Ga-Rei Zero

Production: AIC Spirits, asread

OP: Chihara Minori – Paradise Lost

ED: Mizuhara Kaoru – Yume no Ashioto ga Kikoeru

In a season where pretty much all of the awesome shows (except Xam’d) have been hampered by cretinously slow subbing, Ga-Rei-Zero stands out in the crowd for its compelling plot, strong character presentation, and of course the awesome fusion of sci-fi-exorcist action. Depressing, disturbing and violent you say? You ain’t seen Mouryou no Hako or Shigurui yet, so stop recoiling and let’s get with the program.

GRZ is a prequel to the manga Ga-Rei, chronicling the past experiences of the Exorcist Agency and providing a more extensive backstory of the relationship between Tsuchimiya Kagura and Isayama Yomi. Side characters like Sakuraba Kazuki and the Nabuu twins, who only appear briefly in the manga, also get considerable screentime here. What it really does, however, is tell the story of a girl’s growing-up years, a long journey from shy introvert to a mature, more worldly-wise person. As you immerse yourself more and more in the less (or more!) than ordinary events that are the daily work of the Agency, the sheer normalcy of the characters’ personalities is what really shines through. The relationship between Kagura and Yomi is explored to the fullest extent, and it is touching if not bordering on the idealistic. As the series progresses, Yomi’s sisterly love (i think some would contend that) and protective attitude towards Kagura transforms into a sort of mental and spiritual lifeline for her as she slowly loses herself to the Sesshouseki’s erosive power, ultimately resulting in her death at Kagura’s hands. Conversely, it is Kagura’s own love for Yomi that finally gives her the strength and resolve that Noriyuki was unable to muster, killing her in the knowledge that it is both her duty and Yomi’s better fate to do so. This relationship and how it breaks down between them gives us an unusual bonus: the process of how a protagonist AND antagonist are created. In doing so, GRZ drives home the ultimate proof of its ability to present multi-dimensional characters that defy ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categorization.

That being said, it was a bit of a letdown to see some supporting characters having a brilliant moment of screentime, then suddenly fading into oblivion to make way for Kagura vs. Yomi. My major gripe with the series is Nikaidou Kiri (not a biased view, my fave was actually Kazuki), who busted out her Fuuchoin skills in a battle with Yomi only to get herself checked into asylum for her efforts. There was also a little bit of a shaggy dog story going on with the exorcism team headed by Kanze Tooru in the opening episode – what was the point of making him randomly reappear with Natsuki for 2 seconds if you weren’t going to elaborate on him?? However, a good example of salvaging that problem is Garaku Tsuchimiya (Kagura’s father); typically seen as an emotionally detached man even to his daughter, he has a final heart-to-heart talk with Kagura before his death, revealing the reasons behind her forced acceleration of maturity (which sounds like an euphemism for deprived childhood).

Production-wise, GRZ chose to go the road less travelled, and by that i mean utter subversion. While most series of like nature would end with a wham-bam-everyone-dies, GRZ quite literally opens with it to brilliant effect. If you didn’t go ‘OMGWTFHAPPENEDineedtoknowmoar’ by the first episode, you must have either a stone heart or been through it yourself, in which case would be highly unlikely. It doesn’t end there! This series requires a higher than usual level of suspension of belief for the action aspect; from the weapons (Michael Douglas Iron and Michael J.Fox Boiler, anyone? Oddly enough, practically all of them are named after actors whose first names are Michael – i see no discernible link) to the fights themselves (rodeo-style motorbike pwnage and wheelchairs rivalling Cloud’s 7-sword bike in Advent Children) to the ‘kill you! KEEELL YOUU!’ scenes, all the stops are pulled out, paired with great animation to boot. Unfortunately, all this doesn’t blend very well with the less chaotic part of the plot where character development takes precedence, the worst being the Yomi-Noriyuki hookup attempt by the entire main cast in one particular episode. GRZ’s weakness lies in the inability to blend subtlety with frankness. They didn’t really need it anyway: as Yomi suffers one setback after another, it becomes increasingly evident that both of them are more than just arranged marriage partners, displaying genuine feelings for each other at various points in time. Still, the comedic parts of the show, while sometimes awkwardly placed like the previous example, are refreshing after back-to-back scenes of action, gore etc. They never did specify what ‘land’ Iwahata Kouji came from, he makes an excellent manly swing-the-other-side specimen if i ever saw one.

The soundtrack of GRZ played an understated but crucial role in really getting into the show. I’ve always thought that one defining mark of a good series is its soundtrack, and that theory hasn’t failed me yet. In the spirit of Gebrauchsmusik, it sounds well and good on its own but in context draws you more into the media it is meant to complement and elicits from its audience the apropriate emotions, be it gut-wrenching cartharsis, kooky humor or good ol’ horror suspense. The OP and ED perfectly summed up in music what GRZ was in animation: an action-filled character drama with elements of tragedy. (Case in point: if you noticed around ep 8 or so, the ED animation sequence changed from Kagura running up to Yomi to the latter walking away alone. BLATANT SYMBOLISM.) When Chinese New Year rolls around i will immediately rush to my anime store and grab the CD, provided they are so kind as to stock it so soon.

Overall, GRZ is definitely not perfect, but delivers a solid plot that is unusual enough to make you sit up, but not so far away that you get either repulsed or confused. I guarantees audience satisfaction. Or at least while you while away the dreary winter months of anime fail.