Genre: Mecha/War Drama/Supernatural
Year Released: 1998-1999
Running Time: TV Series, 25 episodes, 23 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 12+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Flag, RahXephon, (Yoshiyuki Tomino-era) Gundam, The Place Promised In Our Early Days, Noein, Betterman, X TV, Texhnolyze, Battletech, Serial Experiments Lain, Argentosoma
-The ADV DVD boxset was used for this review. I mainly focused on the Japanese language track, but I have seen some episodes dubbed in the past and watched one episode dubbed in full recently.
-I would also recommend Scott’s review of Gasaraki.
-Gasaraki is an original screenplay that was created and co-directed by Ryosuke Takahashi. No, Initial D fans. I’m not talking about the leader of the Akina Red Suns. This guy is also responsible for Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Layzner, Blue Gender, and directed the 1979 remake of Cyborg 009. Takahashi has been considered an innovator of the “real robot” subgenre/aesthetic of mecha anime. In case you’re wondering, Goro Taniguchi of Code Geass fame was an assistant director.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Much like the timeline linking Yushiro and Miharu together, it seems the dub made this joke write itself. Yushiro was played by Chris Patton while Miharu was played by Monica Rial in her debut leading role in anime. Both of them would be partnered together in RahXephon and Nanaka 6/17 after the fact playing major characters who are usually together. Also, the concept of Nada as a term for absolute nothingness in Kanji should be hilarious to any Spanish speaker for obvious reasons.
-Both theme songs were performed by Kyoto-based singer Tomoko Tane. Outside of Gasaraki, she has lent her music skills by performing music for Trinity Blood. Also, the ending theme “Love Song” was co-written by Akino Arai who sang both ending themes of Outlaw Star.
-Gasaraki got a video game on Playstation two years after the anime debuted.
-The youngest sibling of the Gowa family Misuzu is voiced by Satomi Korogi. She has been in the business since 1988 and has voiced characters such as the Omni King from Dragon Ball Super, Ponygon from Zatch Bell, Nina Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist, but her most famous role is Togepi from Pokemon. I swear she doesn’t sound like that baby egg-covered character in this anime.
-Did you know that Gasaraki takes place in the year 2014? They certainly don’t talk about the time period, but there are two context clues. In one brief scene when Yushiro’s profile is shown on a TA screen, it reveals that he was born in 1997 and is 17 years old at the time (yes, the youngest Gowa son is from Gen-Z). Also, Miharu mentions that a “horrible event” (spoilers avoided) happened 8 years ago and the date mentions 2006 in her research.
-Language Bonus: Three of the Gowa brothers have the same Kanji sign for “Kiyo” in their names: Kazukiyo, Kiyotsugu, and Kiyoharu. The sign translates in English to “Purify”, “Cleanse”, or “Exorcise” (as in exorcism). This has brilliance because it plays into the eldest brother’s ambitions to purify Japan’s culture as he tries to ascend to leadership and his other brothers quietly support them.
-If you ever see the name Hajime Yatate on something animated by Sunrise as one of the creators, that’s not a person. It’s a collective pseudonym of that studio’s writers, producers, and animators. The name comes from a line of Matsuo Basho’s “Oku no Hosomichi” (The Narrow Road to the North). The quote is “Kore o yatate no hajime toshite…” which means “This was the first time I used my yatate…” Also, a yatate is a portable writing instrument that’s shaped like a smoking pipe that was used in Japan centuries ago. This could involve the fact you have multiple writers in this collective.
Does anyone remember when I actually watched and reviewed anime? It seems like so long ago. Do you want to know what was even longer? ADV Films existing as it’s own company before it became an imprint for its successor company Sentai Filmworks. I was also surprised that AMC bought out that distributor (yes, the people who own Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead own an anime company now). When I was really getting into anime in my teens, I started watching stuff like AD Police, the Sakura Wars OVAs, Evangelion (expect me to bring up that anime again), and others back then. I feel that ADV doesn’t get enough credit for featuring certain anime to people here in the West. Besides EVA being the obvious anime, they were also responsible for exposing the English-speaking world to Makoto Shinkai’s early works, Full Metal Panic, the original Kino’s Journey, Battle Angel decades before it got the live action treatment and others. Man alive, they even played a couple of episodes of Nadesico and Dai-Guard on Toonami’s Giant Robot Week in the early 00s. Not Adult Swim…I’m talking about the OG Toonami on weekday afternoons. Several voice actors got their start there such as Jason Douglas, Spike Spencer, Monica Rial, and more. They are also responsible for having the first-ever anime channel in America (Anime Network) and even made Newtype USA which was an English-language version of a Japanese anime magazine that covered news, upcoming shows, and offered a free DVD with the first episode of a series about to be released. I do have memories of watching things they distributed and remembering the “Three Mile Highland” song on those “Get It On DVD from ADV” promos in the older DVDs. Sometimes watching the preview section allowed me to be intrigued by watching other series.
I remember watching one preview a long time ago, saw it a long time ago, and I rediscovered it after not watching this for over a decade.
Gasaraki involves warring factions and strained geopolitics. There’s the multi-trillionaire Gowa Zaibatsu family who owns their own city in Japan and craft weaponized robots known as Tactical Armors (or TAs for short). On the other side, there’s a shadowy corporation called Symbol which has its own robots called Fakes. Much like how the Gowas have sway over Japanese government officials, Symbol is fond of funding various heads of state. One of their recent beneficiaries is the Central Asian despot in the country of Belgistan. Tensions are running high as there are rumors that they have weapons of mass destruction in their midst. Going back to the Gowas, their second-youngest member of the family and youngest son is Yushiro who is a test pilot for the JSSDF’s TAs, but outside of moonlighting as a solider, he is a trained Noh dancer. During one ceremonial dance, he opens a portal to invite the spirits into the present realm, but he is interrupted by another person who has access to spirits named Miharu. What makes matters worse is that she’s another pilot for Symbol which puts them on opposite sides of the war. They both have familiarity with each other even if they don’t know exactly why. In addition to the Belgistan conflict, the Gowa family has over a millennium of secrets as they’ve existed as influential people in Japan and have blood on their hands for an event that happened eight years ago. Various military personnel and politicians have their own agendas on how Japan should be a world power or how they can access the spiritual realm…possibly inviting the terror known as Gasaraki to the human plane of existence.
This anime seems all too perfect to review on Iridium Eye because I rarely hear anything about Gasaraki on these internet streets. I feel like this has been buried by other anime in the late 90s. If we look at it from Sunrise’s standpoint (I will not call it Bandai Namco Visual), this came out the same year as Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, and even Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz. That really speaks to how it’s been upstaged by anime much more popular and still talked about to this day. With that said, I’d argue that Gasaraki is a hidden gem in both the former ADV portfolio and Sunrise’s work as a studio. It’s nostalgic seeing hand-drawn animation and traditional animation has aged quite well. I like the slight movements of characters even if they’re just talking, the fight scenes still hold up to modern anime standards, and there are even some arthouse vibes in some of the episodes. There is a two-episode backstory arc that takes place a thousand years prior to the events of the story that uses cool colors and at one point resembles an old Japanese painting. The final episode got really creative with the titular Gasaraki spirit showing up and multiple characters getting into the spirit realm with the modernized kugai mecha. Sunrise rarely slouches and while I wouldn’t call it sakuga-quality, there was still a ton of effort with the 2D animation. It was a bit tricky keeping up with the characters at first, but they do have their own individual personalities and motives. I did have concerns with Yuhiro being a bland lead at first, but he does develop from being a shy person oblivious to how he’s being exploited to one that has a lot of internalized anger. Miharu could’ve been a Rei Ayanami Clone, but she’s not like that character despite having paler skin and atypically colored hair (turquoise instead of blue though). She has more emotion and is a competent agent, but she struggles with a ton of self-loathing that is surprisingly relatable. The elder Gowa brothers do stand out such as the overly ambitious businessman Kazukiyo who is very cunning and deadpan in his demeanor. Kiyotsugu is a genius researcher who is dedicated to his work with the TAs, but he is naive to the sinister underpinnings of his big brother wanting to be the head of the Gowa dynasty. Kiyoharu is the calm, but confident analyst who acts as the voice of reason even though he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Kazukiyo. I wondered about the different factions at play whether it was the Gowa Zaibatsu, Symbol, Belgistan, non-Japanese immigrants to Japan, and various governments. This doesn’t become some lopsided moral play because it becomes a lot more complex to reveal so many facts and you have people who are wrong on all sides. I was concerned that Gasaraki would have pro-Japanese nationalism going on when Nishida came in, but I’m glad his ideologies are shown to be flawed in subtle and overt ways. It was refreshing to see a serious seinen-type of mecha show instead of just wacky humor or fanservice, so I appreciated the tonal consistency. That’s not to say there aren’t bits of humor. One funny scene involves Misuzu and Captain Ataka trying to locate Yushiro and the former makes a comment about Ophelia. Ataka has no idea who she was and the Gowa daughter tells her she’s a Shakespeare character before the soldier responds by asking if she was from Romeo and Juliet. She is corrected by saying she was from Hamlet by this fourteen-year-old girl. That was funny, but to be fair, most adults in general barely know anything about Hamlet or pretend to know everything like a certain fanbase I won’t talk about in this review. Going back to the parts of the production, the music was a big standout for me. When I was a teenager, I wanted to see Gasaraki when I saw the original ADV trailer that played the opening theme “Message #9” by Tomoko Tane. This song is a certified banger then and it’s still awesome in 2022. I really liked the mix of industrial synths, deep low-end piano chords, marching corps drumlines, and the Noh chants. Yes, I know this has a tiny bit of a late 90s Bjork influence (think Army of Me-era Bjork), but it still stands out. Also, it’s one of the few anime theme songs that are mostly in English that isn’t a dubbed theme. If “Message #9” was in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex or the original movie, you’d be calling this one of the best theme songs of all time! The ending theme “Love Song” really grew on me, but it still felt epic with the opening “IZAYO!” (Hark!) lyric sung acapella before traditional Japanese instruments and a string section comes in. The full version has many creative parts and the TV version doesn’t fully do justice for this ballad. Not only that, but composer Kuniaki Haishima doesn’t get enough credit for his musical contributions. He knows when to be bombastic and when to be more subtle. Haishima uses dark ambient pieces, Noh music, industrial vibes, and other incidental music in the right places. It’s also weird to think I’ve reviewed two anime projects that feature his musical talents with Neo Ranga and Alien Nine, but Gasaraki is one of his best soundtracks works in addition to Monster. Here are both theme songs. You’re welcome.
I could go on about the technical aspects or the characters, but I’d argue that watching Gasaraki might be more relevant in 2022 given the events that happened years after this anime debuted. The Belgistan arc in the opening set of episodes is morbid in hindsight especially given the timing. The flag of the fictional country has a red/white/black horizontal tricolor border, it’s run by a dictator with a thick mustache in Asia, and the country is attacked under the pretense of having weapons of mass destruction even though (spoiler alert!) they don’t. If this doesn’t remind you of the Iraq War, then you’ve been living in a silo for the past 20 or so years. The nationalism from Nishida and his views of having a purer Japan with no immigrants gets hard to watch. He might as well say “Make Japan great again!” as an obvious comparison, but I’ve been seeing ultra-right-wing populism pop up in other countries from what I know about their politics. The grain shortage leading to inflation, food insecurity, and riots is very relevant given the recessions that happened in and the current inflation situation right now. Watching the protest and riot scenes can get tough to watch when you see robots attacking both violent and non-violent protestors (including killing someone who was unarmed at one point). The geopolitics are surprisingly realistic with the grain situation being very believable in how it could be devastating to the world economy or how people with tons of money get away with tons of illegal stuff, let alone bribing world leaders and governments to get what they want. There’s some economic hitman stuff happening with both the Gowa Zaibatsu and Symbol which really shows how both opulent shadowy organizations are no better than each other. That dynamic makes the situation with Yushiro and Miharu more fraught with tension and unintentionally gives it a Shakespearean dynamic with star-crossed protagonists thrust into various wars while knowing each other in a potential past life while trying to change fate. The economic situation was handled in a brilliant way like how when Nishida and Kazukiyo talk about how decadent Japan is while there are scenes involving poor people (some of them strongly implied to be immigrants) and slums within driving distance from Nishida’s luxury high-rise. How many mecha shows would dare to offer this much social commentary or have relevant geopolitical themes decades after the fact? These themes hit home a lot harder as I get older and try to research things I never realized when I got into anime. I don’t see most Gundam series or even Evangelion going that far. Speaking of EVA, this leads me to my next point…
It’s been half a decade since I started Iridium Eye Reviews, and given the reputation I got in the aniblogger and film reviewer community on WordPress, this is going to feel like a deconstruction of sorts. Let me make this clear: GASARAKI IS NOT AN EVANGELION RIPOFF! I remember seeing a review back in the 00s (I won’t name names) straight up bashing Gasaraki for stealing from EVA and even when I watched it after the fact, I will say that is the most baseless claim of plagiarism I’ve seen in my life especially since this person only saw three episodes. You see, everyone! I’m NOT some guy who calls everything a ripoff, so you all can sit down. Gasaraki and EVA don’t have the same plot, setting, scenes, or characters (there’s a reason why I brought up Miharu earlier). I get that this Sunrise work came out three years after Gainax’s most beloved anime debuted and that people were on the EVA copying train in the late 90s and early 00s, but Gasaraki and to a lesser extent RahXephon got crap for aping EVA until Pacific Rim came out. The only similarities I can think of between those anime are the time plot happening in the 2010s, a combat robot that can open its mouth (EVA Unit-01 wasn’t the first to do that!), and having existential themes. Even the synchronization aspect of the pilots and robots doesn’t even work the same way because the pilots are more likely to go berserk with an injected compound to pilot the TAs. Saying Gasaraki is an EVA clone is as fallacious as saying Hikaru no Go is a Yu-Gi-Oh! ripoff just because both series involve games and a spiritual partner for the main character. Maybe if you actually bothered to watch this work from Ryosuke Takahashi, you would know that it doesn’t play out the same way as Hideaki Anno’s anime. Pardon me for being confrontational, but I can promise you that Yushiro is WAY braver than Shinji, this depiction of a then-futuristic world is a lot more realistic in hindsight, the animation is better, it’s more mature, there’s no stupid fanservice or characters about that life of ice, snacks, or 50 gallons of beer, there’s nowhere near as much commercial franchise milking, and the ending is a LOT more positive than what went down in End of Evangelion. SPOILER ALERT! Only TWO people die in the ending of Gasaraki instead of everyone but two people in the whole world. I swear that reviewer and some misguided anime fans should owe this anime an apology for the crap it went through. I know it’s not a magnum opus of an anime and I will talk about the flaws later on, but it didn’t deserve the hate and apathy. Trust me, when I, the same reviewer who has called out popular media franchises with precisely specific similarities that could’ve only come from lesser-known pre-existing movies or series involving teenagers conscripted in government-sanctioned tournaments of death, people using machines that utilize dreams within dreams, sentient toys including that of a sci-fi action figure who doesn’t believe they are a plaything at first, or feline royalty with murdered fathers is telling you that this ripoff claim is baseless, then you know you need to calm down. Oh, and if Gasaraki did predate EVA, I still wouldn’t call Anno’s anime a clone. I get that I’ve got the perception of bashing popular things with copying more obscure works, including actual examples of documented plagiarism or blatant denial from the creators despite the obvious. Get that through your thick skulls before you start bashing this anime due to false accusations and perceptions. Just so you know, I don’t hate EVA, but I think the worship of this anime gets infuriating like it somehow has “divine status”. It’s no wonder I’m not knee-deep in so many fandoms even if I legitimately like something.
Gasaraki doesn’t always have the power of the Kai to summon greatness. While I commend the 2D animation for still aging well, the CGI doesn’t always match that. It’s okay sometimes, but some examples get dated like a helix-looking compound on a computer screen that had the same graphical equivalence as those 90s Windows screensavers with the colorful pipes popping up. Going slightly off-topic even though it sometimes correlates to some of the CGI, there were multiple moments of misspelled English and some of it got unintentionally hilarious with some of the mistakes like missing the “P” in physical for one of the stats screens. It also doesn’t help that one of the Symbol members is named Meth and misspelled as “Mess”. Wow, that is an unfortunately laughable name. The time period isn’t shoved in people’s faces and you wouldn’t know it took place in 2014 unless you looked really closely or read my Fun Facts section, there are some elements that feel dated and one can tell this was made in the late 90s. There are three obvious examples: a soldier playing on a black and white Game Boy-like device when Game Boy Color would come out close to the same time that it aired (heck, Sega’s Game Gear AND Genesis Nomad were already out and they used color!), there is a lack of cell phones used, and one scene involves Yushiro using one of my mortal technological enemies in one episode to contact someone…PAYPHONES! Keep in mind that if the music were close to the same as Gasaraki’s timeline, that would be two years after Maroon 5’s “Payphone” song came out and even that felt extremely dated by 2012’s standards. The voice acting was good in both languages, but I still had some critiques in both languages. Monica Rial does sound like Miharu’s Japanese VA most of the time, but she does have a tendency to overact when she shouldn’t given the character’s personality. Going to the Japanese version, I was not a fan of Captain Murai’s voice actress who sounded way too high-pitched for a character like that and I liked her dub voice actress better who sounded more natural with her vocal pitch. Murai is in her 20s, yet she sounds much younger than Misuzu who is in her early teens which just felt wrong. The Belgistan characters in the dub sounded bizarre with the accents and I wouldn’t have done that. I also have to warn viewers that Illich Guardiola plays a supporting character in some episodes and Vic Mignogna has a bit role (This is uncomfortable knowing he and Monica Rial are in the same series), so you might want to switch language tracks if it involves them. I will say that the change-up in the middle of the series by using the breakbeat remix of “Message #9” during the flashback arc was weird and should’ve stuck with the original or at least a stripped-down version to fit the aesthetic of those episodes better. The biggest flaw I noticed which I do agree with the EVA fans about is the pacing. Gasaraki is a slow-paced anime that takes time to build. If you’re an adherent of the three-episode rule, then this anime will not be your bag. It does get good later on, but don’t expect any instant payoffs or nonstop action (although Hunter X Hunter seems to get a pass for having a longer setup to get really exciting…) This is more story-oriented than action-oriented and there are multiple episodes that don’t involve the mechas battling it out. Not everyone will also get the themes of geopolitics which could fly over some viewers’ heads. This is a serious work that could turn off the Gurren Lagann crowd, let alone the fans of “super robot” anime as opposed to “real robot” works since the TAs look like something you could find at a military base instead of the model kit or action figure section at a department store.
If there’s one anime that I think is better than people give it credit for, then Gasaraki would be one of them. The timing of rediscovering this anime allowed me to see this with new eyes as it covers topics that are more relevant than when it first debuted in 1998. I’d argue that it handles a lot of these serious topics better in hindsight than a lot of its contemporaries, predecessors, and successors. The hand-drawn animation is late 90s vintage that still looks good, but I wish the CGI would have aged better. I liked the serious nature and mostly realistic setting (spirits and enchanted Noh dancing aside) that was fairly consistent. However, this is a slow-burner and isn’t trying to be flashy which does hurt the accessibility of this anime. The music is masterful and the plot tells a complete story with a surprisingly artsy and satisfying payoff instead of diving into shallow nihilism. Gasaraki isn’t a masterpiece, but I think it deserved a better reputation than what it got from certain reviewers and fickle otaku. I’m not the biggest Ryosuke Takahashi fan, but he and the others involved deserve an apology for getting labeled an EVA-clone when it is completely different from Anno’s series. If Gasaraki had copied concepts, plot points, or characters, then I’d definitely call it out. This is one underrated work that deserved more positive attention despite its flaws or being upstaged by Sunrise’s other works that debuted the same year and afterward. Recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a Ryosuke Takahashi fan.
Add 1 point if you like realism in your mecha and sci-fi works.
Subtract 1-2 points if you prefer super robot type of anime.
Subtract 2-3 points if you don’t like slower-paced stories.
-The 2D animation has aged well
-The critique of nationalism and aspects of geopolitics is stronger in hindsight and more realistic
-Amazing theme songs and background music
–Gasaraki gets very slow-paced before picking up later on
-Aged CGI and broken English signs
-Some zeerust in plain view
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: On ADV’s release, they gave Gasaraki a 12+ rating. That is fair, but there are mature themes. Since this is a war drama, expect there to be violence and there are onscreen deaths including a suicide by seppuku later in the series. There’s nothing sexual besides Ataka being flirty to get what she wants from the guys and some partial nudity from Miharu in a brief scene in the anime or the oil painting animation during the ending theme in the backstory arc, but she is still covered up. Some themes such as nationalism, xenophobia/anti-immigration, economic warring, human experimentation, fascism, authoritarianism, and puppet politicians come up which will confuse younger viewers. Gasaraki contains supernatural themes that revolve around Shintoism and some examples get low-key occultic such as people entering trances, reincarnation, or accessing a spiritual realm. The language is mostly mild, but the S-word is spoken in English by an American soldier in the Japanese version.
All photos and videos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Gasaraki is the property of Nozomi and Sunrise. The DVD cover is from Collectors Anime and is the property of Nozomi and Sunrise.