Generator Gawl Anime Review
US Release By
Light Sci-fi Mystery Action
12 25-minute episodes
1998-10-06 - 1998-12-22
In the near future, in a quiet college town constructed as an experimental educational institution for the best and brightest, three young men appear from the future--two intelligent ones and a rather unruly fellow named Gawl. They don't seem to be much more than new students, but the three of them aren't really there for an education--their mission is far more important than anyone in the world could know. But one classmate, the daughter of their landlady, is determined to find out what those three suspicious and studly fellows are up to!
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Generator Gawl has retread sci-fi action written all over the premise, but the series is solidly produced and the tale strikes a good balance of light banter, humorous attempts by the heroes at fitting in with normal folk, darker drama, and plot meted out as implications and hints. It starts strong and carries through smoothly, managing to be enjoyable, dramatic, and engaging from start to finish both as a mystery and a nice-looking action show.
It's not terribly deep, and not wildly original, but it is creative and solid enough that it's worth a shot for anybody who enjoys a relatively light drama/action sci-fi yarn.
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Generator Gawl isn't terribly original in its shounen action premise--superpowered, time traveling high school students--but the series is solidly produced and the tale a well-told blend of mystery, sci-fi, and action seasoned liberally with humor. It adds up to an exciting little action-mystery in the grand old anime tradition.
The main thing that differentiates Generator Gawl from similar adolescent action series is that it does an effective job of keeping things a little less than obvious (in fact, I'd recommend not reading the back of the box--it gives away far more than the first two episodes). That's not to say that you're going to be twisting your brain figuring it out--after a few minutes the general picture of what's going on is relatively clear--but it starts off running and only gives away details as hints or indirect comments by the characters, something that I rather enjoyed and certainly keeps it interesting. Even as the story comes into focus, there are a few decent twists and turns, and I was particularly impressed by the way it ends. Although the end pushed the limits of my suspension of disbelief and has every indication of being the sort of cop-out ending time travel stories often conclude with, it holds its ground admirably.
The other thing that impressed me about Generator Gawl is that the story manages to be both light (bordering on comedy) and quite dark by turns, without either theme overwhelming the other. The exception is one unnecessarily silly and strangely awkward clunker of an episode in the middle, which is particularly conspicuous in comparison to the rest of the well-directed series. The drama is also laid on a little thick at times, but the balance is kept up surprisingly well, and the transition to a darker story toward the end isn't at all jarring. The pacing is also effective--things keep moving and there is an undertone of urgency, but it doesn't eliminate the banter and more mundane things that make the characters interesting, and there is definitely no hurry to explain the plot.
That banter and downtime, mainly in the form of trying to blend in while still getting the job done, give this series a major part of its appeal for me. I like that sort of thing--slice-of-life with a twist--and this series does a particularly good job of it since both the uninformed characters and the out-of-towners seem believably intelligent.
The characters themselves, while not terribly original, are quite likable as well, which contributes to the appeal. I particularly liked the two science types, in that they are very nearly "too cool for their own good" shoujo-style studs, but have some human weaknesses that make them more interesting and fun.
Visually, Generator Gawl is quite nice--attractive character designs, sharp art, and relatively nice backgrounds. There is one particularly well-executed and very dark nighttime battle scene, and the action in general is smooth and nicely choreographed. Not the best I've seen, but exciting and capable of carrying the series even if it were nothing more than an action show.
The background music isn't spectacular, but the hard-edged opening theme fits the mood and story and has a nice, satisfying rock beat. The overly mellow end theme, on the other hand, seems a little out of place.
The Japanese acting isn't anything spectacular, but is appealing and amusing. The banter is a good blend of fun and believable (particularly between Gawl and his female "nemesis"), and the more serious end of the characters' personalities is fairly effective as well. I'd say Natsume (Konami Yoshida) is a little too meek and innocent-sounding for her own good, though--she develops some depth later but seems too simple in contrast to the rest of the outspoken and mouthy cast. I didn't listen to enough of the English dub to form an opinion.
In all, Generator Gawl strikes a good balance of light banter, humorous attempts by the heroes at fitting in with normal folk, darker drama, and plot meted out as implications and hints. It starts strong and carries through smoothly, managing to be enjoyable, dramatic, and engaging from start to finish. It's not terribly deep, and not wildly original, but it is creative and solid enough that it's worth a shot for anybody who enjoys a relatively light drama/action sci-fi yarn.
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A very good match in mood and mysterious technology for the first Full Metal Panic series, although Gawl has a more solid overall plot and isn't quite a silly. Outlaw Star is another match in terms of general mood.
Notes and Trivia
Generator is an original concept by Tatsunoko Productions. There was a short (two-book) manga adaptation by Jun Sasameyuki to coincide with the TV run, as well as a light novel side-story subtitled "Song of the Swan," written by Fumihiko Shimo.
The story is set about ten years in the future, relative to when it aired. Which, of course, means that it takes place in the futuristic year of 2007.
US DVD Review
ADV's DVDs (originally four individual volumes, later a 4-disc set of the same material) are basic but solid productions; the video is very sharp, the audio is crisp, and the subtitles are accurate, although the subtitles on the theme songs are hard coded for some reason (at least each disc does have the themes with translations, transcribed Japanese lyrics, and no subtitles at all alternating between episodes). There aren't a whole lot of special features--just some character sketches--but the menus are attractive and as with other ADV releases include clips of the soundtrack.
There are also a couple of other new-at-the-time things that set the stage for later ADV releases: On the down side, the preview trailers automatically come on when you put in the disc, which is annoying but can be skipped. On the positive side, they finally got the cast thing right--the credits list both English and Japanese casts, without any silly alternate angles or hoops to jump through.
Not terribly objectionable, but a bit of mildly raunchy humor and some violence account for ADV's 12-up rating.
Violence: 3 - Some big bad creatures killed and a few brutal scenes, but it's not very graphic.
Nudity: 1 - Nothing of note.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Just some "pervert" allegations and a couple of mildly gross jokes, plus some innuendo.
Language: 2 - Some mild swearing in the subtitles.
Formerly available in North America from ADV Films on a 4-disc Perfect Collection of hybrid DVDs, currently out of print. Was originally available on four individual DVD volumes, as well as four subtitled or dubbed VHS volumes; the first DVD volume (only) was re-released a few years later with different cover art.
Though all of the above are out of print, at last check Amazon had plenty of used copies for sale. Notably, the individual discs are much cheaper than the box set, even factoring in shipping: Generator Gawl - Perfect Collection, Generator Gawl - Human Heart Metal Soul (Vol. 1), Generator Gawl - Future Memory (Vol. 2), Generator Gawl - Secrets and Lies (Vol. 3), Generator Gawl - Out of Time (Vol. 4), Generator Gawl - Vol. 1 (2005 re-release).