Humanity bands together to defeat a common enemy of an alien invasion back in 1945. Now more than fifty years later, the enemy has taken over nearly the entire world and is settling in to conquer Japan…
What They Say:
In 1945, the alien invasion ended World War II and united humanity against a common enemy. Now, more than 50 years later and after countless deaths, a new group of teenagers has been drafted to train as pilots of the advanced combat mecha known as Humanoid Walking Tanks (HWTs).
For Atsushi Hayami and the rest of Unit 5121, the odds of living to see their twenties now depends on the hardened battle steel of their armor, the courage and strength of their comrades in arms, and the tactics of superior officers who see them as game pieces to be played against the Phantom Beasts. Friendships and love blossom against a battle-torn landscape, and every day is another desperate struggle to survive a seemingly endless war!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the previously created English language dub. Both of them are encoded at 224kbps and have a pretty decent design about them even if it is a bit more focused on dialogue than action. The series has a good stereo mix with some solid moments of directionality across the forward soundstage during the combat sequences. There are a number of moments where you can feel some of the oomph coming from this track. Dialogue came across clean and clear as well with no noticeable dropouts or distortions during regular playback
Originally airing in 2003, the twelve episodes for this TV series are presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. Animated by JC Staff, the twelve episodes are spread evenly across the three discs included with the set. The show has a pretty clean looking transfer even if it is one that tends to inhabit a darker and murkier world with its overall atmosphere. The bulk of the show feels somewhat dark and oppressive with lots of gray skies and burnt out ruins, so there are a lot of dull colors mixed throughout. These scenes look fantastic, which only makes the more normal world scenes stick out even more. When shifting between a battle scene and then one of a bright day of an ordinary Japan, the colors are strikingly vivid and strong. Cross coloration looks to be just about non-existent and aliasing was very minimal as well.
The packaging for this release brings us a three-disc set inside a standard-sized DVD keepcase. The front cover artwork is really nicely done with some mecha elements around the edges while the bulk of it is all about the character material. There’s a decent sized cast to it here and all of them in their white uniforms looks good here against the darker background and framing. The back cover works with some larger shots from the show to check out and a decent summary of the premise. The extras are clearly listed and we get a good breakdown of production credits and the accurate technical grid that covers how the set is put together. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release has some obscured mecha elements in the background that are up close but the bulk of each static menu is made up of the navigation itself. There’s likely something of a lack of artwork available here but the menu design is just a step or so away from not using any kind of design work and just slapping the navigation on there with nothing from the show. Everything is functional and quick and easy to use but it just doesn’t do much to set or inspire the mood.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. Sadly, this means we don’t get the production sketches from the previous license release nor the GPM THeme piece.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the game that also spawned a manga, Gunparade March is a twelve-episode anime series that arrived in the winter 2003 season. Animated by JC Staff, the series previously saw release in North America through Media Blasters, who dubbed it. The PS game in 2000 spawned a three-volume manga series in 2001 and a second TV series was produced in 2005 that ran twice as long – though that one never got picked up for release here. Revisiting this series is something that just felt a little odd over a decade after I last saw it because it stood out in terms of name and its approach, though in a hazy kind of way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Right from the opening, Gunparade March captured my attention. Starting with the premise of the world banding together to fight an alien invasion in 1945, we’re shown via a map how the aliens started in Europe and began their conquest there. The battle rages back and forth, but as time goes on the aliens continue to win and the slowly spread their grasp over the world. Called the Genjyu, they poison the area around them and things fall into ruin. Over the course of the next fifty years, we see through the map how they’ve spread all across the globe and moved in every direction. And now, in 1999, they’re set to make their move on one small island nation in the Pacific known as Japan.
It’s essentially Harry Turtledove anime up to this point, and that’s fun. Alternate histories that start back some period in time are almost always engaging to watch if they mess with enough things to twist them to suit their purpose. Gunparade March doesn’t seem to be an exception in this case. Though Japan has apparently been untouched throughout these years, the Genjyu are now making their way from the south up through the country. The Japanese seem rather prepared for this though and have an array of weapons to deal with it. The main weapon is the HWT unit, tall humanoid shaped mecha with human pilots that deal with the Genjyu head on. To defeat the Genjyu that attack, you have to eliminate the Brain creature that directs all the warrior drones.
The best way to destroy one of them is to plug a PBE missile right into its body and let it blow it straight up, an explosion that covers quite some distance and tends to turn towns into ruins. The military that’s dealing with these creatures isn’t typical though. Back in 1978, an order was signed that changed the draft age to 16 and ignores gender. During high school, prominent candidates are brought into special classes where they learn various aspects of defending their nation via the HWT missions; from pilots to technicians to strategists, the team lives together in its dorms and take on this dangerous career. If you don’t sign up, you end up having to take some vague twenty-year career that gets mentioned once or twice.
So once again, we have a show where a number of teenagers are trying to save the world. You get all the angst expected, the awkward potential romance, the male buddy camaraderie and a number of other stereotypical elements. The show feels a bit like part Blue Gender part high school drama. The group we get introduced to is the 5121 Force, which has its fun little cast of characters. From the klutzy girl who is a mechanic to the shy nervous girl who wants to take point in the missions but doesn’t have the skill for it. Add in the handsome playboy and the quiet male lead and you’ve got most of your basic crew. The reckless male character is interesting; it’s almost like they took Goku from Saiyuki and made him a pilot, complete with band-aid on the nose and requisite scars. Another interesting element is that there are some very young children involved as well, as they’re the catalysts for activating the PBE weapon and are required to be on the front lines as well.
5121 Force is set for some shake-ups though as they’re being moved forward in the game after the “accidental” destruction of a previous group. A survivor from that group is being transferred over with all her own mental baggage that will cause issues. Mai Shibamura fits the bill as the cold and calculating above average pilot who will eventually warm up once she gets to know everyone and will fall in love with the average pilot Atsushi. They have to both overcome certain obstacles themselves first, and then they can focus on that as the battles rage on. Mai also has the extra baggage in being the daughter of a billionaire and apparently a favored person in the country, as her father is the one who has worked on the many generations of designs for the HWT units that are helping to defend the country.
The character material is done in a way we see in a lot of shows and that’s through putting on a cultural festival. The group is set to put together a puppet play for Hansel and Gretel but with a bit of a twist. To try and get Mai and Atsushi to synch together better in their HWT training, the two of them are put to working together on the witch character for the performance. Mai operates the puppet from the strings at the top while Atsushi works her from the bottom and provides the voice. Surprisingly, this actually gets some results and the two aren’t quite as standoffish as before. There’s a lot of fun in general with the performance prior to the start of it as everyone gets their roles and deals with the problems behind it. But as seemingly only happens in TV shows and movies, as soon as the performance is about to start, the 5121 gets called up to duty and everyone heads off to battle.
While the episode opens in a light and almost airy way, once things settle into the battle and things go horrendously wrong, the shows dark and oppressive feeling, especially when combined with the instrumental score tied to these scenes, just feel heavy. Watching as Atsushi helps deal with a wounded comrade and tries to save her from the poisons in the air that are infecting her system isn’t easy to watch. Trying to get her rescued and evacuated becomes complicated as there are Genjyu all over the place and flying around up in the air over the zone as well making it hard to get a helicopter right into the scene. In the end, these scenes show off beautifully what a soldier, regardless of age, will do when one of their own is injured in battle and needs help.
The fallout from that battle has everyone dealing with it in different ways, some throwing themselves into work and others just going on as if nothing had happened. Before things can get better though, it gets far worse as during one battle things went so badly once again that Mia and Atsushi are sitting in a knocked down HWT while the rest of the team was withdrawn due to a strange situation. The PBE had killed the brain but apparently there’s either another one there or it isn’t quite as dead as they had hoped. The team is forced to abandon their teammates as the instructions from on high come down to their level as the situation is so new and unsettling that it needs to be investigated.
While that does play out, the really engaging scenes are the ones where we follow what Mia and Atsushi have to deal with. Since the two of them are downed in an area close to where the Brain was, the air is so completely poisonous that their gear will only allow them to survive for a few hours. Mia’s assessment of the situation puts her right in the end-game mentality and she almost gives up right from the start, even as Atsushi is treating her mild wounds and giving her some medication. But he’s a tricky guy and ends up giving her something that knocks her out completely, which allows him to put her on his back so he can travel across the terrain to somewhere that’s hopefully safer.
Their trip is very revealing of what’s gone on in the world since the Genjyu came about. Watching Atsushi carry her through the rotting trees and the falling snow with its eerie quietness outside of the crunching of his boots is just chilling. And when the Genjyu do arrive and his internal chanting seems to stop them cold in their path, there starts to be more to what’s going on than was given earlier. A lot more is revealed later when the two make it inside a portion of the dam control buildings and they talk about some of the tall tales of the past, such as a group of monks who escaped out of a Genjyu filled valley because they were able to remove all fear from their hearts, something that Atsushi seemingly did. The panic and fear in Mia’s mind and heart continues to attract the Genjyu to where they are though, so things aren’t looking good.
All of this is tied into the Christmas holiday so there’s plenty of things going on with the rest of the cast as they can only think of their comrades being dead, going by the numbers at least. The show also takes a sizeable leap forward to the springtime season and tries to alleviate all the heavy material that we just went through for three episodes by doing something of a romantic comedy episode as a new freshman in the school has set her sites on one of the pilots, much to his chagrin. It’s a cute and amusing little filler episode, but the thing that kept bothering me was just how often and how easily this freshman was able to get into what you would expect to be highly sensitive or restricted areas. Hooray for plot holes!
Over the course of the twelve episodes for Gunparade March, we get to work through a range of themes and had the standard mix of genres. We’ve got the military oriented show, we’ve got the school themed show and we’ve got the romance themed show. All of them have been blended together so that the story that’s based around a video game can be told. At times, it’s been awkward to tell what the real story is and which one should be the in the forefront, but it becomes clear when the last four episodes focus the bulk of its energy on the romance theme.
Before they get to the meat of the finale though, there’s an interesting flashback tale of sorts that shows several of the characters and how they first made their way into the 5121 group mixed with how they are in present day. This allows for a recap of sorts of the cast (but not the story thankfully – recap episodes in a 13 episode or less series should not be allowed and the directors beaten with a wet noodle) and some of their struggles in dealing with joining up. Of particular interest was just how unlucky Tanabe is when the train she’s on ends up in an accident on the way to her first day at work there. The accident itself is enough of a problem but while on the phone to her boss telling her what happened, a gas leak explosion occurs and tosses her into the hospital for another two months. Thankfully she doesn’t seem to have had quite as bad of luck in the time we’ve seen her in the series, but it really shows some of her character in a good light this way since she continues to try and try.
Once that’s out of the way and you get a better feel for the supporting cast, everything shifts to the few weeks before the end of the year and the end of the millennium (hah, 2001. Gotta love that). The focus shifts towards the potential romantic feelings between Mai and Hayami and how everyone else around them knows what’s going on but can’t figure out why those two can’t get it together. Mai and Hayami’s scores in their tandem piloting training continues to go down and down, mostly due to their inability to work together while these issues are going on, and that only serves to make the situation even worse as it goes along. Add in the nosiness of their friends and co-workers and some of the gossip that gets started and it gets close to a boiling point.
As they move into the Christmas holiday and the end of the year itself, a plan is devised where they’ll send the two out into the city to get goods and items for a Christmas party but instead work things so that they end up going on a date with each other without realizing it. It’s a comical piece in a lot of places and it plays out much as you suspect for the bulk of it. But as it gets closer to the end of the episode, there are some very solid and great moments of honesty coming from Mai that almost seems to shame everyone who is listening in about what they were doing. It’s a mix of aggravation about Hayami’s own lack of confidence about the situation as well, but with the way Mai really speaks so tightly yet clearly about herself, it’s easy to see why he shirks away.
There’s a few other bits that get sprinkled through the last episodes with the relationships of other characters and Mai’s own potential for being recruited into another division, but the real focus is heavily on her relationship with Hayami. His lack of experience and knowledge with women on just about any level comes into play often and the manipulations of others on the team only serve to aggravate things even more. But when you come right down to it, there’s obviously only two ways that it’ll go. Depending on how much you like the characters, if you were able to really identify with them over the course of the uneven episodes prior to this volume, then you’ll like how this plays out. The two leads keep very much to character throughout this part of their relationship and it was good to see neither of them really going too far out of their norms.
Gunparade March isn’t a series that comes high to mind when I think of something that should get a rescue and introduced to a current audience in a big way, though it has its merits. The series is one that has me hopeful that the sequel was picked up as well. What we get here is decent but it doesn’t feel like the final act brings things together well since it becomes more character focused, in some less than interesting ways, and leaves so much unexplored. With the Genjyu and much of the military and school subplots being pushed to the side at the end here, it’s almost felt like each disc of four episodes has been a different series. There are things I liked about it overall, but the ending felt like it just didn’t use the tools given to the characters earlier in the show and kept resetting the relationship button instead.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: C-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: September 18th, 2018
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.