Gad Guard: Volume 1 - Lightning Review
The gang at Gonzo Digimation are a busy bunch of fellows, with so many series coming out per year it is hard to keep up with them. Gonzo is already one of the "Hot Shot" animation studios, with its mixture of traditional anime and CGI infused effects - and each year they are improving themselves.
Gad Guard is no exception and shows that the animation team have learned greatly since their work on TV shows began in 1999. With well established shows such as Hellsing, Kiddy Grade and Full Metal Panic to their name and several more series looking to be equally as impressive they seem to have little trouble in developing ideas and utilizing their technology for each new show. Gad Guard takes its setting to a new level, far from the traditional Japanese backdrop that so many shows are often associated with, but more on that later.
The story takes place several hundred years in the future in a city known as Unit 74. The Earth's resources are depleting, causing several towns to crumble under pressure. One such town, "Night Town" already struggles economically, with lack of power, whereas "Day Town" has no such limitations and "Gold Town" is far wealthier.
Hajiki Sanada lives in "Night Town" and to makes ends meet he works as a courier for Hachisuka Transportation after school, providing his mother and sister with their much needed income. One day Hajiki is asked to deliver a package to an address in "Gold Town" but on his journey he accidentally drops it and discovers a cube inside. Unbeknownst to him at first this ‘Gad’ is incredibly valuable, with several people already in pursuit of it. After delivering the item Hajiki learns that he was tricked and that the Gad stone went to a con artist instead of the true owner. Hajiki becomes angered and tracks down the person he gave it too. After retrieving the cube he decides to hang on to it for a while. That same night something begins happening to the Gad as it draws metal objects toward it, creating a "Techode" - a giant, knight-like machine that obeys the command of its owner, who it appears is young Hajiki. Now Hajiki has more problems to face as he must decide what to do with his new discovery. He soon finds that in pursuit of the Techode is Katana - a young and skilled man who has been hunting down the Gad stones for an anonymous buyer and now his sights are on Hajiki. With many questions and nobody answering, Hajiki decides to take matters into his own hand. Calling the Techode "Lighting" he takes the machine out and thus begins the first of his many adventures.
Gad Guard is another one of those shows that is shrouded in mystery, at least in this opening volume anyway. With just four episodes there is little exposition, just enough to familiarize ourselves with the characters and setting while much of the meaning behind the events are placed in the background, allowing Volume 1 to kick off in style, with plenty of exciting action that speeds up a story that would otherwise lag in areas. Gonzo has finely balanced the pace, it can afford to at 26 episodes in length and at no point did I find myself becoming frustrated at its steady run, I was too preoccupied with its excellent animation, gorgeous setting and swing/Funk/Jazz sounds.
The series instantly reminds me of Yasuhiro Imagawa's Giant Robo in terms of fine, retro appeal and interesting environments, not to mention the "cool" swagger it carries. The city of Unit 74 is magnificently huge. Set designer, Osamu Kobayashi has constructed an epic cityscape that seems like it spans forever and with no clear idea of where it is supposed to be set then I presume that it could well do that. The three major towns: Night, Day and Gold each have their own unique features of which their name reflects, with "Night Town" being the most shady and corrupt area for example, and these are exploited fully by the storytellers who seem more involved in fleshing out the city area than in any other anime series that I have seen from them thus far. Gad Guard intrigues the viewer with its noir-ish and pulp feel, making it fresh and exciting. I for one can't wait to see more of it.
So is this a case of style over substance? No not at all. The series so far is every bit as intent on exploring characters and events but it does so at a leisurely pace. In the space of four episodes we are introduced to our hero, the comedy duo that is his employer Kogoro Hachisuka and new girl Katherine Flobel, the new student Arashi, Jack and Katana who work together at trying to obtain the Gad stones, Hajiki's mother, his sister, a girl named Aiko who owns another Techode called Messerschmitt and a young boy (who looks way too much like a girl) called Takumi who fights for justice in his Techode, Thunderbolt. So it is a surprise to see just how well each character is given ample screen time and with them all having various points of interest I only hope that in future episodes we begin to see more of them come out. It can be tricky to juggle around so many and while some can be seen as fillers for obvious reasons, there are also others who should have more light shed on them.
For a series mainly about children, presumably for children Gad Guard features some adult tones that are most welcome, distancing it from the norm to provide some amusing, adult banter and suggestion. The female characters are deliberately sexy and prove to be equal foils for the men which is often fun to see. There is a good amount of comedy that prevents the series from becoming too serious, which along with the excellent action sequences makes it worthwhile to sit down and enjoy what will hopefully continue to be a great piece of entertainment.
Volume 1 contains the following episodes. There will be minor spoilers so feel free to avoid reading on if you haven't seen the series:
Episode 1: Looking Up At The Same Sky
Hajiki Sanada has to make a special delivery - He must transport a small object known as a Gad. He is interrupted by The Jack Gang who steal the Gad but don’t manage to keep hold of it for long. Hajiki takes it for himself but isn't aware of what it contains. Soon a new student named Arashi starts at Hajiki's school, befriending him she learns about his new discovery while Hajiki learns himself that several people are after him and that his life is about to get very tough...
Episode 2: Putting The Pieces Together
Picking up from the previous episode's closing moment, Hajiki asks his Techode to attack Jack and his gang. No sooner has Jack been driven off than a new bad guy enters the fray - Katana, a young and skilled pilot who commands a "Heavy Metal" known as Seven. Katana was after the Gad but now it has become a Techode he wants it for himself and he won't stop until he gets it.
Episode 3: On A Street Corner In Night Town
No rest for Hajiki. Jack and his fellow gang are back and once again they are kept at bay by Hajiki's Techode, who he now calls Lightning. A young girl named Aiko, who is the daughter of the president of Central Electronics sees Lightning in action. She is very familiar with the Techode as she owns one herself - a giant called Messerschmitt, but she is surprised to see another one in action. Hajiki meets her and finds out that he's not the only one in the world who owns such an amazing creation.
Episode 4: With Bright Eyes
Hajiki rescues and befriends a young boy named Takumi, who was being attacked by a gang. The news has been reporting several jewel thefts in the vicinity and Hajiki decides to investigate, he has a feeling that another Techode may be involved. Takumi just happens to own a Techode also, by the name of Thunderbolt but who will get to the crooks first?
Geneon present Gad Guard in a standard amaray case with an attractive double sided cover. These are taken from original artwork and whichever side you choose you can still see the other through the clear case.
The series is presented in its original full frame ratio and it looks brilliant. This is such a colourful series, with an often deliberate saturated look, featuring many different shades and techniques. Gonzo's animation is yet again wonderful and has been transferred with great care. The only noticeable issues with this transfer is digital banding, which is expected, otherwise this is very strong.
There is a choice of Japanese 2.0 and English 2.0 Surround. Both tracks do the job nicely and pretty much sound the same, bar the dub that appears on the English track, that is to say music and effects are well handled, particularly for the action sequences. Dialogue is clear and that is about all that matters. With regards to which track is best, I'd say Japanese for definite but the folk at Geneon seem to have done a credible job in recreating the dialogue also and I can't say I have any major complaints about the dub.
The optional English subtitles are of high standard and easy to read.
Non-Credit Opening Animation
Here you can view the brilliant opening sequence, complete with its swing theme. There's plenty of nice animation that sets up the show well.
Promo Trailer #1
This runs for 35 seconds, accompanied by narration in Japanese - no subtitles.
A weedy but nice gallery. There are only 16 pictures to view, which I'd prefer to see without fonts over them - these range from scene stills to conceptual art.
Trailers for: Last Exile Fighting Spirit and Texhnolyze
Gad Guard has got off to a good start. Not a lot is given away at this early stage, which so far is fine as the series has enough going for it to keep things interesting. With six more volumes to go there is plenty of time for it to reveal more inner workings, or so I hope. For a show dealing with mecha it manages to provide something a little different, this may attract more viewers to it who otherwise have little interest in the genre; I would say its well worth it.