As GunParade March draws to a close, it throws off almost any pretense of being an action series and instead opts for the romantic comedy approach, as Mai & Hayami's relationship – or lack of it – takes centre-stage. The big surprise is, it's surprisingly good…
What They Say
The Genjyu step up their campaign of destruction as the dawn of the new millennium approaches. Hayami and Mai find themselves in the spotlight when the news media takes an interest in Unit 5121's war against the alien menace. Things take an abrupt change when another HWT unit requests Mai as a replacement pilot. Hayami has until the clock strikes twelve to admit his feelings for her, or she'll be transfered out of his reach. In this war, it could mean forever.
9 - You are the One who Makes my Heart Pound - A Day in the Life
10 - Hello Sadness - Once Upon a Dime
11 - I Couldn't Bring it Up - A Good Reward for Their Labour
12 - Everytime I Say Goodbye - GunParade March
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 Tanabe and Nonomi, in their class play costumes, on one side while a montage of clips from the series plays in a window next to them. Options are provided for Play All, Setup, Episodes and Extras, while the show's closing theme plays over the top. There are no transition animations between screens, making the menus quick and easy to use
All you get this time around is a selection of Japanese TV spots for the show – not exactly worth getting excited about.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
The focus of most of Unit 5121 has turned to Hayami and his prospective relationship with Mai. The possibilities are giving the girls plenty to talk about, but Hayami just doesn't seem to be able to get his feelings across. Mai's not being too honest with herself about her feelings towards Hayami, either - and their inability to get it together is beginning to be seen as a problem by some. Christmas, and the visit of a TV crew to shadow the unit for a while, gives the gang an opportunity to try and press matters – until a moment of breathtaking ineptitude seems to permanently sink Hayami's chances.
GunParade March got its original US release around the same time as the first Full Metal Panic! season, and I remember thinking at the time that there were certain similarities between the shows - which is probably enough to get me burnt as a heretic, but bear with me. Both shows start off undecided as to what type of show they are, action or comic, but by the end both series have firmly swung to one format. FMP! swung to action and the rather tedious Gauron tale (before finally getting it right, in my opinion anyway, with FUMOFFU!), but GunParade March realises where its strengths are, swings away from the action stories, and goes instead for the romantic comedy aspect. It's a choice that works out well for the series, which has always been more about its characters than its mecha anyway - in Mai and Hayami we have a couple that clearly should be together, leaving their relationship indeterminate while focussing on action would have been a mistake.
The highlight of the disc, comedy-wise, is the shopping episode, where the comedy comes as much from the efforts of the rest of the unit to keep an eye on the 'lovebirds' as it does from Mai and Hayami's bemusement at the items they've been asked to buy, with dopey disguises and sneakiness all coming into play. They're rightly confused, as there's no valid reason why the unit's Christmas party would need them to buy a suit or some expensive jewellery - but in this case Mai's female instincts come through and the joy of shopping appear to override any worries about being set up. It all goes so well that you end up waiting for Hayami to put is foot in it, and lo and behold towards the end of the episode he does just that, in rather epic style.
As a result, the final episode is as serious as GunParade March has gotten outside of things war-related, as Hayami tries to undo the damage he's done before Mai decides to accept a transfer that she's been offered to another unit. What's strange about this is that on most occasions where you get a character as hapless as Hayami, I'd be ready to write him off and hope for the female lead to choose someone more deserving - but there's just something about Hayami, most noticeably portrayed during the last volume when he and Mai were stranded in Genjyu territory, that tells you that there's more to him, something more deserving, than the clueless person we often see. When he finally gets his act together, then, it becomes much more likely that you'll cheer him on when it comes to the crunch and he makes his pitch for forgiveness to Mai. The ending doesn't come as much of a surprise, but it's heartwarming nonetheless.
Matchmaking is interrupted mid-disc by another culture-festival episode, this one featuring the unit's bad-luck charm Tanabe who's finally experiencing a run of good luck and all the joy that goes with it. As a story it's decent enough, but the real value in it comes from giving the other characters in the show, especially Tanabe, some rare time in the spotlight. It's a shame that the series has ended with so few of the Unit 5121 mob getting anything more than very basic character development.
This volume rounds GunParade March out nicely, providing a sense of closure to the story of the lead characters while making it clear that the war goes on. The only real problem is the lack of focus on the rest of the large cast, but the series would have probably needed 26 episodes instead of 12 if they were to get a fair crack of the whip. Even so, this is one of the hidden gems of the year and is well worth picking up.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Japanese TV Commercials
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.