A supernatural horror that is uneven at times, but otherwise fantastic
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 viewing, I took in the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English dub. The Japanese track is also offered in Dolby TrueHD, though only in 2.0. The dialogue stayed along the center channel, but there was some nice left/right and front/back directionality in the sound effects, which helped a lot during the fighting scenes. The DVDs have similar mixes, though those are standard surround and stereo mixes, rather than Dolby TrueHD.
Visually, this is a fairly impressive anime. Unfortunately, the BluRay discs have a remastering of the SD transfer rather than a true HD transfer, so it isn’t as sharp as it could be. But there is still a decent different in the quality between it and the DVDs. It isn’t just an upconversion; some effort did go into cleaning the transfer up as well. Aside from that, this anime has some really nice visuals, particularly with the demons and spirits. I especially liked the look and feel of the bright blue butterflies that would be present at times in some otherwise really dark scenes. The contrast showed up really well.
The five discs for this release (2 BD and 3 DVD) are all housed in a single size BluRay case. There are two inserts on the inside for four of the discs. The cover is reversible, with Kagura and Byakuei on one side and Yomi and Nue on the reverse. The back has the standard series summary with some screen shots and technical details. All-in-all, it is a very compact package for a five disc set, and I can really appreciate that.
The main menu for the BD has a series of scenes from various episodes that play in the background on a loop while a quiet, dramatic song plays. The selections are offered along the bottom on a white stripe that stands out well from the scenery behind. As with most BD releases, there’s no transitions between menus, as selecting a new menu will just bring that up along the same white bar which gets bigger or smaller as needed. The DVD menu is more basic, offering just a static image rather than the animated scenes.
There are quite a few extras available on this set (by themselves on disc 3 of the DVD, and with the last few episodes on disc 2 of the BD). The major portion of the extras is a six-part Location Special, each about 20-25 minutes filled with footage of the cast and staff visiting various places in their research for the anime. I love these sorts of things because it is neat to see a) how much detail is often put into set design and b) I like to see the reality behind the animation. Aside from that, we have quite a few trailers, the series premier, and clean versions of the OP/ED. All extras are available both on the BD and the DVD.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I first saw Ga-Rei-Zero right after its initial release in 2011, and I really enjoyed it. I haven’t read any of the Ga-Rei manga it is based on, but I still found myself getting into the story that is essentially setup/prequel for the manga’s story. On a second viewing, I still really enjoyed it, but I did find it more uneven this time around than last.
All her life, Kagura has been raised in the family business: demon hunting. Her father is a legendary hunter who has control of the spirit beast Byakuei, and Kagura is destined to follow in his footsteps. Her own skill with a sword is nothing short of spectacular. But suddenly, everything is going wrong: demons are attacking at an alarming rate and behind it appears to be Yomi, Kagura’s best friend and the girl she has looked up to as her big sister. The question now is why has Yomi, a former demon hunter herself, turned on everything she has always held dear, and whether Kagura has it in her to kill Yomi.
Ga-Rei-Zero is an anime that has a really interesting story structure: the first couple of episodes start us out in the present, and then we spend the next six or so in what is essentially an extended flashback so that we can fully understand everything that is happening in the present and finally see how it is to play out. But what makes it so interesting is that the first episode has quite the twist in it, as we are introduced to an entire team of hunters and spend the episode with them, learning how they are essentially the best in the world, only to see them slaughtered at the end of the episode by Yomi. We don’t even meet Kagura and her team until the second episode. It’s a really well done swerve thrown at us; even though this is my second time through Ga-Rei-Zero, I was still sucked in by their story and found myself angry all over again when Yomi cut them up into little pieces. To that I say, Well Played.
The other thing this series really does a good job of doing is creating sympathy for Yomi. From the moment she first shows up in the first episode, she is straight out evil, and a person that we understand must be stopped because she is so powerful. Nothing she does over the next couple episodes disabuses us of that notion. By the time we head into the flashback, I’m ready for blood. But that’s the funny thing about flashbacks, once they start explaining things, it gives us a different perspective, and by the time we are caught back up to the present, I no longer want to see Kagura shut that bitch up, but rather want to see Kagura end Yomi’s suffering. It’s really some terrific storytelling.
And for me, it’s really Yomi that carries this title. Kagura is the protagonist, but this is really Yomi’s story. Sure, Kagura has her own character arc that she must go through to go from the meek individual she starts out as to the mighty hunter she becomes, but it is Yomi’s arc that pushes her to those heights, and it is Yomi that faces the most tragedy and danger. As I said, the fact that they are able to take a character that I loathe in the first three episodes and turn her into a person that I sympathize with and pity just a few episodes later is great storytelling.
But that doesn’t mean that Ga-Rei-Zero is all roses. I know this isn’t uncommon for anime, but I was really bothered by the semi-frequent switching of gears. For the most part, Ga-Rei-Zero is a dark, supernatural thriller, and the story is not a particularly happy one, so do we really need to waste an episode with Kagura using wacky high school rom-com hijinks to try and get Yomi and her arranged fiancée Noriyuki to like her? And did the rest of the agency really need to get in on the act? I’m not saying there wasn’t some humor in that episode, but it was the complete opposite of the feel of the rest of the series. I know they were trying to humanize Yomi, as well as build up the relationship of Kagura and Yomi, but it came off as filler, and there were quite a few other scenes I felt the same way about. When a series is only 12 episodes long, there really shouldn’t be filler.
Ga-Rei-Zero was a series that I loved when I first watched it a couple years ago and mostly held up on a re-viewing. While I felt that some of the storytelling was a little more uneven this time through, overall the story is really well thought out and presented. Yomi is fantastic as a sympathetic antagonist and Kagura is her perfect foil. It’s dark and tragic, but there are enough light moments that it’s not depressing; add in a fair amount of great action and there’s just a lot to like going on. Recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Location Special Parts 1-6, Series Premiere/First Episode Promo Videos, DVD Promo Videos, Textless Songs, Trailers.
Release Date:October 16, 2012
Running Time:300 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16×9 Widescreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System