The Japanese Ministry of Defense has an anti-paranormal squadron charged with keeping "the disease of death" at bay by slaying supernatural monsters. But in a single night, because of a massive uptick in the number of those monsters and politicking within the Japanese government, everything goes wrong.
(Just an additional warning: it is impossible to review this show without spoiling at least the first episode. I've written before about shows that it's best to just go into blind, and that goes doubly so for Ga Rei Zero. So let me say this: if you trust me at all, then don't read the review. Just watch the show. Don't even move onto the next sentence. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.)
Some good series are really easy to overlook. When the new season airs and anime fans start browsing through the lists of new shows, making snap judgment on what's going to be worth watching is par the course. And while you were taught as a kid to never a judge a book by its cover, in anime, that's actually a pretty good idea. If it looks like crap, it almost always is. But more information is easily at your fingertips: you can read the synopsis to see how groan worthy the concept is. You can look up the staff on ANN to see if its being handled by a director or a studio you like. You can watch the first episode of nearly every new series after it airs by digital source or legal streaming. And there are a plethora of blogs and posts on message boards and social networking sites with fans all offering their impressions for the new season. But even with all this scrutiny, sometimes, something good will slip through the cracks.
Ga-Rei Zero is one of those series. The synopsis is unexciting. The character designs don't stand out. The staff is unimpressive- the director's last project was Girls Bravo. And it's based on another shounen adventure title about some guy fighting evil spirits with the help of a Mysterious Stranger. And the first episode would only confirm a fan's fears; look, there's the giant evil spirits, and there's our very stereotypical shounen heroic team. Look, they're here to save the day. Twenty minutes into it, and you're fighting sleep.
Then everyone dies. The entire team of heroic stereotypes you thought were the main characters all end up getting a bloody, bloody death. It turns out this anime isn't even about them- the whole first episode, in fact, is a cruel joke, and a big middle finger to those formulaic characters. This anime is about their killer: a woman named Yomi who was betrayed by her closest friends, and has come back from the near-dead hellbent on exacting bloody revenge. This anime is about what lead up to that night, and it's especially about Yomi's love for Kagura, a young girl her family took in and adopted as her sister.
Ga Rei Zero may start out looking shallow, but around episode three it becomes clear that this is a show that goes for pathos first, then excitement. Since the first two episodes are chronologically the end of the series, we flash back to several years ago. By day, Yomi Isayama is your average high school student, but by night, she is a promising member in the Paranormal Disaster Countermeasure Headquarters. Yomi comes from a long line of guardians who protect Japan from evil spirits, and commands both a sword and giant spirit monster as her birthright. There are a lot of these families within Tokyo, and one of them has just turned over their heir to the care of the Isayamas. Kagura Tsuchimiya also comes from an ancient line of guardians, but she hasn't inherited her beast or her sword yet. Her cold, brooding father has decided that she needs extra training, and sends her to Isayamas while he watches over his district. Kagura and Yomi become very close friends, and work together with a team of crackpot guardians under the supervision of the government to protect Tokyo.
But soon politics, both within the corrupt Japanese government and among the Isayama family, start meddling with their happiness. The Isayama family has a secret- even though Yomi is a very talented guardian, she doesn't have a drop of Isayama blood in her. When Yomi's uncle finds out about this, he begins to pressure her father to disinherit her in favor of her niece. This niece Mei is too cool and polite to admit it out loud, but she is consumed with jealousy and spite for her adopted cousin. It quickly becomes clear that Isayama family's peace is built on a fragile house of cards. All it will take is a little manipulation to knock over two of Japan's ancient families and the government they serve. And a malevolent, power hungry spirit named Kazuhiro is more than happy to do just that.
As the anime speeds towards its climax, the suspense builds and builds until everything explodes. Despite its generic setting and villains, this ends up being a terrific series. And really, explaining is one thing, but watching it unfold is something else entirely. It seems that everything that could go wrong, does, and even though the good guys win in the end, they do so at great cost. The cure they concoct is worse than the disease. This is a fairly nihilistic series, and the only thing that keeps it from being depressing is Kagura and Yomi's sweet, persistent love for each other. It's also what makes it so affecting.
Color me very surprised- what could have been a disaster turns out to be a sober, affecting drama. Best turnaround since Gungrave. Must see for fans of action series. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Some fanservice, language, and lots of gore means this is for older teenagers and up.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license digital source
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Ga-rei: Zero © 2008 asread / AIC Spirits
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