About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ga-rei Zero Review

Before I begin this review, two key heads-up:

1. This review will be highly spoilerrific. I don't think that I can do justice while delving into the key strengths of this anime, without spoiling a lot of it.

2. I came into this show in large part due to its moe appeal. In other words, I didn't come into it mainly for the action, which I think will give this blog a very different (if not contrary) flavor when compared to some of the other Ga-rei Zero blog reviews that I've read. This anime was recommended to me on Anime Suki by 0utf0xZer0 when I asked for suggestions for a "moe character designs with dramatic storyline" anime. After watching the Higurashi animes, the Nanoha animes, Clannad, and Mai HiME, I've come to feel that moe actually blends very well with serious sophisticated suspenseful drama, as I think that the two compliment one another nicely while providing crisp contrasts between look and feel that can give the final work an added 'oomph!'. However, notice that Clannad is on the list there, so fighting action scenes were not a prerequisite for what I was looking for here, but they certainly can help. And it helps a lot for why I enjoyed Ga-rei Zero a lot.

 However, while I very much liked the action scenes of Ga-rei Zero, and while I particularly loved the exceptionally epic episode 12 conclusion, it was actually the somewhat maligned middle portions that had the most appealing and entertaining stretch of episodes for me. Again, this is likely because I went into this anime because I was looking for precisely what those middle portions provided, rather than for graphic, hardcore, fast-paced action scenes. For people who went into Ga-rei Zero primarily (if not exclusively) for the latter, I can understand why the very first episode was so resoundingly well received.

Personally, though, I have to break from conventional wisdom on that very first episode, and strongly question if it really did constitute an awesome stroke of genius on the part of this anime's producers.

Don't get me wrong, the very first episode is a thunderously terrific thrill ride, with excellent art work, glorious animation quality, great action scenes, startling plot twists, and an overall sense of shock and awe. It is visually stunning, particularly for people with strong stomachs. The first episode of this anime is essentially Elfen Lied meets Darker Than Black. For anime fans who love extremely realistic death-dealing action scenes, it's hard to imagine a better combination.

However, this is not really what Ga-rei Zero is primarily about, and I can't help but wonder if what it is primarily about would not have proven more widely popular than the initial impression that anime fans, as a whole, must have taken from that first episode.

Elfen Lied has dedicated fans to be sure, but its also an acquired taste. It's gorier bits tend to constitute anime elements that people either love or hate. So while it has a passionate fanbase, it also brings in a strictly limited one. It's worth noting that Elfen Lied did not sell well at all on DVD in Japan itself, as demonstrated by this post.

Ga-rei Zero itself sold significantly better than Elfen Lied, as demonstrated in this post. Those are respectable mid-range sales figures. However, they are a far cry from the sales that Mai HiME or Fate/Stay Night enjoyed, and Ga-rei Zero strikes me as, on the whole, being much more like them than like Elfen Lied. So would Ga-rei Zero have been better off trying to have its first episode appeal to the same sort of anime fans that like Mai HiME and Fate/Stay Night? In complete honesty, I'm inclined to think so.

Beyond that, I simply find it questionable in general to almost entirely exclude your actual main cast from the very first episode of a a short 12-episode anime. Ga-rei Zero's first episode introduces an essentially fraudulent main cast, and then proceeds to have them all killed off by a lethal and vicious assailant that (we'd later learn) seems to have no real connection to any of them. In almost hilariously wasteful fashion, the first episode even treats us to the first episode's male lead having a seemingly important flashback scene. However, that flashback scene's only lasting relevance is to foreshadow the true main antagonist of this anime that operates behind the scenes.

In fairness, I do think that Ga-rei Zero's first episode would have worked very nicely as a promotional prequel OVA to the real Ga-rei Zero series airing later the same year, or early the following year, but that the series' actual first episode should have introduced us to the actual main cast. An OVA isn't likely to make a person drop a later anime series that they otherwise might like, but a first episode that doesn't sit well with them could very well lead to a drop.

However, that's enough of me playing contrarian on Ga-rei Zero's first episode; let's touch on a few of the aspects of the middle portions of this anime that I very much liked.

The two female leads have a great relationship with lots of chemistry and honest emotion.

I also appreciated and enjoyed the contributions of Kagura's two school friends.

This guy has one of the best intros ever. He made me laugh sooooooo hard! XD

The mirror fight was my favorite fight of the middle episodes. Lots of fun!

The main villain having a blue butterfly motif. Now I can't help but to see him as
the son of Beatrice from Umineko! :-D

Kagura and Yomi are wonderful, well-fleshed out characters. Their relationship is genuinely beautiful and charming, and makes for a perfect core element for this anime to revolve around.

I also loved the friendship between Kagura and her two school friends; it reminded me of Nanoha Takamachi's friendship with her two school friends in the original Nanoha anime. I'm just a sucker for the approach of one girl secretly being a superhero, and her two best school friends finding out about that in the heat of the moment.

The cast is loaded with amusing, if not interesting, figures, and all of the character machinations and political maneuvers and family disputes and government agency quarrels give this anime a certain sense of grandness and dramatic importance. It all comes together in such a seamless and believable tapestry, with each and every major and minor character taking actions and making statements ever consistent with their personalities and beliefs. The different perspectives and naturally conflicting goals coalesce together to make for suspenseful conflicts emotional, familial, political, physical, and psychological. It also adds great layers of depth to the anime, as numerous intriguing subplots are always there, either simmering on the backburner or coming into sharp and immediately intensifying focus.

There's a certain quickness, and desirably brisk pace to this anime, yet nothing is ever lost as things move steadily and swiftly forward. I can't recall a signal plot hole worth mentioning.

This anime is also gorgeous to simply behold. Some critics argue that the character designs are overly conventional, but I would argue that just the slight artistic touch with how the animators for this show draws lips differently adds just the tiniest needed dash of distinctiveness. Beyond that, Kagura and Yomi are both drawn very attractively, and that certainly adds a lot to why I like Ga-rei Zero a lot.

The action scenes are impressive at worst, always a joy to watch, and flawless at best.

There is a great deal to love about this anime. It blends some of the best diverse elements of anime together to create an excellent final work. Indeed, it does this as well as any anime that I've seen since Higurashi Kai.

Finally, the conclusion of this anime was simply perfect in my eyes. It was a fitting and cathartic climax of both conflict and growth.

The final Kagura vs. Yomi struggle was an explosive treat for the eyes, accentuated magnificently by the welling up of emotions in the form of a scintillating crescendo eventually reaching a fever pitch and Kagura's ultimate victory... and hence, paradoxically, her ultimate loss.

And in that victory and lost, Kagura's "coming of age" story, which is the true main plot of this story, meets with an outstanding conclusion. Kagura's father would be proud, I'm sure.

Truly a masterpiece (and this is not a word I use easily) of an ending.

However... it was undermined, somewhat, by how this anime chose to unveil its plot.

Revealing Yomi's descent into Lucy-level mass murdering madness in the very first act makes the proceeding acts more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional one. The viewer becomes more like the inquisitive Inspector, wondering what led up to the murders, and hence combing through suspect background and clues to gradually piece together the big picture of the murder mystery.

This can, admittedly, be a good way to keep viewer attention, but I think that it also very much mutes the otherwise immense emotional impact of Yomi's inevitable descent into monstrously malevolent villainy.

Simply put, the way the plot unfolds in the first few episodes of this anime results in desensitizing the viewer to the dramatic and normally
heart-wrenching events of the final act. We know that Yomi will eventually become a murderer that simply has to be stopped, and as such, we're not quite as emotionally shaken by seeing an otherwise very likable female lead become that and eventually get killed.

I did not shed a signal tear when watching this anime.

Given the nature of this anime, and its totally tumultuously tragic ending, there's probably something wrong with that.

I think that if the audience of this anime was not aware of what would eventually become of Yomi, that then seeing her become that in the latter portions of the anime would have left an emotional impact every bit as great as what a Jun Maeda can illicit. And that, my friends, could have sent Ga-rei Zero into stratospheric popularity, the bloody action-esque yuri answer to Clannad.

And so, I hold that Ga-rei Zero's lone flaw is exactly what it ironically gets complimented most for: That being how it chooses to begin its series.

9/10 for an astoundingly awesome anime. But not a perfect one.

Kudos to 0utf0xZer0 for this supremely super suggestion. :)


  1. I’ll actually admit that the first episode is what got me watching… the show wasn’t originally on my watch list, but an online buddy basically told me I had to give the first episode a try.

    However, both of our experiences would be different from those of the Japanese fanbase because as far as I know, both of us approached the show thinking it was a standalone story. In Japan, Ga-rei Zero was pitched in previews as a spin-off of the shounen manga Ga-rei, featuring different characters from the original manga. Yomi’s appearance at the end of episode one was a surprise twist: Yomi appears in the Ga-rei manga, but only as a spirit.

    It wasn’t until episode two that everyone actually figured out what Ga-rei Zero really was: a prequel to the manga, covering what happened while Yomi was still alive. Those events are referenced but not shown in the manga, so the Japanese audience knew she was going to turn evil, but not necessarily the details. Several other characters also appear in the manga (including Kagura, who is the protagonist for the manga as well).

    I’m not actually sure how the fanbase took to all this, although I have heard the sales numbers quoted as evidence that it was well received. Admittedly, it does fall short of Mai Hime and FSN sales numbers as you point out, but I’m not sure how fair a comparison that is. I get the impression that Sunrise put some serious marketting muscle behind Hime (and Sunrise seems to be good at that… remember, Geass is the only made for TV mecha in recent memory to approach the long running Macross and Gundam franchises in terms of sales), and FSN was apparently the best selling VN of 2004 in Japan – and Clannad also came out in 2004.

    The other interesting thing about Ga-rei Zero’s sales is how popular the show’s recently released Bluray box set is. It’s almost as popular as the Clannad season 1 Bluray box, despite Clannad’s much higher first run sales. As with Darker than Black, the second run box set is much, much more popular than initial sales of the anime would suggest. I’m actually really glad to see that, since it bucks the “dramatic moe has middling sales unless by Key” trend.

    As for my thoughts… I saw the show nearly two years back so it’s hard to comment, but it does strike me as a show that’s aged well for me. I think I watched more shows in fall 2008 than any other anime season, and that season included such big names as Gundam 00, Clannad, Toradora, Kannagi, and Index (not to mention it followed on the heels of Macross F, Strike Witches and Code Geass R2). I’d still probably rank Kure-nai and the second season of EF ahead of it, but it’s definitely one of my top shows of 2008. I also really like Kagura as a character. I just didn’t think of it on my first reply to your query because it tends to come to mind as an action show first. Admittedly, I think that’s what you were getting at with your post.

  2. 0utf0xZer0 - I'm glad that this is selling well on Blu-Ray. I think that animes like Ga-rei Zero, which had stunning visuals for their time of release (and potentially even more stunning visuals when upgraded to Blu-Ray) will see a bit of a sales bump when transitioning over to Blu-Ray. Basically, Darker than Black and Ga-rei Zero are the kinds of anime where the added Blu-Ray quality really does make a difference.

    Beyond that, I would think that Ga-rei Zero benefited from good word of mouth and good reviews, as it certainly warrants them.

    Like yourself, I very much liked Kagura's character. I felt that she was a nicely balanced and generally believable character.

    I also see your point as it pertains to how people already familiar with the manga would be impacted by this anime's first episode.

    I guess that, for me, I do tend to have a personal preference for a more old-school, no eccentric frills, approach to basic plot structure (i.e. keep it mostly/entirely in in-canon chronological order, have one arc transition into another into another and eventually have a concluding episode that features any climatic battles and moments and then wraps it all up).

    Still, Ga-rei Zero is a great anime. The most enjoyable I've watched in quite some time. :)

  3. You didn't shed a tear!? I think I shed a couple. Not many because I knew what was coming and was able to prepare for it, but it was still incredibly sad..

  4. I know it's been three months but maybe someone'll still read this :)

    Basically the entire anime was about attracting attention. Whether it was the trollish first episode, inappropriate fanservice (tentacle rape is something you usually only see in the cheapest of anime) or the dysfunctional use of drama in the later episodes (e.g. the lengthy death of a character that hardly appeared throughout the series - Kagura's father), Ga-Rei Zero continually used rather cheap tricks to keep their audience watching.
    But they didn't need any of that! They had all the elements that make a good story. They had sympathetic characters to go with it. They had a sinister, slightly innovative, world to work with.
    How are you going to take something serious that at times is so ridiculous (and I'm not talking about funny)?
    How are you going to get emotionally involved when the plot structure openly challenges your intellect, an intellect you have to shut down to survive the middle parts?
    Ga-Rei Zero did all it could to make other people pick it up and watch it.
    It did all it could to make it look outstanding.
    More people would have picked it up and watched it, and more people would have found it great, if it didn't.

  5. careph - Those are interesting arguments, to be sure. I think that you're right about how Ga-Rei Zero sometimes used rather cheap tricks when it didn't need to. It does have all the elements that make a good story anyway.

    It reminds me a bit of how Code Geass R2 used the cliffhanger plot twist of the week for a very long time when the show was good enough that not only did it not need it, but having it made the show WORST.

    Still, glad that you seem to like Ga-Rei Zero on the whole. I know that I did.

  6. I like Yomi, which appears to be a lingering affection, drawing me to this merchandise time and again.
    However, and apart from the series' obvious deficiencies, I do not enjoy human suffering, virtual or otherwise.

  7. I liked the intire anime:) really have no complaints, i read manga to, so thats prob why. Ga-rei zero is one of my top fav. animes! I watched it like ten time, lit. usually i get bored with anime, but i was able to watch this one through, more than once! Kagura was one of my fave charas. Though i liked her family spirit beast the best<:p
    And triple R was right, lol. i love mai-hime and fate stay night!
    The whole thing seemed to fit, no annoying cliff hanger, my ?'s were answered.