Kagura and Yomi are two girls who have a bond that cannot be broken. While once they fought side by side against the supernatural forces that threaten the planet, fate had something different in store for these star-crossed companions. Yet to understand the present, one must first experience the past – a time before Kagura’s involvement with the Supernatural Disaster Prevention Agency. Always cheery and good-natured to a fault, the young Kagura first meets Yomi when she is invited into her home. Over time, the two battle malicious spirits and grow closer together – but soon, more terrifying foes begin to reveal themselves. A swarm of glowing blue butterflies and a mysterious stone are harbingers of darker things to come, and one thing’s for sure: Kagura and Yomi will never be the same.
StoryGa-Rei: Zero’s beginning works like an exhilarating kick in the nuts. It comes out of nowhere, knocks our breath out, and then leave us just as suddenly to gather our whirling thoughts. In it, a team of special armed forces are trying to contain an outbreak of supernatural beings in the city. As their members fall one by one, they soon realise someone they once thought a friend has turned against them. It’s worth elaborating on how fantastic that opening is and how skilfully it introduces us to a complex concept of demons and demon hunters while neatly covering the main characters, because that is as sophisticated as the show gets. Two episodes later, the story doubles back to describe a tepid tale of friendship betrayed by circumstance that never quite measures up. In the style of Berserk and Gungrave, Ga-Rei: Zero concerns a spiralling tragedy of two individuals who form a profound friendship that sadly cannot last, and how one of them becomes the enemy. Unlike Berserk and Gungrave, it attempts to depict this in half their running time, which has some important consequences for the plot. Primarily, the show manages only fifty percent of the intensity. In such revenge plots, the build-up to the unlikely enmity is what makes the rest matter. Not only must we care deeply about both characters, but we must feel convinced that their eventual antagonism is as natural as their initial friendship. Ga-Rei: Zero either has not got the required time to get us that involved or the creators did not have the talent to think up something interesting for the middle. The show essentially exploits clichés to hammer home the fact that the protagonists, Kagura Tsuchimiya and Yomi Isayama, are TOTALLY BEST FRIENDS, LOOK THEY EVEN KISS LIKE LESBIANS, THAT IS HOW BESTEST FRIENDS THEY ARE! Much of the vital setting up of the friendship features them sharing baths, teasing each other during work, and even an entire episode of Kagura trying to set Yomi up with a lover. A lot of this, rather than proving insightful glimmers of joy in their staid existence as demon hunters, actually feels more like filler. We get mixed in with that the straightforward tale of a powerful family of demon hunters who hate the adopted Yomi and wish to stop her inheriting the position of head of the house. Finally, when the reason for Kogura’s and Yomi’s split becomes apparent, it turns out to hinge as much on silly, avoidable misunderstandings and some supernatural mumbo-jumbo as misfortune. Of course, there are Yomi’s evil relatives weaving nefarious plots, but some of the characters’ lack of common sense constitutes half the problem. As for the backdrop of demon infestations and demon hunting, it feels superfluous. The mythology behind the demons’ existence never becomes a significant part of the story. The reason for that is that Ga-Rei: Zero is a prequel to the manga, Ga-Rei, and as such assumes the audience knows all the relevant details. For anyone unfamiliar with the manga, like myself, the omission will be understandable but nevertheless detracting.AnimationGa-Rei: Zero uses its budget to exciting effect during action sequences, although the memorable ones occur at too low a frequency to elevate this to the top echelons of animated works. Otherwise, the animation will largely fail to leap out and shriek demands of admiration at the audience. For a show aiming at constant ominousness, I find the milieu surprisingly tame. Splashes of blood here, a contorted demonic face there, and plenty of dark spaces which have little to do with well-placed shadow and more to do with the gloomy colour palette.SoundWe get cinematic orchestral compositions for tense sequences and softer, nondescript ditties for personal pauses. Generic j-pop songs bookend the episodes. Anyone who remembers Ga-Rei: Zero’s token soundtrack by the end most likely paid no attention to the other, more interesting things on offer.CharactersThere are one or two noteworthy facets to the protagonists: I like Kagura’s contrasting shyness and super-powerful abilities while Yomi tries to smile through all adversity, leaving us to wonder what churns beneath her facade. Beyond that, they’re wholly unremarkable. The problem is that the show has little room to develop them beyond the obvious using scenes that feel decidedly perfunctory. Setting aside that their friendship develops in leaps of cliché, their personalities leave no lasting imprint in our hearts. Consider the intense feelings the ingenious Griffith (Berserk) or brutally ambitious Harry McDowel (Gungrave) evoke - Yomi’s tormented teen performance, in anticlimactic contrast, evokes only pity and a vague frustration as she hurtles from one bad, emotional decision to another. Ga-Rei: Zero also leaves its secondary cast in limbo. Some have moments of sheer irrationality not befitting their profession and life-long training as demon hunters, mainly so the plot has a reason to deliver a tragedy. But most don’t even get that.OverallGa-Rei: Zero shares a setup and cluster of themes with shows like Berserk and Gungrave but executes them to a less successful degree. What it lacks are complex characters to suck us into its emotional storm. Kagura and Yomi are too predictable to deliver the wavering friendship dynamic required to anchor this kind of plot, and portrayals of their relationship often resort to superficialities. Nevertheless, with commendable visuals providing one or two highlights, and an easy-to-digest narrative, this is an effective marketing ploy for the manga. Those who like what they see here may just check out the literary version.
Story Ga Rei: Zero’s high octane first episode introduces us to a troupe of interesting characters, filled with spirited action, a dark storyline and… death. Within twenty-two minutes, it offers a plot twist to shock the viewer. As a result, the quick pacing is disorienting, foreshadowing a show in love with combat and slacking on story. Ga Rei: Zero is anything but that. From episode two, the narrative takes a decidedly steady stride after forcing our heads underwater. Letting us come up for air, its easy to take in the world. Set in an alternate version of Japan, the government is engaged in a secret war with the paranormal enlisting the help of exorcists. Being from a family of exorcists herself, Kagura is pulled into the struggle of ‘good vs. evil’. Now in any other anime this set up would be an excuse for large-scale battles between spirits and their hunters. But Ga Rei: Zero uses it as a frame to focus on the associations of its characters. Centering on the relationship of the dark-haired Yomi and the younger Kagura, the story seems more slice of life than science fiction, as the two grow to love one another as sisters. At times it appears like the plot is having an identity crisis, focusing on the playful exchanges of the pair before shifting gears into a supernatural skirmish. While jarring at first blush, the writers took effort to weave the two strands together, carefully paving the heroine’s path to a momentous climax. Animation Midnight hues evoke a gloom that haunts over the cast. Colors are appropriately muted during moments of tension. These scenes feel almost like watercolors at moments, fluorescent lighting casting a thin haze over the crisp drawings. Serving as the perfect stage, these set pieces host seamless animation, though the action can seem a bit stiff at times when slow motion is used. The only major detractor is the obtrusive CGI, a blending of cell shading and realistic textures, which feels out of place. A glaring example is the gargantuan Kasha beast in the first episode. Its flames look plastic and the edges of grey skin are jagged from poor aliasing. Sound The brisk opening "Paradise Lost" by Minori Chihara has a tinge of pessimism while reflecting on the ties of love. It’s pleasant to the ear while tied to the motifs of the Ga Rei: Zero, which is what every OP should do. The ending theme "Yume no Ashioto ga Kikoeru" by Mizuhara Kaoru is filled with melancholy, sober when compared to the Chihara’s offering. Both pieces are excellent and are accompanied by an appropriate soundtrack that has a similar sound. The voice acting is done well, Kagura’s innocence perfectly captured while Yomi’s expressions are handled expertly from teasing to tender. Nothing really stands out from the supporting cast except for Mitogawa, the villain, whose innocent tone is both vacant and eerie. Characters Ga Rei: Zero offers the typical shounen tango of heroes and baddies as a young heroine comes to term with the assertive grip of ‘destiny’. Kagura questions if it’s acceptable to kill the possessed corpses who still look human. The protagonist’s vacillation is the girl’s tragic flaw that inevitably leads her to the footsteps of the stunning conclusion. Admirably maturing Kagura through the twelve episodes from vulnerability to independence, Ga Rei: Zero executes an effective coming of age tale. Yomi acts as a foil to Kagura’s growth. As the story progresses, she becomes less and less grounded in reality. It’s disheartening to watch her mentally unravel, her transformation is perversely beautiful as the once a supportive guide becomes the antagonists. Sadly, the supporting characters are an expendable commodity in this production. The audience is introduced to a whole platoon of faces, from those in the Minstry of Defense, to those in the Agency. The program has no shame, liberally murdering likable persona throughout the installments. Overall Taking a simple formula of mixing Ghostbusters, Men In Black, and a bit of high school drama, Ga Rei became a wildly popular manga in Japan. Ga Rei: Zero serves as a prequel to the drawn word, focusing on the relationship of Kagura and her adoptive sister Yomi. Narratives of this nature raise a few questions: Is it accessible to those who are not familiar with franchise? If so, does the program offer anything to those foreign to the series? The answer to both is an emphatic yes. Ga Rei: Zero serves a powerful story, wrought with impact, memorable characters and excellent production value. Not only does it reinforce the happenings of the main storyline, it seduces you into the dark embrace of Kagura’s world, imploring that you give the manga at least a passing glance.
I'm going to buy this anime when it comes out on DVD. It plays out almost like a classic Greek tragedy, delivering one hell of a compelling story. The unique style of foreshadowing set the tone for this show that kept me wondering as I watched. And the relationships carried the story. Really solid character work going on here. Definitely one of the best supernatural dramas I've seen in a while.
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