Review by: Felicia Day
Publisher: RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: $49.99 US
Running Time: 625 minutes
Release Date: Available Now
I’d hate to be a part of this kind of powerful family.
Having been a fan of Ryousuke Takahashi’s work on Armored Trooper Votoms, I knew exactly what to expect from the Complete Series Collection release of Gasaraki but I still find myself surprised to find the story still manages to ring true especially now with the situation in the Middle East continuing to be unstable. Despite its heavy political wheeling and dealings, there’s a lot to this 25-episode classic series that is complex yet fascinating enough to give loyal fans of mecha anime an epic story worth watching.
Set in the somewhat distant future, the fictional country of Belgistan in the Middle East has become a critical hotspot for violence against the United States as the United Nations sees no other course of action but to enter into a conflict that turns this into a major war. In the middle of this conflict are two very powerful corporations pushing their latest military hardware that comes in the form of giant mobile armor units called Tactical Armor (or simply TA).
One of these organizations is called the Gowa Group who, in the first episode, is testing one of their TA units with a pilot who happens to be the youngest member of the Gowa family named Yushiro. As it turns out, Yushiro has a talent for pushing the mecha to its limits with the ability to unleash a Mental Burst and is also able to perform the ancient Dance of Gasara – a Noh-like performance art able to open a dimensional gateway. It is during one such performance that Yushiro sees a vision of a beautiful young woman who warns of a coming terror.
As fate would have it, Yushiro’s family has the young man join a special JSDF unit to Belgistan after the U.N. suffers a horrifying defeat by the enemy who also happens to possess TA units. Once there, the young man finds himself going into battle only to come face-to-face with the beautiful young woman he seen in his vision. Her name is Miharu and she’s an experimental TA pilot for the rival organization called Symbol, who recognizes Yushiro. Despite their difference in factions, they both want to stay together. Unfortunately, Symbol wants Miharu back and will stop at nothing to do just that as well as take Yushiro out.
Meanwhile, politics take a central role in the series as Symbol stages a coup in Belgistan as a news crew transmits footage of the TA’s in action and thus introducing them to the entire world. The Gowa family sets their own plans in motion as well but things change for the powerful family when Miharu reveals a huge secret to Yushiro that changes everything. Fortunately for him, Yushiro has some allies such as the members of the unit he served in as he rejoins the JSDF’s 3rd Experimental Company.
Speaking of experimental, the JSDF tries and fails in recreating Yushiro’s skills operating his TA called the Kugai. It becomes clearer to Yushiro that his family is up to something that could only hurt the world for their own personal gain. While he has normally acted detached and emotionless, he changes thanks to Miharu who also finds renewed strength in being around Yushiro.
As hidden truths are revealed and the mystery behind that which is called Gasaraki begins to unravel before the two characters and those surrounding them, a far more sinister development pushes Yushiro and Miharu find themselves fighting against the Gowa and Symbol’s ultimate plans. This inevitably leads to one the strangest finales this side of Evangelion. I won’t spoil the details that lead the characters to this finale but I will say this … you will not see it coming and that’s very refreshing.
Gasaraki moves at a very slow pace, oftentimes getting bogged down by scenes filled with long-winded dialogue where the supporting cast of characters wax philosophically or explain in elaborate details what goes in in weapon manufacturing for the military. Sure, it’s interesting but those who find lengthy scenes soaked in historical, spiritual and political dialogue might find themselves wanting to tune out. Even scenes where TA’s are sent into battle aren’t without their excessively detailed “behind-the-scenes” looks at how the military would go about directing operations involving massive walking armor.
However, there are some really riveting moments throughout the series that make it well worthwhile to those who decide to sit through the entire series. Gasaraki never insults your intelligence by dumbing down the story or dialogue.
I’m not crazy about the main characters either since both Yushiro and Miharu are as emotionless as Vulcans at a funeral. They do begin to change during the course of their time together to the point that you will actually come to care about them but liking them is very difficult, indeed. The series also has way too many supporting characters, many of which I wished had more screen time while others end up simply being cardboard cutouts as a result.
Despite the fact that the animation look rather dated, it still manages to be impressive with the TA battles looking even better. I even enjoyed the voice cast for both the original Japanese voices and the English dub side that has Monica Rial (as Miharu), Chris Patton (as Yushiro) and Hilary Haag (as Yushiro’s devoted sister) is simply excellent.
Gasaraki is something of an acquired taste that might not seem so thrilling for those who find politically-charged stories with some mecha action not so appealing but, given the chance, this series has enough surprises to keep you watching to the very end. That said, the series can get too convoluted in places thanks to way too many players in this story and unusual plot devices that lead to an even stranger ending. If you want to give your copy of Evangelion a rest, however, you cannot go wrong with Gasaraki.
BLU-RAY/DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
The future finds the world in another conflict with the Middle East as two powerful factions put to the test new battle-ready technology that comes in the form of tactical armor mechas. As things heat up in Belgistan, the youngest member of the Gowa family meets a girl named Miharu as both find themselves caught in the middle of a struggle for power that could every well affect the entire world.
VIDEO QUALITY: B+
RightStuf! has certainly proven they can make classics look good on DVD and Gasaraki is no different. The picture quality is excellent for a series that looks on the dated side. Still, the action still manages to look impressive and the Tactical Armor looks awesome.
AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The original Japanese language track is my personal favorite way to enjoy the series thanks to the solid voice cast, however, the English dub cast that includes talents like Monica Rial, Hilary Haag, Brett Weaver and Chris Patton among others is just as remarkable. The closing theme song (“Love Song” by Tomoko Tane) is hauntingly beautiful and the original score by Kuniaki Haijima is wonderfully cinematic.
There aren’t loads of extras in this release of Gasaraki but the Behind the Scenes feature (that takes us through character concept artwork of some of the supporting characters in the series. Then there’s the Gasaraki Early Concept Work feature that contains some conceptual work from the original project proposal with an interesting version of Miharu. You’ll also find the clean opening and closing animation as well as Nozomi Entertainment trailers on every DVD in the set.
The Complete Series Collection of Gasaraki is an intricate, compelling and slow-paced series that mixes politics with spiritualism and good old-fashioned mecha action. Unfortunately, this mix as well as way too many pieces on this overcrowded chessboard makes for a series that might turn off casual mecha fans. Still, if you have been dying to see an intelligent yet complex mecha series, Gasaraki is most definitely a series to try out.
Review copy provided by RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment