Gasaraki Vol. #1 (of 8) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2000
Release Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2000
What They Say
For a thousand years, the Gowa family has secretly manipulated the fate of Japan, first through political intrigue and now through the manufacture of a frightening new weapons system. In a world in which giant robots are real, however, the most powerful weapon of all lurks within a human mind. Combining the hard edge of modern military thrillers with the frightening reality of tomorrow's super-science, Gasaraki's multi-layered story and unique blend of apocalyptic carnage and surreal mysticism promise that the world of Japanese animation will never be the same!
"Dust to dust...
Ashes to ashes...
Soul to soul..."
-Tomoko Tane; "Message #9"
So goes the opening song to Gasaraki, in English no less. I had first heard the TV opening song, Message #9, just over a year or so ago and fell in love with it instantly. It's mix of technoish modern sound combined with the more traditional Japanese sounds proved to be very alluring. It didn't take too long before I acquired all of the CD's (and what lovely CD's and packaging they have!). After all this time of listening to the music, I've now seen the show.
And I'm just as entranced by it. The beginning of the show, or essentially at least the first four episodes as seen here, are designed to drop you into the middle of things. Two tests are being performed in different places, one in Japan the other in the made-up Middle Eastern country of Belgistan. The focus begins with the Japanese experiment, where Yushiro Gowa is dressed in his Shinto outfit.
He begins to recreate a trance dance in the location where eight years earlier, the same dance was performed by someone else and a great power was tapped into. Yushiro, the next in the line of the Gowa family who holds varied power throughout the world, is brought in to both pilot the new TA's (Tactical Armors) and to tap into this power. There's something unique about Yushiro, as his TA is more adept than the others and seems to respond more clearly to his will.
Those who attended the first attempt eight years earlier are in attendance this time as well. Yushiro begins his dance and enters the trance state. As it progresses, a singularity opens above the courtyard and something powerful begins to appear. A short amount of time passes and we're whisked into the mind of Yushiro as he's abruptly semi-awakened by the image of a Shinto priestess. She draws her blade, slices the length of her hair and begins to attack Yushiro.
No longer in his trance, the singularity stops its growth and at the behest of the Shinto priestess who attacked him and mysteriously disappeared, he tells the thing that appears to go back to where it came.
At the same time, we're following something going on in Belgistan by some covert group called Symbol. Miharu, the test subject who is also the Shinto priestess in Yushiro's dream, is encased in a cocoon like substance where she's monitored. She's something called an Invitator, though little is really explained about this.
While the team in Japan is trying to decipher what happened, we learn of a weapon of mass destruction going off in Belgistan. Much like the Gulf War in reality, things quickly come to a head in the background with multinational forces attacking and invading.
Much maneuvering begins at this point, as we learn just how deep the Gowa family is. One is in the military, another in a position of power with Gowa Digital Systems, one a technical wiz who deals with the TA's and finally Yushiro, the one who seems to be a controlled power waiting to explode all while being manipulated. The GDS company begins to use its influence within the government to send the TA squad to Belgistan after they show that the third rate country may posses similar machines. The TA demonstration to the Japanese government showed just how powerful and advanced the machines are, and it didn't take long until such a plan is approved. After all, what's a little assassination among friends?
Before long the journey begins to Belgistan with the four TA's and their pilots. Incidents in the war become fluid with the ground war failing and international pressure mounting. Though sometimes relegated to the background, there is a strong feel of how the world operates through this show and how power can be manipulated.
While little is really answered through these early episodes, the set up is quite impressive, especially when you can begin to see how much more there will be. The characters aren't all that defined at this point, but that's more of the mystery of everything that's waiting to be solved.
Character designs vary between typical to nicely stylized. Many will claim that Miharu is nothing but a clone of Rei from Evangelion, but during her few minutes of screen time there is some great displays of emotion and potential. The mecha designs are quite good, done in a semi-realistic way that makes it easy to believe such things will exist soon.
From a technical standpoint, I think this is the best disc yet produced by ADV. There are of course a few minor things.
The audio presentation is pretty solid with both English and Japanese tracks being in stereo. One thing that I know some people will love is that the opening song is in English. Those who rely on subtitles due to poor to no hearing however will be disappointed. I would wish that English dialogue and music on Japanese audio tracks would be soft-subtitled on a regular basis someday. Barring this very minor thing, there's no issue with the audio side of things.
Being both a Bandai/Sunrise show and released in 1998, the animation quality is top notch, especially for a TV series. There are many areas throughout this where I simply couldn't believe TV animation is looking this good these days. With such great material at hand, the folks at POP/Cinram have worked their magic to create a really solid looking piece of work, at least on our main display. There were a few instances of line noise during panning sequences, but much reduced to some that we had seen. A lot of this show has very dark sequences that tend to cause authoring folks some trouble. A night time desert strike with a lot of deep blues, black and varying browns contained almost no visible breakup at a normal viewing distance. Some slight pixellation here and there, but otherwise a beautiful transfer. The opening and ending sequences come across exceptionally well also, as we see more of Miharu and some interesting garments.
The menu used also is done quite well, with a blending of animation and the CG from the show combined with the music. There's a fair amount of animation and scene transition as well with some great style to it. You can really feel that there was some love put into the menu. It's a bit laggy in one or two areas when you select something or during the initial startup, but it's a really solid menu overall.
The extra effort extended to the packaging as well. I really love the deep red style and the font used for the title logo and the overall feel of it. Very appealing to my nature with a show like this. The insert is also very sweet. The front page is the sell sheet that has Miharu and Yushiro against each other. Inside, there's a full page spread listing the major characters, their name, age, a brief background and their names in kanji in a family tree style. This is a very handy reference while watching the show!
On the extras side, there's some sweet ones on the disc as well. There's a couple page text interview with the series directory, some episode production sketches, a glossary of terms and some Gasaraki memos. Some memos? I think this is one of the best bits. This one starts off with screenwriter Toru Nozaki talking about the origins of the show. It also contains one of the greatest things I've read in the past few days with this line during the early planning stages. "The merchandising department representative asked in an anxious tone, 'Um, is this series going to feature only two robots?'" Which leads in the Class A War Criminal, or rather the Series Storyline Coordinator, to essentially call said representative a moron. Ah, the reality is always stranger than fiction!
Having watched this disc three times in the space of two days, I'm very fond of it and have high hopes for the remainder of the series. It's got everything I'm looking for in a series that's hard to find these days. And without the hype right now either, which makes it all the more enjoyable. But it's definitely a series that needs to be hyped, people need to know about this one. Who needs Evangelion when you've got Gasaraki? Not me. This is the one for the grown-ups.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Interview with Ryosuke Takahashi (text),Episode production sheets,Glossary of terms,Gasaraki memos
Toshiba TW40X81 HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster gold plated component cables and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2