Hey guys. Been pretty busy lately, trying to steadily pump out posts but after seeing this recentAsk John(thx owen), I remembered I had a post I’ve sitting on since winter, in which I talked about Ga-Rei Zero. Short story is, I dug it.
Well, the holidays got me sick. Not fun. But being bed-ridden was a great excuse to do my first legit series marathon in a very long time. I chose the supernatural action thriller Ga-Rei Zero. There may be minor spoilers, but considering the bulk of the story is laid out within a couple episodes, there’s not a lot to spoil in this series.
Ga-Rei Zero is the origin story of the Ga-Rei manga, showing the path a young girl named Kagura took to become a powerful exorcist in a world full of demons and government “spiritual defense” organizations. Told mostly in flashback, Zero recounts the love she shared for 3 years with her surrogate sister Yomi.
There’s not much way to talk about this series without talking about the bizarre beginning: The non-traditional structure is a make-or-break point for Zero. By starting somewhere near the end, telling in flashback, then finally joining the two ends, writer Katsuhiko Takayama (also series writer for ef) constructed a horrible ode to inevitability that anime doesn’t deal in often, and some people just aren’t gonna go for. I can think of a live-action parallel: In Scorsese’s Casino, Robert De Niro’s character dies in a firey car bomb in the first couple minutes. The ensuing movie is entirely a flashback, and three hours later you remember: oh, yeah. He dies. Ga-Rei Zero takes an even more desperately depressing approach. Scorsese aimed to shock you with your forgetfulness, but this series constantly twists the knife to remind you what awaits.
On a superficial level of motorcycles, government demon-fighting teams, heroes-turned-bad, and depressive mood, Zero strongly resembles Blassreiter. It has a few key traits that separate it, though: half length, devotion to standard anime-“isms,” superior animation, and more personal themes of love and individual destiny versus Blassreiter’s focus on faith and duty.
I really wish Kagura were a more interesting character, but in truth that goes for most of the characters of G-RZ. Rather than a complex collection of emotions, they often feel like they’re just a product of the things that happen to them throughout the series — can you honestly say there are many people out there who wouldn’t have taken Yomi’s route, given the absolute emotional and spiritual pummeling she suffers?
That said, their generic qualities might serve to make them more sympathetic (same question applies here), and as the climax approaches, it’s hard not to feel for Kagura and, to a degree, Yomi’s erstwhile fiancé Noriyuki.
There isn’t a whole lot to say here. Nothing animation-wise, or audio-wise, went over-the-top for execution, but it’s appealing and more than solid the whole time. Character designs and overall style project a Production IG vibe, but maybe that’s just because Kagura = Saaya (Blood+) to some degree in my mind and it colored everything else. Fight scenes are well-directed and there’s no slippage in the high quality over 12 episodes.
Amidst all the standard anime junk — dead mothers and distant fathers, swordfighters in seifuku (not complaining), a world of improbable science-meets-magic — Zero manages to raise some interesting points. It’s really too bad that it spends a lot of time broadcasting those points through viewer proxies, dramatic monologues, and its lovely Engrishy tagline, “Would you kill someone you love, because of love?” Not that I expect the average anime to stop holding its viewers’ hands, but Ga-Rei Zero teased that it was going to give me lots to chew on, then took that away by outright verbalizing almost all of it.
While the show really wants us to ponder the question of whether Yomi overcame the Stone’s power or it just granted her true wish, what’s the difference? Either way, love tragically triumphs over greed and revenge, not that it helps anything. In hindsight, it’s kinda like the Haibane Renmei question of intent, except with damnation in place of salvation as the end result.
The Y Word
If you’ve read anything on blogs about Ga-Rei Zero, you’ve probably heard the word yuri tossed around a few times. In fact, ANN’s page lists “yuri” as the only theme. Glad I wasn’t watching it for that, or the other themes of “senseless suffering,” “inevitable tragedy,” and “sweet swordfighting” would have really distracted me.
But you can feel the sisterly love, and it really has to be ramped up for the horrific result to be felt. In the end, out of 4 hours of series there are about 30 seconds worth of anything that could be called yuri. There is one mouth-to-mouth kiss (a sort of Lady and the Tramp thing with Pocky), but that scene is there for a reason: it’s paralleled later, with horribly sad (if slightly overplayed) results.
So don’t watch this for yuri anymore than you’d watch it for guro — there’s enough blood, bathing, and shortness of skirts to cover your perverted needs, but it’s just not that kind of show. You’d have to be pretty depraved to get your jollies from something so damn depressing.
Ga-Rei Zero caught me with its surprises in the first couple episodes, but after those were over, it continued to entertain and satisfy with good animation, cute girls with swords, and my ultimate anime fanservice, ludicrous tragedy (geez, maybe I am an extremist after all, clearly some people are not up for that and I guess I can’t blame them).
1990s OVAs full of tits, blood and total apocalypse fed my early fandom, and while this isn’t strictly an update to that it does provide the same kinds of thrills with a little more depth, a lot more heart, and a modern edge. Plus, it’s a lot better than Mnemosyne. Take its 12-episode length into account, and it’s hard for me not to recommend Ga-Rei Zero to anyone who likes their anime dark, action-heavy, and depressing.