GASARAKI (1998)

 

Format: 26 24-minute episodes on 8 DVDs

 

Rating: PG-13 (BN, GV, DU)

 

American Production: ADV Films

 

Japanese Production: Sunrise

 

Grading

 

Premise:

B

Story:

C

Writing:

B-

Character Design:

B-

Mecha Design:

A

Animation:

B+

Artistic Merits:

B

English Dub:

B-

Musical Score:

C

Opener (all versions):

C

Closer:

A/B

 

 

Humor Content:

n/a

Action Content:

B

Drama Content:

B

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B-

DVD Extras:

B+

 

 

OVERALL:

B

 

Synopsis

Two entities - one the powerful and tradition-laden Gowa clan of Japan, the other a massive but mysterious international conglomerate known as Symbol - play puppet master on a global scale, in the process manipulating the fates of two key pawns, Yushiro and Miharu. Both are the top pilots for their respective sides in the newly-developing class of mobile warfare units called bipedal weapons platforms (called TAs - short for “tactical armor” - or Fakes, depending on which group is giving the label) because they have uncanny abilities when it comes to synchronizing with the armor. Both also play key roles in the efforts of their corresponding organizations to summon back to earth an ancient entity - god or demon, take your pick - called Gasaraki. This is because both are descendants of an ancient mystical tradition. Because of their unique status Miharu and Yushiro’s destinies are intertwined, and have been for a very, very long time.

 

The Long View

I know the above synopsis is inadequate, but Gasaraki is such a complex story that any attempt to summarize it simply is bound to fail. The plotting and storytelling are so dense that the series almost achieves critical mass, which can make it difficult to keep track of everything that’s happening but does serve to distract from its weaknesses in other areas (see below). Everything is explained by the end, but the journey to that end can be a confounding one. It doesn’t help that the story is loaded with Eastern mysticism, and some aspects of that - like the emphasis on the traditional Noh dance and a weather wheel - may baffle American viewers. In fact, the story as a whole probably can’t be adequately appreciated by an American viewer, although it is clearly more than just another story about people running around in giant robots. Extensive supplementary materials, including glossaries, historical details, and cultural notes, on the DVDs do help tremendously.

My biggest criticism against Gasaraki is that its key characters aren’t particularly exciting or well-developed. Yushiro comes off flat, and Miharu, while more intriguing, doesn’t get anywhere near enough screen time and spends a good amount of what she does get in a catatonic funk. Yushiro’s family members, particularly his younger sister, are a bit more lively, but don’t distinguish themselves enough, either. Yushiro’s fellow members in the JSDF (Japanese Special Defense Force) company assigned to the TAs are, thankfully, much more colorful, both literally and figuratively. The petite young brunette computer operator is the closest thing to comedy relief in this otherwise dreary series, and the other two female and four male pilots and computer support personnel are always welcome presences on the screen. Other supporting characters that pop up along the way are also generally more interesting than most of the main ones.

The place where Gasaraki shines brightest is in its intense focus on the technical aspects of its machinery. Someone really put a lot of thought and research into this because no other mecha series that I have seen is even close to the equal of Gasaraki in this regard, hence the high grade in the Mecha Design category. The mechanics of the bipedal weapons platforms and the programming supporting them is detailed down to the finest points. Operational details aren’t ignored, either, such as the detrimental effect of sand on the suits. Careful attention is also paid to battle tactics; they are quite believable, whether it’s urban actions, fighting a conventional tank company, or fighting each other. Even logical touches like having spotter helicopters attached to each suit in an urban riot control setting are added. A lot of attention is paid, too, to the physical stress operating one of these suits places on their operators. A typical pilot can’t operate one for much more than an hour and is regulated with drug therapy while in the suit. The psychological breakdown that happens when one of the pilots exceeds his limits is both fascinating and horrifying to watch.

Beyond what is described above, the technical merits are good but only one scene - where some interesting visual effects are used to show a guy flash-frozen in the cockpit of his TA – really stands out. The English vocal performances are respectable but nothing special. The musical score is only adequate except for the haunting and highly symbolic closer, which I would rate among the best in series anime for its regular version. (An alternate version prevails for a few mid-series episodes). The opener, which changes a couple of times during the series, is not remarkable in any version. Poetic verses included right after the intro and before the title in each episode are an interesting gimmick that does help set the mood for the story. Another interesting trick is one flashback sequence that lasts two full episodes. Action sequences are well-executed and occasionally intense.

Gasaraki can be a bit of a challenge to watch, both because of its complexity and because of its unrelentingly dreary overtones. Those looking for an involved mecha story with lots of depth, and those who appreciate extreme technical detail, should find this series a worthy view. Those looking for a light diversion should look elsewhere.

 

DVD Extras

·  Company previews

·  Interviews (various)

·  Glossary

·  Episode Production Sheets (annotated)

·  Memos (DVDs 1 and 2)

·  Behind-the-scenes footage (DVDs 3-7)

·  Clean credit animation (DVD 8)

·  addition technical details in DVD inserts

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Yushiro Gowa

Chris Patton

Miharu

Monica Rial

Yisuzu Gowa

Hillary Haag

Kiyotsugu Gowa

Jason Douglas

Kiyoharu Gowa

Brett Weaver

Kazukio Gowa

Andy McAvin

Daisaburou Gowa

Ted Pfister

Yoshitake Gowa, Kei Nishida

John Swasey

Giichirou Gowa, Gunther

Ralph Ehntholt

Colonel Hayakawa

John Gremillion

Major Takayama, Meth

Mike Kleinhenz

Captain Rin Ataka

Kelly Manison

Kahoru

Heather Bryson

Sunao

Jennifer K. Earhart

Akihiro Hirokawa

Jay Hickman

Kiyomu

Markham Anderson

Takuma

Kevin Charles

Jun Kitazawa

Andrew Klimko

General Okawa

Vic Mignona

Won

Mike Vance

Sorachi

Phil Ross

 

 

 

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