The Ga-Rei Zero Rewatch Episode One: Above Aoi

Ga-Rei Zero is an odd show, in that it it’s hard to get a feel for it from the first episode. While most shows try to cram everything you need to know about the plot, premise, and characters into the first installment, Ga-Rei Zero takes a decidedly different approach. This can be both a good thing, and a bad thing, but I’ll get to that after the recap.

We open on aerial shot of a freeway, leading up to a fire, as a voice over of what sounds like police radio gives info on subjects movement, collateral damage, and a media blackout. Without a doubt, something bad is happening.

But first, Tooru, in his Section Four orange jumpsuit, as he lights incense at a grave, experiencing a flashback involving a woman who has fallen in water, a boy, a lot of blue butterflies, fire everywhere, and a gun shot. He is obviously deeply affected by this before being joined by another Section Four member, Natsuki. He apologizes for being out of communication, and chastises himself, knowing “she” isn’t really buried there. They get a call from headquarters informing them of whats happening on the freeway, and that Section One is moving in. Tooru decides to go, despite orders to standby, because he feels that “he” is there.

01-1And really, as a manly man, he has to do what manly men do, which is apparently, disobey orders. On a hunch. How has he not been fired yet?

Back at the freeway, firefighters are trying to control the flames to get to the survivors when a helicopter lands, belonging to PDCH Special Unit. Section One has arrived, and order the firefighters away under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, Paranormal Disaster Countermeasure Headquarters.

Okay, that does sound like something firefighters probably can’t help with. Do they leave though? Nooo.

The firefighters try to argue, but something invisible starts trashing its way through the vehicle wreckage. The leader of Section One orders his troops to spread out, and active their seekers, as the area is over run with Category C type specters. Yes, specters. This is how Japan does Ghostbusters, folks. With a fully armed military unit. Using special bullets and holy water filled grenades, they make short work of the creatures, as the firefighters try to figure out what the hell is happening.

01-2With the Category C creatures taken care of, Section One is ready to start mop up, but doesn’t get a chance. As the team leader encourages the firefighters to leave, again, a Category B appears, code named Kasha, and it’s a brute.

The Kasha takes out most of Section One by setting them on fire, then summons back the Category C creatures, who eliminate the rest, leaving only the leader of the team. As he tries, one last time, to get the firefighters to flee, the Kasha eats him.

01-3Tooru and Natsuki arrive at that moment to the gentle strains of Faylan, and take the critter on. Apparently, they are better outfitted than Section One in terms of both weaponry and reckless use of a motorcycle.

Natsuki orders the firefighters to take the injured and flee. Apparently, they are more willing to take orders from a random woman on a motorcycle than they are from soldiers. Cause anime. Of course, it could also be that the tread on her motorcycle can create a barrier, because again, anime.

01-5While Tooru uses his gun to take down the Category C creatures, Natsuki uses a slightly more unorthodox approach, called hitting them with a motorcycle. While this probably isn’t covered in the Dealing With Specters handbook, I gotta admit, I like her style.

01-6Realizing they can’t take on the Kasha, Natsuki encourages Tooru to hang back, but he’s a badass hero with a tragic past and is ready to rock. He doesn’t get the chance, as two more of Section Four’s members arrive in an Osprey, showering the entire scene with holy water. These guys would be wisecracking Masaki and his ever serious best friend, Kudou. Can’t have an action anime without those two character types, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Kasha decides to blow this scene and runs for it. Tooru and Natsuki give chase, providing us with an excellent example of how not to use a motorcycle. The Kasha decides to bowl them over, turning itself into a giant flaming pill bug, but our Section Four guys are hardcore and run right at it, with Tooru blasting away until he destroys it. The Kasha turns into dust, and we get heroic poses.

01-8Seriously, did these two not ever see Blood On The Highway? Cause, there is no way that was safe.

With the Kasha defeated, we cut to a meeting between a group of military officers and politicians as they discuss Section One getting wiped out. Nobody is overly happy, especially considering that when it comes to dealing with supernatural disasters, Section Four is the only section that’s had any luck. Here we meet Komparu, the clearly evil leader of Section Four. I mean, look at the guy. How much more obvious could they make it he’s going to betray everyone later?

01-9He blows off Section Four’s achievements in a patently sinister way, while managing to be patronizing at the same time. As it turns out, Section Four is part of the Ministry of Environment, working alongside other units. The SDCD, as it’s known, has apparently had some bad luck as well, with one of their chief Vanquishers being incapacitated recently.

They talk a bit about a massive sweep of exorcisms that took place a few years back, and how it may not have had the desired effect. Komparu seems to know more about it, but he waves his own mentioning of those exorcisms off as mere suspicion. Somehow, he manages to be slimy even when he’s being humble.

We cut back to Section Four as they do mop up, bantering about Section One’s advanced gear, and how having Second Sight is better than any technology when dealing with ghostly monsters. Kudou doesn’t care for how blithe they are about so many people dying, which Masaki blows off. Natsuki changes the subject, but gets interrupted by the shows prerequisite child genius, manager of mission operations, Mami, letting them know another Category B has appeared. Tooru, having found a blue butterfly at the scene, is eager to roll, apparently convinced he’ll find “him” still.

Seems he isn’t wrong, either, as the “him” in question, the young boy from Tooru’s earlier flashback, is hanging out nearby, watching the chaos as blue butterflies swirl around him.

At Section Four’s mobile command unit, Mami gives them the lowdown on the new Kasha that’s shown up. Bigger, tougher, and meaner in every respect, she lets them know it’s been contained in a mystical barrier, at least for now. Tooru has another flashback regarding the woman as he plays with the butterfly wing he found, while Masaki ponders why so many Kashas are popping up out of nowhere, and Natsuki gives Tooru a worried look.

Okay, it’s more than a worried look. It’s that look that says, “I know your have a tragic past, and that woman you lost was my best friend, but can’t you see my love can heal you?” It’s annoying, but it fits in with the character archetypes we’re getting handed so far, so let’s move on. I’ll deal with all those soon enough.

While that’s going on, Mami confirms that they’d need over 200 tons of holy water just to weaken the new Kasha, which is a technical way of saying, “We’re so fucked.” Komparu slimes his way into the mobile command unit, saying they’ll have to be clever to defeat it. Of course, that’s what Section Four does best, so let’s rock and roll!

The team splits up, Natsuki on her bike, Komparu and Mami in the mobile command unit, everyone else in the Osprey. Natsuki makes short work of the barrier, getting the Kasha to do it’s pill bug routine and chase her while Masaki and Tooru get dropped off at an aquaduct control facility, where they plan to lure the Kasha. After some quick action shots set to heroic music, the team is ready to tackle this new beastie with steel and grit.

The plan is for Natsuki to lure the Kasha into one of the overflow channels. Once it’s there, Kudou will blow the levee, allowing the shaft to fill with water. Masaki has set up some speakers to blast high speed mantras into the water as it flows through, turning it into holy water. With the Kasha getting properly doused, Tooru is standing by at the end of the shaft with a sniper rifle to finish it off.

It’s a surprisingly good plan, and executed with all the typical action flourishes one would expect. At least, until it comes time for Tooru to do his bit, when he gets distracted by a blue butterfly crossing his scope, causing him to hit the Kasha wrong, putting Natsuki’s life at risk.

01-11While he does manage to kill the Kasha, it collapses, knocking Natsuki off her bike. Tooru rushes to her, finding her unconscious as the wall of holy water is held back by the Kasha’s now disintegrating corpse. Tooru gathers her up as Mami gives him a heads up, and Kudou flies the Osprey down the adjoining shaft for a last minute rescue.

Which can only mean, it’s Miller Time!

01-13Before we get to the wrap up, there’s a couple of things I want to address. Namely, it’s the characters we’ve been introduced to so far. Each one is a character we’ve seen before, in other animes, usually of lesser quality. We can pretty much predict the entire course of the show at this point, we’ve seen them so many times.

Tooru, the damaged hero, will learn to let go of his tragic past and love again. Likely in the arms of the overly earnest to heal his wounds Natsuki. Kudou will learn to laugh a little, while Masaki will have some tragic event teach him the importance of being serious from time to time. Komparu will betray them, and Mami will rally them with a tearful speech about how they can do anything together.

I admit, the first time I tried to watch Ga-Rei Zero, these character archetypes really put me off, and I didn’t even finish this episode. I came back to it later, and tried again, promising to see at least this episode through to the end before writing it off as a well animated, but ultimately empty show. In fact, I know a number of other anime lovers who never made it through this ep, and don’t put much stock in the show because of the very same reason.

So why am I doing this rewatch then? Well, let’s get to the ending and see.

As the team settles back, patting themselves on the back for being so awesomely awesome, Tooru tries to apologize to Natsuki for almost getting her killed, and Masaki tells them both they owe Mami a big thanks for the rescue. Everyone agrees, and has a nice cup of coffee, when Tooru notices a blue butterfly wing under his foot.

Then, Masaki’s hand falls off.

01-14Okay. Did not see that coming.

He’s understandably stunned, and even comments on how he dropped his coffee before he’s run through by a sword. Tooru stares in shock at the figure lurking behind Masaki, identifying it as a Category A. The worst kind of specter. Something unstoppable.

01-15Kudou tries anyway, pulling his gun and opening fire. The girl with the sword literally dismantles him in a flash, moving so fast he can’t even see her. His severed arm still gets a couple shots off, hitting the fuel tank of the Osprey and blowing it to pieces. Framed by fire, the Category A approaches, her sword shining as she deflects the bullets Tooru fires at her.

On the verge of panic, he hauls Natsuki behind a pillar and calls for Mami, who gives him a lovely speech about how hopeless everything is. We see that, inside the mobile command vehicle, Komparu is already dead, shot between the eyes, while some sort of creature has attached itself to Mami’s head in order to control her. After promising to meet up again in the afterlife, Mami blows her own head off.

Tooru, realizing how bad things are, makes a heroic speech about how he and Natsuki are getting out as he reloads his guns and offers one to her. Natsuki collapses to her knees, and as Tooru watches, her head falls off and rolls away.

We return to Tooru’s flashback, as he screams out for Aoi, the woman we saw before. The boy stands over her as another woman holds Tooru back, trying to get him to understand Aoi is no longer herself, that he needs to let it go. He shoves the woman back, and in that moment, we see it is the same woman attacking him now. Aoi stands, moving like a bad puppet, and approaches Tooru, who has finally pulled his gun. In Aoi’s chest is some kind of a gem.

This is the tragic past of Tooru. Whatever the boy is, he has placed some kind of a gem in Aoi, who is obviously important to Tooru, be it a sister or a lover. Somehow, the boy has turned her into something else, and as the woman with the sword orders him to shoot, Tooru does. Unlike what we often see, his tragic background actually is tragic.

01-16The boy, grinning, vanishes in storm of blue butterflies as Aoi falls dead.

Back at the aqueduct, Tooru sits helpless, his entire team wiped out in a blink by someone he knows, someone he obviously trusts. Someone who once saved his life. He sits, paralyzed with fear and hopelessness as she stands over him, sword in hand.

“I told you,” she says as he looks up at her. “Let it go.” The very words she said to him in the flashback. With that, she kills him, and the episode goes to black, the credits rolling, nothing but the sound of the fire burning as the background.

01-17Ga-Rei Zero episode one is a shocker it terms of set up and execution. Everything about until those last few minutes tells us it’s going to one kind of story, but then they turn it on it’s head, and give us something else completely. For that reason alone, this flawless writing, never letting on that the character archetypes we are being introduced to are ultimately irrelevant, it is worthy of note. Solely for the fact that it takes these conventional character types we know so well, and dismantles them, sometimes literally.

By the same token, this is the first episodes biggest weakness, because to get that payoff, which is genuinely dramatic, we have to be willing to sit through something that we think we’ve seen before. Which we do think, because again, they never once let on that these characters are not the actual characters we are going to be with for the rest of the series.

As I said before, it took me two attempts to get through this episode. On my first run, I gave up about the time they entered the aqueduct, as the show had a patently action vibe going on, and the characters were, from my perspective, hastily drawn caricatures I’d seen in other animes, usually ones I didn’t bother watching to the finish. The main reason I came back and tried it again was because Funimation had given it an English dub, and Natsuki was being voiced by none other than the amazing Colleen Clinkenbeard, best known for her work as Riza Hawkeye in FullMetal Alchemist and Erza Scarlet in Fairy Tail. I admit to being a huge fan of her work, and that was enough to get me to sit through this episode.

The twist ending was enough to get me to come back for the rest of the series however, as I’ve never seen any show do what they did here. Introducing an entire cast of familiar archetypes, then killing them all off in the last few minutes, was a risky move. Not only did the possibility exist people wouldn’t give the show a chance because of how well they hide the fact that these characters were not the actual cast, but there was also the possibility that they would anger people who did want to see more of the characters.

Either way, they took a huge gamble on alienating their entire viewership right out of the gate. For me, personally, the writing was enough to get me interested in what happened next, and I ended up watching the entire show in a single day, because this episode isn’t even the strongest writing they do.

What they do manage with this episode, however, is show us an elite team of specter combatants being taken out in seconds by a single young woman with a sword. While I may never have been very invested in Section Four’s exploits, I quickly got heavily invested in learning what turned this woman from an ally to an enemy.

We’ll get to know her better next episode, though. So, for now, have a great weekend, and see you next week, for Episode Two: Expression Of Hatred, where we’ll begin to explore what the hell this means.

01-18Want to check out Ga-Rei Zero for yourself? You can catch it over at the FUNimation website!

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