Gad Guard Vol.01: Lightning Review

Set in a world that is part futuristic, part archaic where society is split into separate zones of differing social, economic and technological standing. Gad Guard is another mecha sci-fi anime centred on the illegal trade in technological devices known as Gads. These Gads are inanimate metal boxes that once activated morph into powerful mechanized robots known as Techodes. The hero of our story is Hajiki Sanada, a motorcycle courier who is hired to send a seemingly normal parcel to a seemingly normal address. On the way he loses control of his bike and spills the contents of this package onto the road. Bending down to pick it up, he notices that the object is nothing more than a bland metal cube, yet for some reason Hajiki is inextricably drawn to it. Nevertheless, he completes the delivery and returns back to work. Unfortunately his boss greets him with bad news; the person who collected the parcel was in fact an interloper and the courier company had been used in an elaborate sting to steal its mysterious contents. Normally the aloof teenager would simply shrug the incident off, but he becomes irrationally obsessed with tracking down the criminals and retrieving the package. He soon discovers that the thieves are an eccentric gang of petty criminals – the most dangerous of whom is a skillful young mecha-pilot named Katana, and in the ensuing confrontation Hajiki activates the stolen Gad, thus giving birth to a brand new Techode that only operates on his command. Together with this robot, whom he christens: Lightning, Hajiki decides to investigate the origin of these mysterious Gads.


Kicking off with a sizzling Jazz toe-tapping theme and peppered with cityscape montage sequences that paint an eclectic portrait of the environment our characters inhabit, Gad Guard immediately evokes the memory of Cowboy Bebop. Just like Shinichiro Watanabe’s seminal classic the Jazz philosophy extends far beyond the score, the story incorporates numerous genre conventions. The beating heart may be the mechanoid science fiction elements, but there’s also some rather pessimistic social drama, super hero iconography, operatic musings, and a very heavy nod towards film noir. Similarly, the character designs also blend contrasting styles rather effectively, the younger characters look very young; they’re short, have huge eyes and simplistic facial features while the adults have a slightly more world weary appearance, with far more detailed faces – undoubtedly a by-product of the impoverished Night Town environments the series has mostly been set in so far. The robot designs are decidedly low-tech, owing more to Osamu Tezuka than Hideaki Anno. Lightning for instance has a very industrial appearance and a nimble, rubbery way of moving that certainly feels a lot more cartoony than most contemporary mechanoids. Don’t let this fool you into thinking the action sequences are childish though, the set pieces are satisfyingly fast and furious – thanks mainly to some fluid animation, expressive compositions, inventive robot fight choreography and of course a primitive, grimy town just ripe for some heavy metal carnage.

However, no matter how stylish Gad Guard may be, the narrative throughout volume one remains firmly focused on the characters, with each episode introducing and effectively characterising a new important player. In the opening episode we meet Hajiki Sanada, Arashi Shinozuka and the gloomy antagonistic Katana. Hajiki is the kind of mature but disillusioned teenager we see in a lot of anime shows. He’s on the brink of adulthood and carrying issues about the tragic death of his father - so he basically has all the superhero clichés stored up and ready to put into action before the Gad even enters into his life. Arashi is the love interest, she’s a young, apparently parentless girl who has recently moved into a Night Town apartment on her own and enrolled at Hajiki’s school; naturally it doesn’t take long before she falls for her easy going, considerate classmate. On hand to menace these teenagers is Katana, an aloof gang member who just like Hajiki remains coldy detached from everyone around him. But while our hero has a laid back, self effacing nature, Katana seemingly measures his own worth by his fighting and mecha-piloting skills. This prideful, arrogant streak might explain why he has such an adverse reaction when Hajiki arrives on the scene and activates a powerful Techode that can easily thwart his own old and knackered heavy metal mecha. Katana’s obsession with destroying Lightning culminates in the activation of the second Gad device by the end of episode two, which promises plenty more confrontations between these three characters in the next volume.


Episodes three and four establish the other Techode pilots: Aiko and Takumi Kisaragi, the former is a shy, repressed heir to a huge electronics firm, whereas Takumi is essentially an amalgamation of Katana and Hajiki’s personalities. He lives on his own and has an obsessive, irascible nature with more than a little hint of an inferiority complex to boot. By now you’ve probably noticed the common link between these main characters; a distinct lack of close parental figures. Aiko is the only Techode pilot with two parents, but they’re the clichéd rich and distant type, so it is left to the Techodes to fill this patriarchal void, which strikes me as particularly effective reasoning for the immediately close bonds that arise between our heroes and their robots.

Add to this a large collection of side characters: Hajiki’s mother and sister, his boss Hachisuka, a mysterious blonde named Catherine and Katana’s partners in crime: Jack and Wanda, and there’s practically no time left at all for any significant plot development. Obviously we are introduced to the abilities of the Gads and Techodes, but the origins of this technology and why there would be an illegal market operating within Night Town remains shrouded in mystery. Speaking of which, we are taught that the zone where Gad Guard’s set is split up into various class sectors: Gold Town (Upper), Day Town (Middle) and Night Town (Lower), but we do not have much of a feel for how such a segregated society was created in the first place. This gives us plenty of grey area for future illumination in the following volumes. Indeed there are a few tantalizing glimpses as to future story developments, like whether the death of Hajiki’s father will be tied into the origins of these Gads seeing as he was a military man. Then there’s the Gad device Aiko discovered in her father’s garage; he owns an electronics firm so you’re left wondering whether his company is behind the production of the Gads, and last but not least is the mysterious blonde Catherine – the original would-be owner of the Gad that Hajiki activated. How does she know so much about these devices and why does Hajiki intrigue her so much? One thing’s for sure, so long as the subsequent volumes manage to juggle the development of its complex characters and maintain the energetic action set pieces, it’s going to be a lot of fun finding out the answers to these questions.

Episodes

While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.

Episode 01. Looking Up At The Same Sky: After aiding a dodgy Night Town dealer to steal two Gad devices, a young punk named Katana sets up an elaborate sting to steal back the devices for his own gang. The plan involves hijacking the delivery of this dealer’s package to his rich client, which they pull off with relative ease, but they didn’t count on the meddling of the courier hired to deliver these devices: Hajiki Sanada. When Hajiki found out the package had been stolen he became obsessed with finding the culprits, and in a town where rumours of dodgy deals drift around in the shady background static, its not long before he catches up to those responsible.


Episode 02. Putting The Pieces Together: Hajiki has activated the stolen Gad and it has morphed into a special heavy metal robot that can only be operated by his command. Katana immediately tries to claim the device for himself but is easily fought off by the shiny new machine. When the police arrive Katana and the gang are forced to withdraw, leaving Hajiki alone with his prize, but he’s about to discover just how difficult it is to keep hold of a cutting-edge Techode in a place like Night Town.

Episode 03. On A Street Corner In Night Town: Aiko, a wealthy young girl and heir to Central Electronics is an otherwise ordinary young girl from the exclusive Gold Town. Just like many teens her age she’s lacking a general purpose in her life and this dilemma is further complicated by the fact that she secretly owns a Techode named Messah Schmidt, but when she hears on the news that another Techode has been spotted running around Night Town, she immediately springs into action to discover if there’s another kindred spirit like her out there. But she isn’t the only Techode owner searching for Hajiki in Night Town….

Episode 04. With Bright Eyes: A spate of robberies has been plaguing Night Town. Each heist is conducted by a gang with a heavy metal mechanoid that allows the criminals to get in and out long before the police arrive on the scene. These reports are also accompanied by sightings of a second heavy metal arriving on the scene just seconds after each crime has occurred. Catherine has obtained information that the second robot is in fact a Techode and passes these rumours on for Hajiki to investigate further.


Presentation

Presented in the original 4:3 ratio, Gad Guard has a distinctly hazy appearance that Gonzo animation seems to be particularly fond of, which means colour banding will creep into the image on certain displays. This minor nuisance aside though, ADV have provided a great transfer. The show’s colour palette runs the gamut from muted nighttime schemes to bright, vibrant daytime exteriors – all rendered cleanly and boldly. Contrast and brightness levels are spot on and although the image may appear a little soft, it’s down to the design rather than the transfer, and there doesn’t appear to be any Edge Enhancements applied! Compression is also excellent, sure a little bit of noise is present in some of the even colour tones, but you’ve got to actively seek it out.
The usual double whammy of Japanese/English DD2.0 Surround are the audio options present on the disc, switching between them revealed both tracks to be pretty much identical in terms of audio quality. Bass is strong, dialogue is delivered smoothly and clearly, the Jazzy score sounds rich and expressive and when the action kicks in there’s a good solid feel to the robot carnage. The stereo soundstage also feels nice and open, with some ambient use of the entire field.


The English dub seems to stick pretty close to the original Japanese script (Assuming the subtitle translation is accurate of course) and although some of the voices sound extremely dull and restrained, I’m sure the fans of English dubs won’t have any major grievances with this track.

Optional English subtitles are present with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.

Extras

Just a brief selection of fluff features here, first up is a 36second Promo Trailer in Japanese with no English subtitles, a Clean Opening Sequence, a short Art Gallery, and finally ADV Trailers for Kino’s Journey, Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Edition, Last Exile and Full Metal Panic.

Overall

Gad Guard has made an impressive start. Not only is it extremely stylish and backed up with solid characterisation, but the action set pieces are exciting and imaginative. Plot development may be noticeably slim on the ground but there’s another twenty two episodes left to rectify this and with ADV providing an excellent DVD presentation, I have no qualms in recommended this release to anyone with even a remote interest in Anime.


Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
2 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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