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Ga-Rei -Zero- (喰霊-零-) Review

July 1, 2009

Yomi and Kagura(Source)

Will you kill someone you love, because of love?

Synopsis: Exorcists have the job of purging the world of the unclean spirits that prey on the living, a livelihood that is more often than not fraught with untold self-sacrifice. Such is the life of Kagura Tsuchimiya, a rookie member of the Agency for Supernatural Disaster Prevention. With the help of a sword infused with the power of the Ga-Rei spiritual beast, as well as a regular motley of quirky coworkers in tow, she stands at the helm of generations of exorcists before her; experiencing their collective afflictions through her noble profession, with all that such a job entails.

Review:

Based on an ongoing shounen manga series by Hajime Segawa, Ga-Rei -Zero- is equally commendable for its directive prowess as it is for its unnerving, almost gimmicky, plot hooks. Fans of the series will know that it is not a spoiler to say that the seemingly stalwart main cast advertised in fliers and TV spots weeks prior to the premiere is abruptly and compulsively killed off by the end of the first episode, eerily cuing into a fiery din as the credits roll without even an ending song to placate the viewership.

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Strikingly disturbing and undoubtedly daring, the final scene in the first episode was superbly effective in whetting any viewer’s appetite. Upon reedifying itself during episode two, the real backbone of the story comes into the fore. In the aftermath of the slaughter of the first episode, an entirely new cast is introduced in the midst of the ongoing battle. Among the cluster of diesel-size men with ridiculous weapons is a girl named Kagura Tsuchimiya. She seems to be going through an internal struggle as she brandishes her sword against Yomi, a talented swordfighter with a hime cut and fierce attitude. When Kagura is finally bested and held at the mercy of Yomi, the scene cuts to the credits yet again, but this time appended with an appropriate ending song that will stick with the series until its finale.

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What continues is one big flashback that delves into the relationship of Yomi and Kagura before the tragedy at hand; how they met, what their duties are as exorcists, how Yomi deteriorates into a ruthless killer, and why they must ultimately battle one another as seen thus far.

With two whole episodes of methodical and fast-paced action, one might be under the impression that forthcoming episodes have been preempted, but Ga-Rei -Zero- is nowhere on par with your standard shounen formula of seemingly endless sword fights and supernatural anachronisms. However with its source material being just that, viewers were surprised to see the relative dearth of actual combat that was snubbed in favor of light-hearted character development and interaction.

In actuality, the show features some of the very hallmarks of shoujo: personal growth and dealing with unforeseen external circumstances through sheer willpower. Under the pretext of mission-based fighting, the show can be seen as an allegory for pubescent emotion; duty and obligation versus passion and love.

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That the characters evolve so evocatively throughout the course of the show while staying true to the manga is a testament to the genius handiwork of director Ei Aoki. By the end of the series, you’ll find yourself empathizing with Yomi’s unanswered plight.

Animated by AIC Spirits (Ah! My Goddess and Seto no Hanayome) and asread (Shuffle! and Ergo Proxy), the show exhibits fluid animation throughout. Fight scenes are graphically stylish and incorporate use of CGI-rendered mash-ups for some of the bigger monstrosities. The character designs are clean-cut and consistent, especially demonstrated in the aerial shots that pan across the main cast fighting from a distance.

The OP, Paradise Lost (sung by Minori Chihara, the seiyuu for Kagura), first enters the Anime as the ED in episode three when Kagura officially makes her foray into the world of exorcism. It encapsulates some of the key points in the show itself, ending with its trademark Engrish slogan. The ED song, although not as frantic and more dreary than the OP, shows limited animation of Yomi walking through a world of her own; it changes halfway through the series in response to Yomi’s inevitable descent.

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In the end, Ga-Rei -Zero- was possibly the biggest surprise to wrap up the Winter 2008 season. One of the greatest things about the series itself, aside from how incongruous the show was in comparison to the manga, was how at its very core, it was actually a love story between Yomi and Kagura. The cognitive dissonance and self-induced pain between the two are palpable in the final scene, culminating in an ending that is both satisfying and heartbreaking. It was as if the animators said to themselves “Let’s take a step back and see how we can flesh out their personalities. Make the story more tragic and the manga will fill in the rest.”  A formula which, for once, made the show a hell of a watch.

Art/Animation: A-
Story: A
Music/Soundtrack: B+

Overall: A

What continues is one big flashback that delves into the relationship of Yomi and Kagura before the tragedy at hand; how they met, what their duties are as exorcists, how Yomi deteriorate into a ruthless killer, and why they must ultimately battle one another as seen thus far.
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2009 8:06 am

    I have to say that this show really surprised me. I didn’t expect it to be nearly as good as it was. The first episode really threw me — looking back, it was a very bold (and risky) move on their part, but I think it worked well. Reminds me of the meta-fictional first episode of Haruhi, in a way.

    Basically, I was expecting mindless action and got character drama. That’s a good thing. I can see how much different the show could have been, and I’m very glad they chose to tell it as they did: as a tragedy rather than an escapist fantasy. In fact, I think the show could have worked just as well with no action. The real draw was the relationship (borderline romantic/sexual, depending on how you read it) between the main characters, Yomi and Kagura. It was heart-felt, sincere, and genuinely well done.

    This show has really stuck with me. It isn’t because of the disturbing imagery, or the flashy animation, but because of the drama and characters. The writers managed to get us (the audience) to the end of the show sympathizing with both of the main characters, and forces us to watch as they fight. Neither one is a villain — the villain is circumstance. There’s nothing the either one can do to peacefully end the conflict, no matter how much we wish they somehow could. The writers and the director didn’t compromise, and I think that’s what makes the ending so powerful.

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