Gasaraki Vol. #8 (Mania.com)

By:Roman Martel
Review Date: Tuesday, February 05, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2002



The Review!
Overall Rating: 4.7
(on a scale of 1-5)

-Technical Ratings-
Sound: 5
Picture: 5
Menu: 5
Presentation: 4
Goodies: 5
Overall: 4.8

-Content Ratings-
Animation: 5
Sound: 5
Plot: 4
English Acting: 4
Music: 5
Entertainment: 4
Overall: 4.5

-Intro-

It's been another long journey with this anime series. I've been writing reviews on it for over a year (has it almost been two, I've lost count). Anyway, it's been a pretty good ride. But now I have to closely examine Gasaraki and see just how it measures up. Will it be an anime classic? Or will it fall into the realm of "really good show"? Wow, it's sounds like the fate of the universe rides on this review. Not even :-)

-Technical Review-

The Gasaraki discs continue to get high marks in the technical arena. You've still got top sound and video. The menu has remained the same. The presentation gets the same score, with only the number of channels of sound missing from this great looking keepcase. Let's take a look at the extras. There is a text interview with the director and the series coordinator. They discuss the contributions they made to the series. A glossary with some military and government terms that come up in this disc. There are production stills with further description. You also get clean opening and ending credits. And that means all the openings and endings. This is a pleasant surprise to me, I really wasn't expecting each and every different credit to be included. On the insert you've got a diagram of something that is a bit of a spoiler, so I won't say any more about it. Hands down this series has had some of the best extras that ADV has offered. I hope that they can continue to provide such great material in the future. With that said, these discs were all just shy of a perfect score, and that's only due to the keepcase and lack of sound information. But aside from that, this was a flawless technical release in my book.

-Content Review-

I'll cover the final disc in the first part of my review (spoiler free) and then review the entire series (spoiler filled). So if you don't want to know the secrets of Gasaraki don't read past the asterisks!

We've got three episodes to wrap the series up in and I was surprised how well it was done. You've basically have two main plots that need resolving. The involved plot between the Japanese Government and Gowa, and then you have the plot involving the Kugai. Things develop in the first episode on the disc and bring everything to a nice boiling point. The next episode resolves the government plot and the final one takes care of the Kugai story line. Things are tied up pretty well, but the final episode has the prerequisite montage of surreal scenes and a strange conclusion. Evangelion, what have you wrought? But for all the bizarre imagery of the final episode things come to a definite closure in this series.

The animation in these final three episodes remains consistent with what you've seen so far. There is a good amount of CG used in the final episodes, but it reminded me more of the CG used in Lain. It's mostly used for effects and not for the TA's or anything. I'd have to say the real shift in animation style comes mostly in the final episode. It is dealing with some metaphysical stuff after all and that means that some of the realistic approach that had defined Gasaraki is replaced. It is interesting use of animation, but seemed to be a bit out of character for the rest of the series. Overall though the animation has remained to be in the top tier of stuff I've seen recently.

The sound design has also been a high point in this series. Great use of sound effects especially in the TA battle scenes makes the action much more interesting and builds suspense in key scenes. The use of characters breathing was key in several scenes and used very well. The sound does a great job of supporting and adding the visuals impact. Another high score in this area.

The plot and story construction in these episodes was done fairly well, especially considering the large amount of build-up we had. I think the "pay-off" is worth it. All the threads are completed and all the characters get closure in some way or the other. The last episode again seems to be the black sheep of this disc. It was an interesting way to end the series, but it did seem a bit cliche in a way. This series has been so grounded in realism that the conclusion of the Kugai storyline was a bit of a departure. Luckily the director had given us a bit of a warning here and there with some visual style, but it still came as a bit of a shock after the very realistic middle episode.

This series was a tough one to dub and I've got to hand it to ADV for doing a great job. We've had almost perfect casting and execution throughout the series and these episodes hold their own. With such a huge cast it must have been a bit of an unwieldy job to make this all work, but it was handled very well. The final episode features some creative voice layering and engineering and that was also handled well. Gasaraki has to be one of the better English dubs I've heard in a series from ADV.

I've really enjoyed the score in this series. I ended up getting the first CD and I've listened to it quite a bit. The opening and ending themes really seemed to capture the mood and feel of the series and made it distinctive. The rest of the score is haunting and moody most of the time (with some actiony bits that seemed a bit out of character at times). The score was utilized very well, and was effective in building tension in all the right places. I must comment that in the final episode the opening and ending themes are played without a visual title sequence. Instead, they follow the story action as it unfolds. The music fit these sequences perfectly, even if you didn't think that possible.

This last disc was great. It moved along at the perfect pace and really was entertaining. My only sore point would be the final episode and it's conflict in style and approach to the rest of the series. It pulled me out of the show a bit, but for the most part worked well. If you are hoping for a solid conclusion to this series, you are going get what you are looking for. Gasaraki delivers.

*** Series Review***
I'll repeat a bit of what I said in my first review of Gasaraki. The first thing I remember hearing about it was that is was an EVA clone. And while this isn't a horrible thing, it does bring to mind the feeling that this might not be the most original thing to see. And while Gasaraki is not an EVA clone, it has some elements that make it a bit more comparable to it.

On it's own Gasaraki has several things going for it. It's got a very realistic approach to mecha. This is something that is very refreshing, especially compared to something like Gundam Wing or other flashy mecha series. The design of the TA's is truly impressive, as is the animation used during the TA's battle sequences. This is probably the best mecha fighting I've seen yet.

But a series has to be more than good mecha fan-service to keep me watching. Gasaraki also had a very twisty and involved plot. With the first episode that threw you right into the action without any set up to the final episode wrapping up the power of the Kugai, this series has made it's twisted way through the upper echelons of power in Japan and down into the heart of a family. And I have to say that to keep the whole thing straight is no easy task. There are a ton of characters and key events that lead up to the climax of the series that you have to be paying attention.

It would also have helped if the release schedule for this series had been a bit tighter. Waiting over a month for a complicated series (especially if you are watching other series at the same time) made it very difficult to keep it all in mind as I watched. This would be a great series to revisit and enjoy in a closer viewing schedule. I have to say that the slow release on this show as not the brightest idea for the entertainment value of the series.

Another thing I think is interesting to point out is that Gasaraki is very much a plot oriented show. And because of that some things seem to suffer. The biggest injury goes to getting well developed characters. Most are pretty flat, with a few exceptions. Since this show is taking such a wide-angle view of all the action and the events leading up to the climax, you are often lost in a whirlwind of events, names and places. But the people that drive the story don't have much going for them. I was never totally pulled into the plight of the characters. I could never really get inside their heads or their view of the world. We are afforded short glimpses and that is pretty much it. This is a different style of story telling, and if you enjoy plot heavy stories this is for you. If you enjoy stories dominated by characters or themes, then this might not be your cup of tea.

Or you might be like and me and just get more out of series that explores a person or theme. I appreciate what Gasaraki was doing and found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would. But it doesn't quite hit the classic status mark here. Gasaraki is a very good mecha series. It wasn't an entertaining series that was fun to watch. But it wasn't really an artistic work either. It is a story that unfolds for you, and the story itself is what intrigues. I found myself observing the series, rather than being part of the series. And for me to give this a classic score, I have to be pulled in.

Roman J. Martel
Tell me what you think! E-mail me at...
roman@animeondvd.com



Review Equipment
Phillips Flatscreen (27 Inch), Sony DVP-NS300



Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Gasaraki