Someone who used to mean the world to me once taught me that family had a lot less to do with blood and more to do with the people who are there for you, those who love you, and those that would be willing to tell you things that you needed to hear. He was in many ways as much of a brother to me as my own blood brothers. In the usual ironic fashion that life loves to play things out with, that man betrayed the very meaning of the words he imparted on me and the accompanying feelings that I was left with played a very important contribution into what would spark my decision to begin my life’s journey.
The last few weeks, I have been going back and forth about what I would write up about Ga-Rei: Zero, a popular action prequel that AniTAY contributor Kinksy recommended to me on a podcast. There has been entertaining discussion regarding this series across several months’ worth of podcasts between the flagship AniTAY Podcast and the one that Umi and I run. The discussion always seemed to revolve around the creativity of the show to showcase two very important “twists” in succession from the end of the first episode and the duration of the second one. Despite my best wishes to keep articles spoiler free, this article will need to discuss one of these spoilers to rather great depth. If one would be interested in watching the show but also wanted to read my thoughts on this, I’ll put a spoiler-free TL;DR of at the bottom and they can decide if it still interests them from there. With that said, from here until the conclusion, spoilers follow.
This show serves as a prequel to a popular franchise, Ga-Rei, that I admittedly had no previous knowledge of. This is important to bring up because a recurring theme of critical opinions of the show seemed to rally around the point that the show is hindered by the simple fact that it is, indeed, a prequel to something big. I’m sure it would be difficult to be completely open to a journey when one knows the destination, however I felt that the show already set this mood early with its narrative delivery. The very first episode is a fun red herring that fulfills a purpose of catching people off-step.
The second episode, however, is bolder from a narrative sense since it shows the audience the destination of nearly the entire show. There is a “heel turn” in one of the main characters, Yomi, who becomes evil and destroys many individuals the show spends a good deal building up later on. What is more, the show focuses on the events leading up to Yomi’s tragic turn. Before this point, Yomi is a very caring and dedicated young woman with others in mind. There are two things that I think a Ga-Rei fan would likely have a hard time fully buying into this storytelling because of. The first is that fans (and, even to some extent because of the second episode, new audiences alike) know what happens to Yomi. The second hurdle for this prequel’s story is likely that Zero plays it close to the chest in trying to keep the inevitable role that the other main character, Kagura, plays under wraps until the conclusion. For many who are familiar with Ga-Rei, they already know who Kagura is and may not have cared much for seeing her rising into the responsibilities that come with her family name (I know, that sounds really compelling to me too, but I’m just trying to make sense out of the complaints).
The relationship between Kagura and Yomi makes the inevitable conclusion of this series even more grueling- they spark a bond as sisters and promise to protect one another in very heartfelt dialogue. These scenes, however, are overshadowed by a tendency that annoyed me with the show as a whole. Meaningful character development is accompanied by odd sexual innuendo and “comedy” bits that feel really off-putting in perspective. It is not uncommon for a serious anime to put a little bit of humor into its writing for the sake of giving characters some depth, however the humor here is often very sexually charged and just did not sit well for me. For instance, if you were to Youtube “Ga Rei” right now (not even with the “Zero” part), look at what the very first result yields:
That’s right. The first result is “kiss” even before we see the usual options for “trailer”, “OST”, or “OP”. This “kiss” is an odd scene where, right after a rather touching photo the two main characters share together, they share pocky and begin to kiss at the end of eating the candy stick. My first reaction was to sigh and let it go, but the scene continues with one of the other operatives watching this scene, get scolded, and then have his rear end commented on by an openly gay operative. All of this sat wrong with me because the moment between the sisters taking a cell phone photo together (which, by the way, is very important later on) is completely overshadowed by questionable comedy.
This is not the only example of unnecessary sexual content in the show either. Several times when a female character is in a long discussion that either ends in death or a battle, their clothes are cut by swords straight down the middle. This is annoying because it feels completely unnecessary and obvious what the “appeal” of that action is meant to give. There is supposed to be drama/action developing and the show elects to go for the old negative stereotype of anime being all about “plot” (please don’t put any of those GIFs in the comments like I know someone already has). The most laughably stupid example of this is when one of the characters, May (Mei? Mai? I have seen it spelled all three ways, the credits had it as May), has a full breakdown after she realizes what evil power she used and the ramifications of her actions. This special gem that has demonic powers surfaces right at her chest and she proceeds to rip open her clothes because of course she would and the gem shows itself in the middle of this all. I’m not saying they should have completely avoided something like that, but even in the moment it seems ridiculous to have the character rip her entire top open from top to bottom to show something going on at the very top of her chest.
Oh yeah there is a bath scene that shows the two main girls naked because of course that had to be in there, right? Jeez Louise.
So the complaints I have shared so far seem like they’re very specific and probably not applicable to many readers, I understand. One very important discussion I was hoping to spark here, however, is that of the pacing in the show. To a certain point, the backstory of Yomi and what would eventually make her crack is conveyed in a very articulate and great storytelling way. After Yomi is hospitalized with life-altering injuries, the show decides to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the poor girl all at once. In the course of one episode, we see her get accused of killing her cousin in cold blood, told that her engagement with another character is off, and her sister runs off crying right before there is a scene that sparks her heel turn (which, by the way, does the clothes ripping thing too). The scene with Yomi being told her engagement is off is absolutely devastating because the entire time she is trying to wail in tears but, since she cannot speak, there are little to no sounds.
My issue with the pacing is that there is enough going on in the show between her free-fall and the other characters processing the recent developments that I believe it may have been more fitting to stretch the entire decline and following heel turn into at least an episode and a half than to do one very cramp episode. For example, despite his father telling Yomi the engagement was off, Noriyuki desperately burns midnight oil trying to figure out what happened the night that Yomi was hospitalized. Following this storyline either just before or just after Yomi has her tragic engagement scene would have been nothing short of masterful. Additionally, the episode following her heel turn is just episode two all over again, with a few new perspectives and shots sprinkled into the mix. I think it could be condensed into these new scenes for the latter half of the episode that Yomi eventually gives in and turns evil because the audience would be more than capable of connecting the dots than to have the exact same scenes played out for them. This issue in pacing leads me to assume that budget must have been an issue at this point and this was a way of padding an episode easier.
Moving past my issues with the show, there are several things I believe the show excels at. The first of these can be referenced to that second episode that is shown twice. There are a few sword fighting sequences that are simply stunning and the direction behind them is very artisan. There is one scene where Yomi and Kagura stand across from one another, swords drawn, as there is nothing happening in the frame besides a fuse-box flickering sparks for nearly ten seconds (this is a point where Umi shouted DO SOMETHING ALREADY). This building of tension is a very bold decision and I believe it makes the action flourish above similar rivaling series. Couple this tension with the attachment that is grown for these sisters and the finale fight left me stunned with how there would be these short periods of silence in an empty woodland scene overflowing with the emotions of two people who very clearly still loved one another. Indeed, similar to the words that someone once gave me, these sisters meant the world to one another, and their love followed them right through the fateful conclusion of the finale fight.
Finally, I want to commend the voice acting for the dub of this show- namely the two main characters. Leah Clark conveys the struggles that young Kagura has accepting her familial role well, with giving a performance in the finale that sounds like a completely character to account for what the emotional fight did to her. The other side of this coin, Yomi, is given an incredibly performance by Alexis Tipton. The thing that stood out to me for her performance is that the Yomi before her heel turn sounds so energetic and full of hope. As she takes the hits of life (leading into even before she cannot speak), the audience can notice subtle declines in the energy that Yomi once had. When she turns, there is a chilling rekindling of energy in a way that is diabolic. The line “Hellooo~ Sunshineee~” really hammers this point. Two phenomenal voice acting performances that elevate the source material and characters well.
TL;DR: Ga-Rei Zero is a show that is held back just enough by its own pacing and odd decision making for sexual content that it cannot quite reach the “amazing” tier for anime for me personally. The action sequences and the development between the two main characters is incredibly memorable, however, and warrants watching for a great viewing.
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