out mental punches or turn themselves into strange demons made of anti-matter. You find out in short order that everyone has some connection to the terrorist attack, which occurred on October 10th and is constantly referred to a "X-X." The back of the box alludes to a grand mystery you will struggle to figure out, but most anime fans will quickly piece together the puzzle presented in Gilgamesh—Orphans of the Apocalypse (Vol.1). On the upside the pace is good, and each twenty minute episode flies by at a quick clip with hardly any room to breathe. It's a mover and a shaker with plenty of psychic battles to be fought, and lots of reveals about each group and character. It's a familiar narrative, but told very well.
ADV has come out swinging with this release. They are the studio that can deliver this type of anime well. They offer a busy English full surround track which lets you feel every attack with speaker-crunching force. Also included is a stereo mix of the original Japanese production, but it lacks the force of the English dub. They've assembled a nice US cast that plays the understated coolness well. Even though there are plenty of explosions in the action sequences, the dialogue is often whispered or delivered without much emotion. The flat style matches the drained out visuals quite well. These are weary characters living in a dystopian age where there's never much to shout about. The transfer is clean, and has a lot of depth when it could have been murky. They've balanced the black-on-black scenes with clarity, and digital artifacts are scarce and hard to find. Often ADV cranks the colors, but here they have dialed everything down so that what needs to pop does so with gusto. It looks great, and they've obviously taken a lot of care with the presentation.
The only downside of the release is a lack of extras. Included in this first volume is a spoiler-ridden glossary of terms used in the show printed on the insert. You also get a temporary tattoo with the Gilgamesh logo. Some character sketches and clean credit sequences are included on the disc. A series like this could use some background information and discussion of why the style is the way it is. A commentary or two would be nice as well, but no such luck.
I enjoyed Gilgamesh—Orphans of the Apocalypse (Vol.1), and found it to be exciting and different-looking compared to other anime. I'm a fan already, just on the basis of the Gothic neo-noir style and the simple approach to the animation and color scheme. To me, it's a living graphic novel with interesting characters and a lively story. Some anime fans will be put out by the simple elegance and take it as a shortcoming, and may find the plot a little derivative. It all boils down to what you want out of a series. Though it may be up to personal taste whether or not you fall for Gilgamesh, it's certainly an outstanding presentation from ADV Studios. When they premiered the series they held a "black carpet" party with the entire audience decked out like vampires (or Marilyn Manson). If you think you'd enjoy that kind of atmosphere, this disc is a safe bet.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Character Sketches
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