The bonds of friendship, loyalty and duty are tested between two young women as they face their destinies.
What They Say Kagura and Yomi may look like ordinary school girls as they walk the streets of Tokyo clad in short skirts and knee-high socks, but they're the heroes you scream for when monsters creep out of the darkness. These sword-toting sisters are part of an elite counterattack unit that specializes in suppressing outbreaks of supernatural activity. They train together, live together, eat together, and spend their nights disemboweling demons with sacred blades together.
Tragedy strikes when Yomi is possessed by a dark spirit and Kagura must choose between raising her weapon against the eerily familiar face of ultimate evil or watching her flesh and blood slaughter innocent citizens. In a life-or-death battle that pits sister against sister, survival may be the greatest agony of all.
This limited edition comes with an art box.
Contains episodes 1-12.
Please Note: This BD/DVD combo set contains the both media formats for the release, but our review covers only the Blu-ray discs when it comes to the technical aspects.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as it contains a pair of lossless audio tracks using Dolby TrueHD. The original Japanese language is in stereo while the English language gets a 5.1 bump which adds a bit more bass to the action scenes and some decent all around surround sound to give it a more engaging feeling. My preference still leans towards the original stereo mix as that's how the elements and presentation was designed and it has a very good feel to it. Dialogue is well placed, there's a good sense of depth when appropriate and it's a pretty engaging mix that deals with the quiet scenes with its ambient effects and the bigger action scenes that have some real impact to it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in the fall of 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episode series is spread over two discs in a nine/three format with an average bitrate in the low twenties for most scenes, though it does jump up a bit when needed. The visuals for this show are very striking and are largely well captured here as the colors have a very rich look to them with a lot of pop in the key scenes and some good handling of the darker scenes. Some of them get a little fuzzy at times with some noise, often in the gray parts of the backgrounds that's hard to tell if it's really intentional or not because of the scene itself. Generally, the look here is very good and the series is one that really benefits from a high definition transfer as it's the kind of show that puts its budget on the screen and lets it speak for itself.
This BD/DVD combo release comes in a heavy chipboard box with two standard size DVD cases inside to hold the four discs (two BD, two DVD) with each case holding the same kind of discs, i.e. the first case has the first BD and first DVD disc and the second the same way. The box looks really good as the front of it features Yomi and Kagura in fighting mode together while the background is made up with of flames with a few bands of color to tie it all together. It's a nicely eye-catching piece that makes it clear what the show will be like in general. The back cover brings in the male pairing of Noriyuki and Kazuki with the things that define them easily and it uses the same kind of background design, just flipped the opposite way.
The two cases inside play up the black and white angle as the first volume has a white background and spine and the second runs with the black. The first volume uses about a quarter of the front cover for a white slice that has the logo while the rest has the flame background and a pair of the supporting characters in action poses. The second volume does the same but lets the Nabu twins take the stage with their immediate boss but they give it a softer shale blue background that gives it a very serious look. The back covers break down the episodes by number and title with a small summary, which is very hard to read on the second, and they're listed with six on each and not by what's on the actual volume which can get confusing if you're just grabbing for the box. Each cover has some artwork on the reverse side that spans the two panels which looks great and each case has a hinge inside to hold the extra disc. The package here is pretty strong overall but the small issue of the text on the second case for the episodes and the breakdown of episodes isn't the best way to handle it because of the combo aspect.
The menus for this release are very simple with the majority of the screen given over to the clips that play throughout as it mixes the quiet and action pieces with a bit of music to set the mood. The navigation aspect, which doubles as the pop-up menu as well, is a white swoosh along the bottom that's rather small overall, but fits fairly well since there isn't a lot to the menus and the gray text on the white doesn't look as bad as it could. The episode selection and extras menus are a bit rough to work through though since the text gets rather small in order to fit it all in though. Submenus load quickly and the look and feel of everything is spot on. As is usual, the discs didn't read our players' language presets and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.
The extras are all found on the second disc and it's a good looking list from the start. We get the standards here in the clean opening and closing piece and the DVD commercials which are always welcome. They also include the brief promo commercials that clocks in at just a minute combined that was used to promote the show before it aired. The meaty part of the extras comes in the form of the location scouting pieces of which there are six that vary in length between nineteen and twenty-five minutes, giving us nearly two hours worth of standard definition extras here yet with audio that's better than most of their DVDs as it uses Dolby TrueHD that averages around 500-600kbps. They do tie some of the animation to it so that we know where it was used in the show, though certain locations are pretty obvious with where they belong, but it's still neat to see all of this in such detail and to get a close look at how the locations scouting was done.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Serving as a prequel to the shonen manga series Ga-Rei which ran for twelve volumes from 2005 to 2010 by Hajime Segawa, Ga-Rei-Zero is a twelve episode series that has a flavor of Silent Mobius about it but in a modern day setting with a more personal approach to it. The comparisons to that series on a superficial level and there are some deeper ones, but this work is really quite engaging but it takes a couple of episodes to find its footage because of one of my least favorite methods of storytelling, especially for a twelve episode series. The first couple of episodes and the last three serve as the bookends to the present while the rest that falls in between deals with what occurs prior to it. Starting with the ending in essence, making certain things clear, can work on some levels, but here it left me frustrated as I would have far preferred to have been lead to that ending without the knowledge and to be further surprised as as it unfolds.
Ga-Rei-Zero is a strong show overall that introduces us to a world where phantoms and spirits do exist and they come into the world to cause trouble, though the world is largely unaware of it for a few reasons. While it seems like they only really gained a strong notice in the last few years, the Ministry of Defense has their own operations to try and deal with them through strictly physical means while the Department of Environment has its own group that employs people that are a bit more spiritual in nature and deep ties to the past where families have spend centuries dealing with this issue. In addition to this, though we don't really see any, there are freelancers out there that deal with the spirits as well which can add a little confusion to things as incursions are monitored and dispatched before anyone from either group can be sent to deal with them.
The first couple of episodes showcase the present where we see the incursion of some class B phantoms that are causing trouble and the methods used to deal with it between the two groups and how the Ministry of Defense really isn't capable of handling something of that class. It's a big action set piece with lots of great looking animation, choreography and design to really wow you. It does, however, feel hollow in how it unfolds because it shifts the character focus from the first to the second episode and you aren't quite sure who you're supposed to connect with since the bodies are falling all over the place. What the end of the second episode does is show the big reveal, which really isn't one to the viewer at that point since it's all new information, and then the show drops back in time in order to bring us properly up to speed.
It's here in the third episode that Ga-Rei-Zero really begins to shine. As much as I enjoyed the visual treat of the first two episodes, the more personal stories that unfold from episode three through nine is what kept me thoroughly engaged and on the edge of my seat. It's here that the series starts to show the different families that are involved, with the Issayama's which work closely with the Department of Environment to deal with the phantoms. The family has its complexities, with the head of it having no children and adopting a young girl he saved from an incident years ago who is now bonded closely with them and is in line for succession as she's very good in dispatching the phantoms. There's a disgraced brother to the head of the family who doesn't want this and wants his own daughter, the exceptionally skilled May, to be the one to take over going forward.
Yomi's work is something that she enjoys and is good at, but she gains a bit of an extra duty that's unrelated at the moment as the Tsuchiyama family has sent their daughter, Kagura, to stay and be protected by them. Kagura lost her mother awhile ago but she's managed it well as she's been raised to be strong over all these years by her father. While Yomi is a very skilled Vanquisher, the name given to those that deal with the phantoms, Kagura is a naturally gifted person whose skill and ability to learn is surprising even to Yomi. Things that took her years to learn, Kagura picks up quickly. Yet there's no jealousy to be had there as Yomi takes on Kagura as something of a younger sister and they're immensely good friends in just about all regards. The bond between the two as they grow together is beautiful to watch, very natural and realistic considering the world they're thrust into, and as they deal with the issues of loyalty and duty that come with it because of their positions in their respective families.
When all the events tie together again in the last act, all that we know about these two girls and their lives makes more sense and the impact is certainly greater, but I still dislike having that reveal early on and then doing the majority of the series as a flashback in a way. The final act is powerful though as it brings it all together and pushes through with some seriously good clashes. There's a number of factors at play in this series between families, government forces and the range of characters, but it always goes back to the core connections and how they all relate to each other. That's what makes it work, that's what makes this so engaging. With all the shows I watch, many shows are just fun to watch and you never feel like it resonates beyond simple entertainment. This one builds the connect just right and really draws out the emotions of the characters, through both the acting and the animation combined with a solid story, to make this a really surprising show that you wouldn't think would be this engaging.
I went into Ga-Rei-Zero with no knowledge about it at all but came away from it feeling like it'll be one of the best shows I get to see this year. The series brings a lot of familiar elements to the table and there truly isn't anything original here, but it works together all of these well known elements in a compelling way with characters that click together very well that it rises above its parts. Ga-Rei-Zero has everything it needs, from action to fanservice, emotional scenes and drama, all of which looks fantastic and really has a wonderful sense of flow and pacing about it. Once you get past those first couple of episodes at least. With this first BD/DVD combo set I've gotten my hands on, it's definitely well done overall with just a few things to still be tweaked. It's good to see anime releases mirroring more mainstream releases more and getting Blu-ray into more peoples hands without fearing that they'll miss out something should they eventually upgrade. Ga-Rei-Zero is definitely a solid show that makes the most of the format but it's the story that sings the most and one we definitely recommend.
Features Japanese 2.0 Dolby TrueHD Language, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, English Subtitles, Location Special Parts 1-6, Series Premiere/First Episode Promo Videos, DVD Promo Videos, Textless Songs
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
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