What They Say:
In Gasaraki, the flames of war are fanned in the Middle East, as two secretive forces unleash their latest weapons of mass destruction. But in a world where giant robots are real, the most dangerous weapon of all lies buried within a human mind. Yushiro, the fourth son of the mysterious and powerful Gowa family, finds himself at the center of events that may change the future of mankind forever!
Gasaraki contains all 25 episodes.
Both Japanese and English audio are available in Dolby Digital 2.0ch 48kHz 192Kbps. Audio has some unique purposes in this series. Often, dialog matters more than visuals as characters engage in conversations that both develop the plot and establish their motives. Many of these have quiet backgrounds and almost monotonous, subdued speech. While the Japanese audio remained clear throughout, I switched to the English audio after binge watching the first five episodes because after listening to several scenes like those, my mind began to wander. The English audio offers good voice acting for most scenes, although there will be more than one awkward moment where a character’s voice does not match the tone of the scene.
When the action sequences begin, the sound effects become important, and the effects chosen have been utilized in the best possible way to match the sound to the DD 2.0 track. Both vehicle propulsion and weapons offer visceral sounds that greatly enhance the viewing experience.
Originally broadcast in the late 1990s, the video is 4:3. Most of the noise seemed to be from the original cells, but the large number of straight lines in this anime cause some aliasing and digital noise. Ironically, the scenes that mirror news broadcast on CRT screens have the most problematic issues as they cause some noise, but also it creates a wave effect when panning occurs. Otherwise, the video looks very good for a property of this age. Colors are strong, and scenes generally appear very clear with crisp lines and not distracting noise. This will vary depending on the upconverting ability of each person’s player.
The set comes in a standard size keepcase with a hinged leaf. Discs 1 and 2 fit on hubs in the front cover. Discs 3 and 4 fit on the leaf. Both the front cover and leaf offer tiered hubs so one disc safely overlaps the other. Disc 5 fits on a hub in the rear cover. Each disc is printed with images used in marketing the anime.
Yushiro, Miharu, and one of the Kugai are on the front cover. The same image is reused with the pilots on Disc 1 and the Kugai on Disc 5. The spine has the title in the logo font. The other font has a reserved quality that takes up much less visual space, making the title stand out. The back has the summary text in black font on a white field with images from the series in small pictures on the left with a large TA on the right side. The credits, copyright, and technical grid have high contrast and are easy to read.
The main menu has buttons for: “Play All,” “Setup,” “Episodes,” and “Trailers” or “Bonus.” Images on the menu are the same as printed on the discs. If “Episodes” is selected, the menu offers “Opening,” “Part A,” “Part B,” “Closing,” and “Next Time.” Episode numbers are on the next line down. Selections must be highlighted using the left and right buttons on a remote.
Each disc has trailers, but Disc 5 also has a Behind the Scenes segment where original character designs are shown, and another selection of Early Concept Art shows how far the show evolved from the concept. They also contain clean openings and closings.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When first sitting down to watch Gasaraki, the things I noticed were homages to images from the media coverage of the first Gulf War. Tracers fly over a cityscape as the reporter talks about the violence in the night. A group of soldiers surrender to a robot, like the soldiers who surrendered to a drone in the real war. Even the military leader briefing the media seemed to be lifted directly from a Desert Storm press conference.
Gasaraki tries to create a realistic world for its sci-fi story. The United States seems to be at war with a fictional Middle East country, Belgistan. This military action lays the groundwork for the Japanese to deploy a unit wearing experimental Tactical Armor that has been developed by the Gowa family’s corporation. One of the Gowa, Yushiro, acts a top TA pilot due to his body’s unique ability to be pushed further than other pilots. Yushiro also has the ability to perform a Noh dance that calls forth a supernatural power that may be the legendary Gasaraki. The main story begins during this dance. Yushiro goes into a trance and makes contact with a woman who begins to fight with him while warning him not to bring the terror. Yushiro pops out of the trance and calls off the ritual, sending the power away. We understand that the Gowa wanted him to continue and wonder why he came out of his trance.
The Gowa family operates almost blindly in their ambition, regardless of the outcome. They stage experiments in their TAs even when pilots are being harmed. Whether ruthless attempts to generate data or using the police to lock down a city, they operate outside the law for their own goals. Their family history becomes an excuse by some family members, but others have a different understanding of their relationship to the populace and to the supernatural history that has defined their role throughout the history of Japan.
The last major plot line begins with the introduction of Kei Nishida, a right wing conservative who wants to regain Japan’s heritage by creating a tyrant state that gets rid of opportunism and greed in the population. He uses his katana as a metaphor for his political philosophy. He has gone so far as to draw it across his eyes, blinding himself to the corruption of the Japanese people. It seems to be his stated goal to remove the incentives for people to be greedy, thereby ridding the ghettos of illegal immigrants and the corrupt Japanese. To do this will require overthrowing the government.
Japan has social problems created by an influx of Chinese immigrants who form slums and shanty towns, destroying large parts of the Japanese culture. We learn that neighborhoods fight gang wars to protect their xenophobic turf. Much like current politics, the call for immigration control offers politicians a rhetorical approach to gain support and power outside of the body politic.
Yushiro works for the family and utilizes his natural abilities to pilot the TA. While doing his job, he quietly questions who he really is. He meets Miharu, a female pilot with his abilities first in the Noh trance then again on the battlefield in Belgistan. They meet up in Japan and find lost memories that show them they are Kai, pilots of Kugai, ancient equivalents of TAs.They learn how they helped destroy the ancient emperor’s city, and what they rejected their roles as Kai who blindly followed orders.
There seem to be several threads that wind through 25 episodes, and none fully define Gasaraki. Criticisms of Japanese and U.S. military policies, world food markets, illegal immigrants, corporations that operate above the law, and questions of honor versus capitalism give the series a spine that viewers can identify in their own life experiences. A supernatural mystery winds its way through the series following the main characters but not fully developing until the final episode. Fans of mecha anime have some episodes that will satisfy them, but the series operates more as a sounding board for economic and social philosophies to be debated in quiet scenes where characters converse. These philosophies will be tested in other scenes where actions take the place of words.
While geared to please literary sci-fi fans, Gasaraki offers thought provoking concepts for viewers who question the role of the government and private sector in creating and deploying a nation’s reality. This series offers a unique relevance during this election year.
Japanese and English DD 2.0, optional English subtitles,
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: May 3rd, 2016
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Samsung 40” LCD 1080P HDTV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.