It's 1999, 50 years on from the arrival on Earth of strange alien creatures, and Japan is the frontline - and one of very few left - of the battle against the creatures. It's high-schoolers saving the world again in GunParade March, but this story is about their day-to-day lives & not just their battles...
What They Say
It began in 1945, at the end of the Pacific War. Alien invaders filled the Earth skies, and mankind was forced to confront an unprecedented threat. For the first time in human history, people of all cultures came together under one banner.
This war has now been raging for over fifty years. Countless lives have been lost, and the Japanese military is now forced to rely on young people such as Atsushi Hayami and his high school class, also known as Unit 5121. This new generation fearlessly struggles on with the aid of the HWT humanoid combat machines and the devastating PBE bomb.
1 - Playback - The Visitor
2 - Do Whatever You Like - Going my Way
3 - Summertime Blues – Fireworks
4 - Let's Have Tea Together – Duelist
Audio for this release comes in Japanese and English stereo versions – as usual, I listened to the Japanese track for this review. Best use is made of the soundstage during action scenes, unsurprisingly, with good use made of placement to add some depth to the battles. Most of the show is dialogue –based, though, and this doesn't quit give the same opportunities for impressing, although everything is clear enough to easily make out.
Video is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect. With the Japan of the series being a war-torn country, it's presented in a bleak palette of greys and pastels, but there's plenty of detail in the backgrounds that help bring the world to life in its own slightly depressing way. There were no apparent encoding problems.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The background of the menus appears to be a bullet-pocked grey wall, with the main screen featuring Mai, in her armour and with her helmet tucked under her arm, striking a serious pose to the left while a montage of clips from the series plays in a window next to her. Options are providedfor Play All, Setup, Episodes and Extras, while the show's closing theme plays over the top. There a re no transition animations between screens, making the menus quick and easy to use.
Only creditless versions of the opening and closing songs this time around.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Mankind has been fighting against the Genjyu - alien creatures that are overrunning the planet - for over 50 years now. In Japan, a law has been passed, pressing children of high-school age into military service to protect the rest of the population. Unit 5121 is as much a class of schoolkids as it is a military unit, and as the story begins we join one of their sister units in the middle of a mission against a Genjyu Brain. Supported by 5121's mecha - known as HWT's - and an ultra-powerful PBE bomb, their mission is to use the PBE to kill the Brain in order to stop the spread of the Genjyu's poisonous gasses. Their first attempt at the mission is a failure, though, as a Genjyu manages to seize control of a military helicopter & uses it to destroy the PBE - and so Unit 5121 are called in for a second attempt...
So goes our initial introduction to Unit 5121. At first the idea of a military unit made up of schoolkids seems strange, and you wonder who could have possible come up with the bizarre law that has seen them all pressed into service – and then I remembered that, in the UK at least, you can join the military at 16½ anyway. Put into that light it's not so strange after all – apart from one member of the team who I'll get to in a moment – and after a while you almost forget the initial strangeness and move on.
The first person we get to see a significant amount of is Atsushi Hayami, a boy who's generally far too nice for his own good – he's always saying sorry, regardless of who's really at fault, and his nature is that of a clumsy goofball. For all that, he's usually quite dependable in battle, proven early on as we see him disobey orders to go to the rescue of stranded fellow HWT pilot Mio Mibuya. Other members of the unit include Tanabe, a girl who is forever cursed with bad luck; overly-flirtatious Setoguchi and his rather childish friend Takigawa; class organiser and general loud-mouth Kato; and misleadingly young-looking Nonomi. While the rest of the unit are all around 15 years old, Nonomi looks more like 8, but she's a special case: her role in the team is the arming of the PBE bombs, a process that appears to be entirely mental or psychic, and that marks her out as somehow different from the rest of the team in ways that, if I remember correctly, will be touched upon later in the series.
The final member of the unit formally makes her appearance in episode 2, and she soon stirs things up. Mai Shibamura is the daughter of a very rich family – not that her comrades know that yet – and brings with her a self-belief and arrogance that initially don't endear her to the 5121st. While she does eventually begin to settle in, though, her pairing with Hayami for training and potentially combat purposes, as the two are selected to co-pilot a new tandem-model HWT, doesn't sit well with her, and the sparks soon start to fly. Along with regular apologies from Hayami.
By this point you've probably noticed that I haven't talked to much about the war, or combat scenes. That's because there really aren't that many of them, as they're not the primary focus of the series. After one action-oriented episode that serves mainly to give you a feel for the world the characters live in, GunParade March gets down to what it's really about - the relationships between the kids that make up Unit 5121. At heart, this is really just a 'slice-of-life' show with a different setting from what you would normally get, and it works surprisingly well. Most of the characters are likeable, while those that look to be the main focus of the story are gradually fleshed out nicely over the course of the volume. If there's any criticism, it's that there are possibly too many characters - given that this is a 13-episode show, you just know that most of them aren't going to get much in the way of character development, and that's unfortunate, but not a serious flaw.
The setting is curious enough that I'm almost sorry it doesn't come more into the forefront. In terms of story, the general relationships and conflicts that are being explored aren't anything wonderfully original in themselves – if you've seen other slice-of-life shows, you'll be in familiary territory - but the unique setting adds enough interest to make GunParade March worthwhile viewing. The series was an under-appreciated gem when it was released in the US a few years back – here's hoping it doesn't meet the same fate in the UK.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Creditless Songs
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.