What They Say:
After the terrorist incident of October 10, the sky has been turned into a psychedelic mirror, sadly reflecting a civilization only a shadow of its former self. As the world struggles to rebuild, two powerful forces wage a secret and terrifying war. Trying to restore the world to its former state is Orga, a tiny group of mutants with amazing psychic powers. Controlled by a wealthy and powerful widow known only as The Countess, they wait within her secret lair in the posh Hotel Providence for their enemy to stir, a dark cadre named Gilgamesh.A black leather-clad army of beautiful and mysterious beings, Gilgamesh bow only to their “master,” the brilliantly dangerous scientist who seeks to finish the terrorist attack he started years before. Caught between these warring factions are two runaways, a brother and sister who hold the key to destroying the world… or saving it.
The audio presentation for this series is a solid one overall as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo, encoded at 224kbps, while the English language adaptation is in 5.1 encoded at 448kbps. The show is heavily focused on dialogue and quiet moments, but the few scenes of action sequences work well through this upgrade. With it being such a dialogue-heavy show, both mixes do a great job with the forward soundstage but it does overall have a very full feeling. The dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in late 2003 and early 2004, Gilgamesh is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The original release was done across seven volumes while this one brings it down to just five volumes. This has turned the release into one where all the discs have five episodes except for the last which has six, which brings in some quality issues. The show is heavily mired in dark colors with lots of blacks and shades of gray. The last disc makes out the worst of all of them in terms of how the banding comes across as well as some general noise in most of the backgrounds. Some of it is intentional in how the show was animated, but it comes across rather strongly in several scenes. The show isn’t free from some of the other usual problems either such as cross coloration or aliasing. Edge rainbows show up in numerous scenes across the twenty-six episodes as well as a fair bit of aliasing during a lot of it. These are small but consistent detractors from the show which stand out all the more once you get a full-color scene and realize the disparity.
I have to admit that even with all the red that was used on the thinpak edition, I really liked that box set. That said, if not for this being a STACKpack, I would like this even more as it uses the wonderful gothic style imagery quite well. The front cover has a chilling character image as the central piece with the lead characters standing within him along the bottom, almost to the point where you don’t notice them on first pass. The dark greens and the soft whites really make this an eye-catching piece of artwork that had me looking at it a couple of times. The back cover has me confused though as they basically split it in half by having the top side upside down and containing the shots from the show and the production and technical information. The bottom side has more shots and the summary of the show itself. It makes sense admittedly because of the mirror aspect of the series, but if you didn’t know that when looking at the release, i.e. someone who hasn’t seen the show, you’d think this was a printing error or gross incompetence unfortunately. The case is a good sized thick piece with some foam on the inside to keep the discs in place as it’s the style with a hub that holds all five discs. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
Kept simple for obvious reasons, the menu design is nicely understated here as it provides a bit of scenery among all the reds and blacks that make up the overall background. Tied to each volume is a portion of the cover artwork for the various characters along with a bit of creepy instrumental music and sound effects. The navigation is kept even simpler with just a strip of episode numbers along the center and the option for the language selection submenu. The layout is obviously easy to navigate and we had no problems with how it worked. Out of the five discs, though, only one properly read our players’ language presets while the others defaulted to English language with sign/song subtitles.
Based on an original story by Shotaro Ishinomori and adapted by Sadayuki Murai, Gilgamesh is a fascinating if familiar journey into a world that’s going through hell before it can get back to where it once was. Ishinomori’s sense of style is adapted well to modern anime sensibilities as seen through shows like 009-1 and Skull Man which does wonders for removing my memories of the terrible Genma Wars series. Where Gilgamesh has its biggest hurdle is in what’s required here; the ability to really pay attention and work at following the series. Gilgamesh isn’t made for casual viewing but rather those intent on the details and the possibilities of what may be going on here.
The series has an expansive cast that grows throughout the entire run but it does play a few tricks along the way. Characters introduced early that appear to be key players turn out to be secondary in nature while other secondary characters turn out to be major in the overall scheme of things. Morose and filled with a somber sense of attitude, Gilgamesh plays out in a world where two very different groups of people live. Those that grew up before the cataclysmic event that set everything in motion and those afterwards. Like any generation gap, there is an uncertainty as to why the other side feels differently than they do, but it’s simply a matter of different experiences.
The setting for the story is a fascinating one as it delves into the history books by going after the legend of Gilgamesh, an ancient king who was thought to be half man and half god. The discovery of his tomb in the Middle East kicked off a massive project by an already well advanced society that was adept at cloning and more. The discoveries made within this now quasi-religious enclave of scientists furthered their research into new areas. One of those scientists was the young man who found the tomb, Terumichi Madoka. Considered a genius but one who dislikes academia for the way they tend to ignore the consequences, he stayed on after the massive project got underway in order to make sure certain things were adhered to.
His discovery that the project may actually hasten the end of the planet due to the materials that they were handling was surprisingly understood by the higher-ups and they agreed to close it within a year as the projects were stopped. But something went wrong during the start of this as Terumichi was discovered to be inside the power plant of the complex and caused it to explode. The resulting explosion caused a change in the planet’s atmosphere that created something new called the Sheltering Sky. The blue sky that humanity had always known is now nothing more than a reflective mirror. Light comes through in a diluted form and millions upon millions died as nothing with a computer worked anymore. The world is now a gray place where humanity is still surviving but nothing feels right anymore.
The event was dubbed Twin X due to it taking place on October 10th and it’s now been twelve or fifteen years later. Terumichi, who became known as Enkidu after his act, has left his family to face the consequences of his actions. His two children, Kiyoko and Tatsuya, are on the run after escaping from a debt that was owed by their mother and simply live on the streets trying to survive. They want nothing to do with their father or his legacy and only want to find their own happiness. A chance encounter with a group of young men inside an abandoned house however sets them on a different path as the men are actually servants of their father. The group uses the name of Gilgamesh to operate with and are intent on using the Sheltering Sky to push humanity from its broken state into a new form of evolution so that it doesn’t become a cancer on the universe.
Their goals are rather understated and mostly kept to themselves, but their tactics against the scientists trying to remove the Sheltering Sky has earned them plenty of enemies. There are several powerful people that are aligned against them, few working in tandem with each other, but none is more fascinating that the Countess. Formerly a scientist at who worked with Enkidu all those years ago, she suffered greatly in the tragedy of Twin X and was the only one to survive of her team, though it cost her several years of her life. Her marriage into a wealthy family before the event left her with a considerable fortune which she now uses to bring closure to those events.
Along the way she’s brought three youngsters into her household that each had different circumstances to their lives. Isamu, Fuko and Toru are part of what may be the evolution of humanity as they’re able to manipulate Dynamis, a power that allows them to use their minds to fly, shield themselves, attack and more. While other groups use various technical means and remnants from the Gilgamesh project to deal with Enkidu and his minions, the Countess is more intent on using these children to accomplish her goals. With the arrival ” or purchase ” of Kiyoko and Tatsuya into her household, events start to quicken and their presence brings a number of changes to the entire situation. All as the Sheltering Sky slowly begins to come down closer to the ground.
A series like Gilgamesh is so completely mired in the past and the present that the links and slow revelations are what lets it work so beautifully. It does require a lot of attention however as well as understanding that this isn’t a standard series in that it has a lot of action or filler moments. Everything has meaning here, even when it’s repeated again in a different fashion later on. It is something of a slow starter, particularly as it’s using very familiar concepts, but the progression of the events and the characters becomes so completely fascinating and engrossing that you can’t turn away. I lamented not watching this series during its original release with all the great reviews it was getting and the word of mouth about it but I also have to come to the conclusion that this works far better in watching it in a set form. We took in this series over the course of three days and it made far more of an impact that way.
The design of the series in its visual arena is one that is going to be a hard sell for the casual anime fan. It’s not slick, it’s not glossy and it’s very dark looking. Using the kind of character designs that Ishinomori is known for but adapted for the modern style slightly, they all have something of a hard edge to them with an old school bent. The stark color scheme has them awash in grays and blacks that adds to the overall somber atmosphere. This is a dark and dreary world made all the more so by the Sheltering Sky and the weariness is apparent on just about everyone. Those who are reaching for something more, such as Kazamatsuri, have some additional color to them which shows a different kind of vitality. The backgrounds and the overall design of the landscape fits in with the characters as well as much of the world is in ruin or empty due to the sheer amount of fatalities.
Adapted by Sadayuki Murai, his touch is evident throughout along with the others who participated. His work on such favorite projects of mine such as Kino’s Journey, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Cowboy Bebop is much apparent here. His sense of pacing and presentation fit in strongly with Ishinomori’s original story. There is a strong foreboding presence throughout this which is reminiscent of Requiem from the Darkness. There are also striking similarities to his Boogiepop Phantom work in how the layers are peeled back to reveal the truths hidden further down that are exposed in a jagged fashion. Each episode answers certain questions in different ways while revealing more of the real questions that need to be asked.
Gilgamesh is the exact reason I got into anime in the first place. With a dense storyline set in a familiar setting, intriguing character designs that avoid present day pitfalls and a real sense of mystery to all of it, the series requires an intense amount of attention but pays off in spades. There are no real obvious directions that it will go, there are moments that catch your breath and there are events that cause pangs of sadness for what the characters have to endure. This series is a real gem out there in a crowded sea of similar shows. This is the kind of series you hold up to people that say nothing good is made anymore and you beat them over the head with it until they watch it. This is simply great anime, one that I wish would get some renewed attention and a high definition release to see what can be brought out by it with a proper new encoding.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: May 12th, 2009
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.