Drawing the line between duty and desire is not always simple. Ga-Rei-Zero presents us with an orderly system of family honor and duty based upon a single principle: those who inherit a family's ga-rei or spirit-eating beast must vanquish “spirits that defy the natural order.” But what happens when a spirit possesses someone you know? Having to rain justice upon a former ally is a theme hundreds of shows and films have adopted, a famous example being Obi-Wan fighting Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars. Gai-Rei-Zero takes us through a similar betrayal in a way only anime can: in the end, nobody wins...
Story and Characters
The number of malicious spirits has steadily increased in Japan. The Ministry of Environment and its Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division (SDCD) fight off these spirits with exorcizing weaponry. Working with the SDCD are a group of spirit-vanquisher families, each in possession of a ga-rei spirit beast. Yomi, adopted daughter of the Isayama family, works part-time with the SDCD, quickly proving herself to be the team's most powerful asset.
When Kagura, sole daughter of the Tsuchimiya family, loses her mother during a fight with a powerful spirit, she is taken in by Yomi and her family. The two girls grow to love each other. Kagura is also trained for combat so that she may one day inherit her own family's ga-rei, but she isn't yet strong enough to fight with the SDCD. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the team will need all the help they can get fighting the surge of evil spirits; Kagura joins the team. Little does the SDCD know that the being who killed Kagura's mother has been agitating the spirits within Japan, and that his long-term plans will ruin Yomi's life forever.
Yomi Isayama and the SDCD.
The show is very unconventional in that it's first episode sets us up for a highly organized detective/action show. The Ministry of Defense's police infantry are squashed by a Class B monster, and it's up to an awesome Special Forces unit to take it down. After devoting an entire episode to these Ministry of Defense agents, the rest of the series focuses on the Ministry of Environment's SDCD, an eclectic group of suit-wearing exorcists who use weapons like briefcases that fire bullets. It's a violent shift that's disappointing to see, especially as the series goes on and these agents merely serve as assistants to the insanely skilled Yomi Isayama. The SDCD isn't nearly as efficient or as cool as Special Forces team was.
Fortunately, the lack of finesse within the SDCD is balanced by a likable cast, although we are not privileged with too much time with them. The show focuses on Yomi and Kagura, who have a “sisterly love” that often looks like outright lesbianism. Yomi cares deeply for Kagura; it was Yomi's idea to watch over her while Kagura's father was busy fighting spirits. Their relationship is adorable. Yomi has the stronger personality when compared to Kagura, but they are both enjoyable to watch and are capable of making episodes interesting without the aid of the other. Like Yomi she is a prodigy of swordplay. The fact that Yomi is adopted and without an exorcist bloodline means that Kagura will eventually surpass her. Yomi's adoption eventually becomes a major issue in the story as our mystery antagonist uses this to his advantage and causes strife between the exorcist families.
Similar to our last show, Rideback, Ga-Rei-Zero is twelve episodes long. It grants us a peek into a complicated world that is never fully explained. Monsters have classifications according to their spirit energy. The Ministries of Defense and Environment have clearly been fighting paranormal threats for some time. Such information isn't disclosed within the anime. As it turns out, the show is an anime prequel to the Ga-Rei manga, which starts off exactly where the anime ends. Other than the monster categories and the Ministry histories, one doesn't need to read the manga to understand the show. The story is easy to understand and almost predictable.
Yomi and Mei Isayama, her family rival.
The story's predictability doesn't ruin the show, but one might walk away from the series with mixed feelings. Anime has developed many conventions over its long history. Arguably one of them is to make sure that if a situation makes a turn for the worst, it must continue to grow worse until everything ends in tragedy, a narrative experiment in momentum if there ever was one. Shows like Requiem for the Phantom and the film Grave of the Fireflies prove this point. Exceptions to this rule are shows like Moribito and Gurren Lagann. Ga-Rei-Zero is somewhere between. Seeing Kagura and Yomi fight spirits and mature together is heartwarming, but anime constantly reminds us that such moments of peace are temporary, and so their lives begin to change for the worst. Rather than disliking a show for being predictable, I was somewhat satisfied but also left with thoughts of what could have been.
In summary, Ga-Rei-Zero delivers in some ways and fails in others. The show differs from conventional shonen action shows in that it spends a great deal of time on its character relationships. This positive is offset by a narrative that limits itself to telling a story of betrayal that ends in a way one can see coming from a mile away. It had a lot of potential; perhaps because it was a prequel to an existing manga series, its sole purpose was to get from point A to B and entertain while doing so. Ga-Rei-Zero accomplished this without a problem. If it were allotted more narrative freedom, it could have been fantastic.
* Ga-Rei-Zero is produced by AIC Spirits and Asread. The show is currently available for free viewing at Hulu.com.
- Elijah Lee