Ga-Rei-Zero Anime Review
喰霊-零- (がれい ぜろ)
Ga Rei Zero
Spirit Eater: Zero
US Release By
12 24-minute episodes
2008-10-05 - 2008-12-21
The Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division of Japan's Ministry of Environment is dedicated to fighting the supernatural. Kagura Tsuchimiya, the daughter of a powerful exorcist, is placed in the care of the Isayama family. She meets Yomi, an adoptive daughter of the family, who she comes to regard as a sister. Both prove to be excellent assets to the SDCD, however, a mysterious young boy with while hair lurks ominously in the background, manipulating people in ways that will change Kagura and Yomi forever.
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The concept of Ga-Rei-Zero may sound generic, but it's a show that proves you don't have to reinvent the wheel to make something interesting. The supernatural action is fun, if standard, but it's the main characters and their relationship that drive the show. Tight off with a bloody twist, and challenges its two likable but human protagonists to make difficult choices, using them to explore themes of morality and guilt, building to a powerful final act. The quality Japanese acting backs this up, and the soundtrack is also good. It's pleasing to look at, but unfortunately most of the computer-animated creatures aren't integrated well with the attractive hand-drawn art.
Ga-Rei-Zero is a well-crafted series that serves as a lead-in to its manga without feeling overly compromised or limited. It has all the trappings of a standard action show but does more by challenging its characters and following through on the serious consequences of their actions--highly recommended.
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So, stop me if you've heard this one before. Two cute high-school-aged girls are both part of lineages that are bound to fight the supernatural. One is new to the fray so it's up to the other to make her feel welcome, thus forming a close bond of friendship that will be put to the test. I can make Ga-Rei-Zero sound boring and forgettable, but in actuality it reminded me that you don't need to re-invent the wheel to turn out a worthwhile viewing experience.
Any show that has the stones to introduce and violently kill off an entire cast of characters in the first episode has got my attention.1 Ga-Rei-Zero is bloody, and if you're like me you'll find the action cool to watch, but it's the main characters and their relationship that truly drive the show. The first two episodes take place near the end of the story before flashing back, so there's an inevitability to how it will play out, yet the the characters are so likable that I still wanted to believe everything would turn out okay.
When Kagura is first introduced, she is shy, introverted, and very dedicated to her training. Yomi Isayama can only teach her so much when it comes to swordplay, but her ability to coax Kagura out of her shell has a far more profound effect. Zero does an effective job developing the relationship between Kagura and Yomi and portraying the strong friendship they share. The middle of the show's run also features Kagura coming into her own as a member of the SDCD before another character is forced to make a choice that has far-reaching ramifications.
While the supernatural fighting angle of Ga-Rei-Zero is standard enough, the show holds its characters to a higher-than-normal standard. By allowing its protagonists to make questionable choices, Ga-Rei-Zero brings a layer of challenging humanity that doesn't always come through in animation. I wish the show could have been a little longer to further explore its themes of morality and guilt, but the series nonetheless delivers a powerful final act and climax.
Kagura and Yomi are the series' main focus, but there are still good supporting characters to round things out. I personally found Noriyuki and his relationship with Yomi to be the most engaging. Iwahata has at least one trait you wouldn't expect, and Ga-Rei-Zero thankfully uses it for comic relief sparingly. Nabu and Nabu don't have much to say but are memorable for their unusual look and performance by Norio Wakamoto (is there anything that man can't make sound interesting?).
Ga-Rei-Zero is a pleasing show to look at. However, the higher-level creatures the characters fight are computer-animated and don't mesh particularly well with the traditional animation. The creatures don't feel as menacing as they should due to how awkward their presence is. Moving past that, the show features attractive character designs, well-detailed backgrounds and cool special effects. The artwork remains respectably consistent throughout the 12 episode run and the action sequences involving swordplay and spirit beasts are exciting to watch. I also have to commend the quality of the editing in Ga-Rei-Zero. The opening in particular is well-integrated with the beginning scene of each episode and the fight choreography is fluid and easy to follow. The final episodes manage to fill in certain scenes that were cut short during the first two episodes in a way that makes the viewer forget they're watching some of the same footage again.
I can only speak for the Japanese version at this time, which is well acted all around. I liked the camaraderie between Kagura and Yomi, with Kaoru Mizuhara handling the changes in her character quite well. I also liked Shinya Takahashi as Noriyuki. His character has a rough time of things later on and Takahashi handles the dramatic acting well without going over the top. Minoru Shiraishi's Kazuki manages to be funny as the comic relief while still coming across as capable when the show requires it. As previously mentioned, the opening theme is enjoyable and there's a lot of good background music throughout. I also came to appreciate the subtle ending theme. The song sounds standard enough, but paying attention to the lyrics reveals additional foreshadowing and insight into an important character.
Ga-Rei-Zero ended up being a nice surprise. It's a well-crafted series that serves as a lead-in to its manga without feeling overly compromised or limited. It has all the trappings of a standard action show but does more by challenging its characters and following through on the serious consequences of their actions. The more I think back on it the more I realize just how well-executed Ga-Rei-Zero is. I can't think of any good reason not to highly recommend it.
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Persona: Trinity Soul is a series that takes a generic action-show framework and goes a step farther even than Ga-Rei-Zero in making it into something dark and character-driven. Boogiepop Phantom does something similar with more non-linearity and even less action. Blue Seed is a classic supernatural action-drama with a bit more upbeat story.
Notes and Trivia
Ga-Rei-Zero is the prequel to a 12-volume manga series, Enchained Spiritual Beast Ga-Rei (aka just "Ga-Rei"), by Hajime Segawa. The manga is not available officially in English as of this writing.
Language notes on the title and its romanization: The original title uses characters meaning "eat" (喰) and "ghost" (霊), although the character for eat is not usually read as "Ga." Similarly, the anime adaptation's third character (零) means "zero," but it's again supposed to be read as if it were the English word, not with the traditional Japanese pronunciation. As for romanization, the covers of the original manga include the romanization "Ga-Rei" (with the hyphen), and while the anime is most logically Romanized as "Ga-Rei: Zero," the US release uses two hyphens instead ("Ga-Rei-Zero").
Footnote 1: When Ga-Rei-Zero was announced, it was stated that it would it would be largely unrelated to the Ga-Rei manga, taking place in the same setting but with a new cast of characters. Viewers must have been mighty confused when that cast was slaughtered at the end of the first episode. It was then revealed during a radio interview with the main cast that Zero is actually a prequel showing the events that lead up to the start of the manga. On a personal note, I wholly approve of this kind of approach. Fixed-length anime series can be severely hindered by trying to follow a manga that is still ongoing. Putting in the effort to make both the manga and anime feel worthwhile gets a big thumbs up from me.
US DVD Review
FUNimation's trying something new by releasing titles as DVD/Blu-ray combo packs, like many Hollywood studios are doing. What strikes me as weird is Ga-Rei-Zero is a standard definition production, and is thus upscaled to 1080p from standard-def on the Blu-ray version, making it an add choice for a combo pack. Anyone who decides to compare the BD and DVDs without knowing how wacky anime resolutions can be may be disappointed. That said, the video on the Blu-ray looks good for an up-convert and the lack of MPEG-2 compression artifacts is always welcome. Unfortunately, direct comparisons to the Japanese Blu-ray have shown FUNimation's upscale is slightly sharpened from the original source, but thankfully not to the point that the look of the show is fundamentally altered. The 2.0 Japanese and 5.1 English audio tracks, both encoded as Dolby TrueHD, sound good, and there's an above-average offering of extras, namely a multi-part video series featuring the show's staff scouting various locations along with promotional materials like trailers and TV spots.
In a bit of a blast from the past you can buy the complete series in one of two versions: a regular edition with normal packaging or a limited edition that houses the series in a sturdy artbox for a few extra dollars. The collection contains five discs total: three DVDs and two BDs.
Pretty violent by most standards so the TV-MA label FUNimation gave the show is probably appropriate, though I'd lean more towards 16+.
Violence: 4 - Lots of blood is spilled and various limbs are cut off.
Nudity: 3 - A couple bath scenes with Kagura and Yomi, one of which is, briefly, full-frontal.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - There's a romantic relationship but it doesn't go much further than a few interrupted kisses.
Language: 1 - Not much of note in the subtitles.
Available in North America from Funimation on a single bilingual box set including both DVD and upscaled standard-def Blu-ray versions; the series is available both as-is and in a Limited Edition artbox for a little extra.