Please note: This review discusses only the DVD that is found inside the BD/DVD combo set.
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.
Contains episodes 1-12.
For this review, I took in the English 5.1 dub. The Japanese track is only offered in 2.0. The mix for this is pretty solid, with some nice directionality along all five channels in the sound effects. The dialogue stays mostly centered, unfortunately, but there is no drop out on any of the tracks.
The video is generally fine, though there are a few minor issues that crop up. The colors and lining are clear and bold, though the picture suffers from some soft focus at times. That could be part of the art direction, so I won’t complain too much, but it did seem out of place. There were also a few instances of blocking and pixelization, particularly in dark scenes. Again, fairly minor so I won’t complain too much.
This is the DVD half of the combo BluRay/DVD pack. For packaging comments, please see the BluRay review.
The menu is basic, featuring a static image of Yomi and Kagura wielding their respective swords along the top, with the title overlaid in white. The selections are offered underneath in black on a white background. It’s a simple setup, but easy to follow and fulfills its purpose.
All of the extras are relegated to a third disc, but there’s a lot to get through. For starters, there are the standard clean OP/ED as well as a healthy smattering of trailers. But the meat of the extras comes in the form of the Location Special, a feature broken into six 20-25 minute parts that documents a trip the crew took to the various locations showing up in the anime in order to get the right feel and look of the place. There’s a lot of neat stuff in here if you sit and decide to slog through the whole thing. I’d imagine most won’t, but it’s a nice addition anyway.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ga-Rei-Zero is the anime adaptation of the manga, Ga-Rei, only covering part of the story. With the release of Ga-Rei-Zero, Funimation has decided to try and follow in the footsteps of major Hollywood releases by releasing a combo BD/DVD pack instead of separate releases for both formats. This review covers the DVD format of the release.
Kagura and Yomi are sisters in all but name. When Yomi was a child, her parents were killed by Kasha (evil spirits/demons), and she was taken in by the head of an ancient family dedicated to hunting these demons. Raised by a father who is also strict about his duty to Kasha hunting, Kagura grows up just as duty driven and represses her natural personality. But when her mother dies, and Yomi’s adoptive father takes Kagura in, Yomi begins to break down the walls Kagura had built up. In each other, they have found the close family they had otherwise been missing.
As they work their way through high school together, the two girls are slowly integrated into the family business. With the aid of her family’s sacred sword, The Shishio, and its guardian spirit, Nue, Yomi quickly becomes the hunter everybody imagined she could be. Armed with her own sword, the “Michael 12” (named after its creator, Michael Kohara), Kagura shows just as much aptitude, but lacks Yomi’s killer instinct. Between the two of them, humanity seems to be on the verge of ending the spirit threat once and for all.
But after a series of incidents and accidents leave Yomi completely paralyzed with almost no chance of recovery, she is drawn to the power of the veinstones—stones with the ability to fully heal her body. But when she takes them in, she is also then vulnerable to the stones’ impact on her base emotions, and she becomes the most powerful Kasha any had seen. With only Kagura able to stand up to Yomi, the question is whether or not she can muster the courage to find that killer instinct and destroy the only person she has ever been close to in her life.
Ga-Rei-Zero was a difficult anime for me to get into initially. When the first episode starts up, Yomi and her Kasha are already on her rampage, and with the Paranormal Disaster Countermeasure Divisions already on the hunt. In particular, the episode focuses on the 4th Division, which seems to hold a favored status in the organization as the best of the best. The episode plays out in a way that suggests the 4th Division will be the focus of the anime.
However, the episode ends with Yomi hunting each member down, including the overly smart commander, and slaughtering them. We do not actually meet Kagura—the real protagonist—until the second episode begins, which is when we learn the primary conflict of the series. After which, the series rewinds and takes us back to when Yomi and Kagura first meet, and then spends most of the rest of its time catching us back up to the primary conflict and showing us exactly where Yomi went wrong.
Another issue I had was the shift in tone from the beginning episodes to when we flashed back. While I understood it was taking us back to a time when things weren’t so bad, it was still a bit jarring. The first few episodes set us up to be ready for a somewhat graphic, supernatural thriller. Then we flashback and suddenly we might as well be in a teen comedy, with all of the trappings such as an episode where Kagura attempts to get Yomi and Nori to fall in love. In all, it was very stilted, and I had trouble keeping up with where it was taking us next.
But ultimately it settled down into the long haul, and when it did, it quickly became fantastic. Because we knew what was going to happen to Yomi in the long run, it was easy to notice every time something would happen that brought Yomi closer to her fall from grace. And frankly, because of that, there was a certain heart-wrenching feeling throughout that would not have been there if this story were told in a more traditional manner. By then end of the anime, I had gone from accepting that Yomi was the evil being worthy of my hate to feeling completely sorry for her situation and hoping some sort of positive solution could be found. It was brilliantly done, even if it was a bit confusing initially.
The other thing I liked about Ga-Rei-Zero was how it did in-fact tell a complete story. With all of the surrounding things, it is obvious that there is far more to the Ga-Rei manga than is present here in the anime. Oftentimes, in situations such as this, the anime covers the early portions of the manga and then often leaves you hanging, essentially acting as an advertisement for the manga. While this was more of an issue thirty years ago, it is still happening today, and is often a problem for us here in the West because the manga isn’t always available.
But with Ga-Rei-Zero, the creators knew they weren’t going to be able to tell the whole story, so rather than just introduce it to us and leave us to go find out the rest of the story, they pulled out a section of the story that comprises a complete arc—in this case the fall of Yomi and Kagura’s rise to prominence—and told us that instead. Sure, we do not still have the complete Ga-Rei story, but we still get a complete story. I can definitely accept that.
Ga-Rei-Zero ended up much better than I expected through the first few episodes, which were confusing in that it didn’t seem like they knew what they wanted to do with it. In the long run, it was obvious that it was a deliberate structure that helps tell the story a certain way in the later stages. In the end, what we get is a great supernatural thriller, with some truly tragic moments. I did not expect to ever feel as sorry for Yomi as I ended up doing, and that’s the mark of some great writing. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Location Special Parts 1-6, Series Premiere/First Episode Promo Videos, DVD Promo Videos, Textless Songs, Trailers
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Vizio E420VO 1080p 42” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System