GA-REI-ZERO – DVD review

“Ga-Rei-Zero” explores the relationship between two girls who are not related by blood, but who are as close as sisters. When betrayal and tragedy befall them, it is the strength of their bond that will determine the outcome of their fates.

In modern-day Japan, the level of paranormal activity is increasing. Monstrous creatures called ghosts are appearing with greater frequency, manifesting in the form of rampaging beasts that only a select few can see. The people who can see these ghosts are usually members of one of several large families who bear an ancient burden and tradition of vanquishing these ghosts. Many of these members work for the Ministry of Environment’s Supernatural Countermeasures Division, a task force created to protect humanity and destroy the ghostly threat.

Kagura Tsuchimiya is the young daughter and heir of a powerful ghost vanquisher family. Having just recently lost her mother during an attack, she is despondent. Her father, busy with his duties as head of the family, does not have time for her. Therefore, when Yomi Isayama, the daughter of another vanquisher family, asks if they can take Kagura in to live with them, she agrees.

High-school student Yomi is a powerful exorcist and adopted member of the prominent Isayama vanquisher family. She is confident, outgoing, and friendly. She takes an immediate liking to Kagura, understanding how it feels to lose a parent. Yomi and Kagura become the best of friends, as close as sisters. Their relationship is playful, supportive, and strong. Yomi acts as Kagura’s mentor, introducing her to the Supernatural Countermeasures Division team, and helps her recover from the loss of her mother. The girls become inseparable, and there isn’t anything they wouldn’t do for each other. Therefore, when one of them succumbs to an evil temptation, the resulting tragedy is all the more poignant and painful. The greatest of friends are forced to become the worst of enemies, and following the path of the destruction of their relationship is painful.

“Ga-Rei-Zero” is violent and bloody, and uses cliffhangers for shock value and to add tension. The whole first episode is a throwaway gimmick used merely to give us a taste of how brutal the rest of the series promises to be. It leads us to form a certain expectation for the series, only to pull the rug out from under us at the end. What a fantastic and bold way to start a series. However, the real plot doesn’t begin until episode 2 during which yet another horrifying scene is put before us. This is the one that the rest of the series will focus on, and what follows is a powerful and heart-wrenching depiction of a friendship gone wrong.

This DVD set contains all 12 “Ga-Rei-Zero” episodes spread across 2 discs, with a 3rd disc devoted entirely to bonus materials. The character designs are creative (aside from a rather plain-looking Kagura) and the animation quality alternates from being average at one moment and fluid and delicate the next. The design and animation of the spiritual beasts and the fight scenes is top-notch.

“Ga-Rei-Zero” a decent action/horror series, where the bonds of family and friendship provide the central point of conflict. There are dashes of humor here and there to lighten things up, and even some romance, but the overall mood of the series is that of dramatic action and horror. I enjoyed it, but felt it would have been better with even fewer episodes. Most of the story is actually told in flashback, and after the initial horrifying setup, I was impatient for the flashbacks to end so we could get back to the present-day action.

I understand the point of the flashbacks is to lay the foundation for the emotional conflict, to make us feel invested in the fates of all the characters, and to make us understand the full impact of the setup in relation to their personal histories. However, It was tough watching all the happier flashbacks knowing what dreadful things were going to happen to lead them all to the horrifying situation shown in episode 2. I watched the series with a sense of dread and impending doom, and learned quickly not to become to attached to any of the characters as they might not live very long.

Once the flashbacks end, the action kicks into full gear again for a series of dramatic and emotional fight scenes that build to an unflinching resolution. I felt emotionally drained by the end, but with an overall feeling of satisfaction witrh hos everything was resolved, and a desire to see what would happen to the remaining characters next.

I understand that this series is actually a prequel to a story that takes place in a comic simply called “Ga-Rei”. There is a hint of this in the final episode, where Kensuke, the main character from “Ga-Rei” is suddenly introduced, but we never get to see much of him. I wish more “Ga-Rei” would be animated, as it is unlikely that we’ll see a translation of the comic in the U.S. anytime soon. I’m curious to see how Kensuke’s story weaves in with the tragic history of Yomi and Kagura.

“Ga-Rei-Zero” is a standard action series book-ended by a powerful and graphic beginning and a strong, yet painful ending. Once the shock of the beginning wears off, it is worth sticking through the rest of the episodes to reach the relentless conclusion.

“Ga-Rei-Zero” is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic wide screen. The quality is decent. Colors are deep and special effects glow with clarity. I had no complaints with the picture.

“Ga-Rei Zero” comes with 2 audio tracks- an English 5.1 track, and a basic Japanese 2.0 track. I mainly listened to the Japanese audio. The Japanese track is decent, with solid depth and range. The English track sounds fantastic in terms of technical quality, however, the quality of the voice acting didn’t seem on par with that of the Japanese actors. The English cast tries hard, but they don’t quite capture the extreme range of tender and raging emotions required in the roles. It feels forced and phony. The Japanese cast sounds more emotionally committed.

This series is packaged as a 5-disc blu-ray/DVD combo set. However, for my review, I only received the DVD version of the series. The complete set contains 2 Blu-ray discs and 3 DVDs.

A whole 3rd disc is included to host all of the extras in this set. Most of the extras are related to the original Japanese production. I love behind-the-scenes specials like this. In a multi-part feature, we get to follow the production crew as they scout locations that would appear in the anime. I find it fascinating to see how much thought and attention to detail is put into setting up the action scenes. I am amazed that they use real locations for a lot of the action, and make the effort to reproduce those locations faithfully, instead of making up some fictitious street or building. Bonus materials relating to the original production of the series in Japan (as opposed to the making of the dub) are my favorite, so this disc gets a thumbs up from me. We also get the obligatory clean opening and closing animations, some commercials, and some trailers.

Film Value:
Ga-Rei Zero starts with a shock and ends with a bang, with a bit of drag in between. It’s an overall good show with sympathetic characters. But don’t get attached to any of the them! The action is brutal, and no one is safe.