Ga-rei: Zero Collection (Cert 12)
3 Discs (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 273 minutes approx.
With the country under attack from malevolent spirits the Japanese Ministry of Defence has sanctioned the creation of a special division, the Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division (SDCD), to ward off these supernatural interlopers. On one particular mission the progress of the squad is severely hampered when the corpses of dead military men come to life followed by fatal attacks on the SDCD crew by an invisible katana wielding being. Only one member survives the attacks, schoolgirl Kagura Tsuchimiya, because she recognises her assailant – her former partner and “adopted” sister Yomi Isayama.
You’ll have to forgive the glibness of the above summary as Ga-rei: Zero contains a plot and narrative that is not so straight forward that it lends itself to the précis treatment. This anime series bucks another trend by actually being prequel to the manga Ga-rei as opposed to a direct anime adaptation, therefore fans of the manga will be in for a huge shock when they watch the opening episodes of this series. But don’t worry if you’ve not read the ensuing manga because prior knowledge is not essential when watching this show.
The opening episodes are set in the present time and follow Kagura and her fellow SDCD members on a demon hunting mission when Yomi strikes. When then go back in time to explore the history of Kagura and Yomi, from their first meeting to what turned Yomi from friend to foe. Wrapped up in world of secret organisations and spiritual possession, this is more of a tale of demon hunting and bloody supernatural battles, taking time to explore the relationship of the two female protagonists in depth, creating two well rounded and fully fleshed out characters for the viewer to invest in which makes a change (even if they do wear nothing but school uniforms).
The shy Kagura was left in the care of the Isayama family after her mother was killed by a mysterious grey haired child and her father contained the powerful Byakuei spirit within his own body to protect his daughter. An only child, Yomi always wanted a younger sister and she got one in Kagura, with a string bond forming between the two very quickly. Unable to keep her SDCD activities a secret from Kagura, Yomi takes Kagura along on a mission with her, noticing that she has a latent power within her. However traditional family issues threaten to break up the harmony as Yomi is betrothed to Noriyuki Izuna, with the control and fortunes of the Isayama family going to Yomi. A dissenting voice appears in the form of Yomi’s uncle Yuu Isayama, who objects to an adopted child getting the family fortune and that his own daughter Mei, a legit blood Isayama should get the inheritance.
The tagline to sell this show asks “Can you kill someone you love because of love?” and that is exactly what director Ei Aoki explores here, and amazingly pulls it off with just twelve episodes at his disposal. With a lot of plot elements in place which will be familiar to anime or Japanese culture fans, the blending of these various facts is practically seamless, handled with a deft hand and keen sense of pacing. Nothing is rushed and all key plot points are largely covered in depth, although some of the secondary characters aren’t as quite well developed as the two leads are – in particular the grey haired child who appears to be the main antagonist, interfering with everyone and everything courtesy of his mystical bane stones.
Interspersed amid the drama are the action scenes involving the SDCD and their clashes against their supernatural enemies. The animation is fluid and the action is fast paced and precise in it execution, with plenty of blood and severed limbs to satiate the gore hounds watching. Unfortunately some of the demons are CGI rendered which provides an uncomfortably ugly image clash against the rest of the 2D artwork but their appearances are mostly fleeting. Aoki even finds time to through some levity into the proceedings, reminding us that our two leads are young girls with young girls’ issues and hang ups. Most of the humour however comes via the eccentric weapons maker Michael, arguably the most incongruous member of the cast, being as he is an excitable, tall, well built grey haired afro sporting guy who wears nothing but a Japanese thong.
Ga-rei: Zero is a unique series in that it delivers more than it promises on a premise that seems to offer little. Beneath the initial façade of demon slaying schoolgirls is a densely plotted and emotionally rich tale of two young girls bound together by fate and separated by evil. The ending might seem a left a little too open for some tastes but bearing in mind this is a prequel to the manga it works well enough within that context without leaving the anime viewers frustrated or feeling as though they are missing out. In an interesting twist for anime, the extras for this title are all compiled onto a separate disc, a’la most feature film releases, making this at least value for money purchase.
A hugely enjoyable and easy show to become immersed in, Ga-rei: Zero is a show that demonstrates that sticking to the conventions of one genre while having fun with another can make for a satisfying viewing experience.
Japanese 5.1 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 3 Only:
Location Specials 1-6
Series Premiere/First Episode Promo Videos
DVD Promo Videos
Textless Opening Song
Textless Closing Song
Ratings – *** ½
Man In Black