Gunparade March Review
Based on the popular Playstation videogame Takidou Gensou Gun Parade March this 12 episode anime series originally aired in 2003. The initial setup for the series depicts an alternative history to our own, where following the end of the second World War in 1945 alien invaders filled the skies posing a threat not to one nation, but the entire planet. United for the first time in human history against an unprecedented threat mankind have fought the Genjyu for over half a century, only to see their world slowly swallowed by the devastating foe invading the planet. Jumping forward to present day (well, 1999) in the Japanese region of Kyushu we discover the humans are fighting back with newly devised weapons known as Humanoid Walking Tanks (HWT), and the hideous power which is the PBE bomb against the Genjyu "Brains" leading the assaults on the few safe havens that remain.
With manpower drastically low the Japanese government have passed a legislature, allowing them to select young men and women to send into the battlefield. The focus of this story is Unit 5121, a high-school class consisting of pilots and maintenance engineers aged between 15 and 17, along with a young eight-year old girl blessed with a special ability required to activate the genetically fused PBE bomb. Together with their seniors commanding the unit, they must balance traditional high-school life including exams and their curiosity toward the opposite sex, with their military training and requirement to face up to the threat and run into action whenever the emergency sirens wail. Sound familiar?...
GunParade March fails to offer a single hint of originality with more than a passing resemblance to numerous anime series and even Hollywood blockbusters such as Starship Troopers. The back-story allows for a reason to have unusually young men and women thrown into the pitfalls of War, deprived of a 'normal' life in their teenage years bringing them face to face with emotions revolving around the death and loss of friends through the battles they wage, all the while they go about their traditional teenage tendencies of talking about boys, girls and the chance of that first love. We've seen these basic threads numerous times in the past, Neon Genesis Evangelion covers all aspects including the abuse of power seen with regards to the children and young adults exploited for humankind's sake, only here this particular thread is a passing side note as opposed to a major plot thread with serious overtones. Elsewhere the more traditional teenage romantic involvement has been seen too, Evangelion pops up again as a prime example only the elements seen in GunParade March begin to consume the story, pushing the War element aside to make way for romance to blossom with the proceedings mimicking classics like Love Hina almost blow by blow from major characteristics of the key players right down to the location and time of year when their feelings are finally admitted.
One of the key problems the viewer faces with this show is the lack of focus, with the opening two episodes used to establish the current state of play in the War raging on Earth before pushing us into the heat of battle where the Genjyu are shown to be a formidable but not indestructible enemy. Later we are introduced to the many young faces which make up the central cast, all very much in full teenage bloom, the girls constantly evaluating the men around them and speaking of a love that will last through the ages, while the men (save for the typical ladies man) are either too interested in the thrills of battle and large machinery at their disposal, or simply too shy to do anything about the advances their opposites frequently make. When new girl Shibamura Mai arrives interest is high amongst all concerned, rumoured to be the daughter of a billionaire questions surround the hot-headed and rather quiet young lady as to why she even signed up for military service, suggesting a motive lie behind her advanced battle skills. When Mai is teamed up with Hayami Atsushi, a shy young man renowned for his average qualities an awkward partnership is formed, both on and off the battlefield where, following a night trapped alone the two begin to realise their feelings for each other. And it is here where the focus begins to wane, as what began as a series interested in both the lives of its central cast and above and beyond, the cause they are fighting for, rapidly descends into a basic romantic comedy where the key individuals tip-toe around each other while their friends devise all manner of schemes to push them together, before finally putting us out of our misery and coming to their senses on the eve of the millennium.
Unfortunately what it lacks in originality is not made up for in execution. The key to all young boys hearts is a solid battle sequence, but those on offer here generally lack tension and simply involve a few mecha shooting machine guns and launching missiles at an enemy which disappears like a video glitch when hit. In terms of animation the budget here must have been fairly low with the action set pieces feeling rather stale, while the tendency to use still artwork combined with pans, visual effects and audio occurs a little too often for comfort. What really disappoints though are the creature designs, with the Genjyu distinctly lacking in imagination, and truly nothing more than blobs with eyes. Fortunately the actual character designs are far more appealing, certainly attractive to the eye and most importantly unique enough to allow easy and immediate identification while viewing. Costume design is also rather good, if only because the uniform adorned by the majority of the cast is so damn unusual for an anime with a heavy line in romantic entanglement, where the female officers wear shorts as opposed to the more traditional alarmingly short skirt. That they still manage to indicate some form of 'up-skirt' view from time to time is a testament to the minds at work behind-the-scenes!
Making up for the relatively low-key action set pieces is the characterisation and development of the relationships over the series, with most of the circumstances and dialogue moving the story along and allowing for some light comedy along the way. This is where the lack of focus tends to become an issue though, as the descent into complete romantic subplot is not joined by the more madcap comedic antics which make such a tediously implemented soap-opera element a joy. Instead I found myself becoming more than a little bored by the entire affair in which Mai and Atsushi come so close on a number of occasions, though in its favour the characters remain likeable and their actions plausible if not entirely agreeable. What saves the series from complete anonymity and subterfuge into the pit of pointless sci-fi mecha crossed with romantic elements are a few choice episodes and story threads that run the course. Mai's background and inability to let go of another man in her life remain crucial to the viewer's interest, with hints well spread over the episode run, while some of the secondary romantic interludes prove a little more entertaining than the central instance. The cast of friends around the main duo work extremely well, providing a mixture of light comedy relief, some titillation (service, service!) and a few insights that although sadly never explored further, enhance the proceedings for simply being there.
The episodes which really make for worthwhile viewing however and do a lot for the central characters' motivations come around the mid-way mark, first and foremost with Dead Leaves in which the show's staff employ some backbone and send one of the central characters to their grave. Morbid I may be, but once this event takes place the Genjyu threat becomes very real indeed, both to the audience but more importantly to the characters affected. This plot thread also happens to be handled with some expertise, taking a direct line to the viewer’s heart and injecting some very real emotion through the character circumstances prior to their death, and those surrounding them as they lie surrounded by their weeping classmates. That we never see the actual moment of passing is also crucial to the series early central premise, that of a world at war with a common threat, so instead we are privy to a news broadcast detailing the men and women lost in battle that day, with the character's name coming very late in a long list hitting home the reality of the situation as we hang on every name read out.
Another key episode comes shortly after, where Atsushi and an injured Mai are lost in battle, alone in a forest which is roaming with Genjyu. It is here that Atsushi defines himself to the audience, explaining why exactly he is trusted in the battle to save mankind, as outside of his traditional shy complex he is a far more driven man on the battlefield. Taking matters into his own hands he walks into the face of darkness, Mai slumped unconscious on his back, using his head to navigate them to safety. This also happens to be the episode where Mai realises what lies beneath his goofy facade, delving into her own background as they talk in the dark of night waiting for rescue, before the pending descent into a more straight romantic comedy looms over the remainder of the series.
Undoubtedly the highlight of any special anime collection is the packaging, and here we get the same collector's tin which came with the initial Volume 1 Collector's Edition release should you have purchased the series volumes individually. This glossy tin case features full colour artwork on front and reverse sides, focusing on the central characters with a lush blue backdrop. It's rather light, but perfectly sturdy housing three DVD volumes inside, each in their own amaray cases with full artwork as seen on the separate retail releases. It really is an excellent set all round, with my only complaints being the difficulty you may have in getting a tin which is free of scratches. Mine came fully sealed and perfectly packaged, but was already fielding several light scratches and smudge marks before I even removed the shrink-wrap.
Picture and Sound
The interlaced transfer can be a little soft at times with some noticeable jaggies in pan shots, while some compression issues can be seen in the often dreary backdrops of the battlefield and military quarters. Beyond these somewhat minor quibbles the presentation is really very good, exactly what you'd expect from a two year old production made in the digital domain, with effective detail levels and solid colour reproduction giving a fine transfer that only the most hardened video fiends will pick at.
The Japanese 2.0 Stereo mix was my language of choice throughout the series, with the central cast giving strong distinctive performances with appropriate emotional range for a series of this light romantic nature that only occasionally deals with more impacting issues. In terms of the audio quality you can expect a very fine show, offering good separation across channels and good clear dialogue at all times. An English 2.0 Stereo option is also available, and though I only sampled it briefly when picking out the images you see on the page, I was left distinctly unimpressed with the casting and their efforts.
Optional English subtitles are presented in the standard yellow font often found on Region 1 DVDs, offering a literal translation of the dialogue complete with coverage of signs and important text.
Broken down per volume you can expect...
Volume 1: Production Sketches consists of 21 pencil illustrations depicting the HMT mech designs, with some intricate interior design present. Textless Opening is self-explanatory to the seasoned anime fan, though not particularly enticing here as neither the title sequence nor its main theme ever gripped me. GPM Theme Song is a four-minute song set to a static title card, produced for the DVD as far as I can tell being used partially on the main menu. It's a rock/rap track which outstays its welcome but is fairly catchy nevertheless.
Volume 2: A further 20 or so Production Sketches focus more on the characters this time, while the Textless Closing rounds out the standard anime extra requirements for the set. The GPM Theme Song makes another appearance as do a selection of trailers for other Media Blasters releases.
Volume 3: Trailers aside, there are no extras on the disc but we do get an extended insert with an interview between the central Japanese voice actors. Akemi Okamura who plays Mai Shibamura, and Akira Ishida who plays Atsushi Hayami, discuss there work together since the Playstation game, subsequent drama CD and this anime series. It makes for interesting reading, if only to see how different the characters are from the other incarnations of the Gunparade March story, but is ultimately quite short.
Far from being the worst but hardly the best example in its genre Gunparade March is one to consider should you ever see it going cheap or you feel you’ve exhausted all other anime possibilities.