Gad Guard: Volume 4 - Collections Review
I start to fear the worst for a series when I feel it has started to stumble as Gad Guard did in the previous volume. The main question with regards to the series is where is it actually going? Things weren't cleared up last time and they're not even being hinted at here, but at least for this volume some time is placed in developing characters while retaining that stand alone feeling.
Sometimes it’s funny or even clever when a set of episodes included in a volume share a common theme. With volume 4 of Gad Guard that theme is greed. It's about wanting something and doing anything you can, even if it means using and hurting your friends in order to get. Family values are heavily played upon as we discover more of Aiko's background and the kind of life her father leads. In fact Aiko's father becomes a major player at this stage as we learn he knows plenty about the Gad stones and while he's busy trying to collect them his daughter is fighting crime in her very own Techode. So rather than present us with villain of the week episodes a lot more concentration is put into giving us well rounded characters.
The series opens with an interesting episode in which Hajiki and Katana must join forces in order to flee a mysterious assassin (who has a bit of a Trigun/Hellsing wardrobe thing going on) who wants everyone to be his friend, after he's torn them limb from limb. The more time Hajiki spends with Katana the more he seems to like him but naturally he questions why he'd even want to be his friend. It's a standard formula for this particular episode, which is all too familiar in television series, at one point despite their differences it’s only inevitable that they should have to work together. But then it's their supposed likeness which comes into play. Hajiki would never have thought of himself as being anything like Katana. He's just a delivery boy, not a calculated being with dreams of taking over a city, though deny as he might he is constantly reminded by Katana that they are similar in many ways, after all why is Hajiki running from assassins through the town's sewage works? It's this twist of fate that brings together the unlikeliest of folk but if any questions are to be answered then it won't be here.
And then there's Hajiki's home life. When he's not out delivering things or fighting crimes atop Lighting’s shoulder he has a troubled and often quiet time at home. His mother always shows concern for him but he rarely speaks to her, while his sister argues with her mother more often than not, to which Hajiki responds more positively to his sis. What makes these moments a little more odd than usual is that themes of teen angst, for which these attitudes in life could be largely attributed to aren't drawn upon greatly. Sure Hajiki is busy and has a lot of responsibility but as far as anything else goes he's not been up to much, not even a real attempt to place him in a romantic situation with Arashi has been made and his rebellious nature is light to say the least.
Meanwhile we have Catherine. Until now she's been more of a background figure where we've learned very little but now we get to see another side to her, one which isn't very desirable. For a long time Catherine has been searching for something she lost long ago, a Gad which judging by her ever persistent nature she needs. Catherine's greed and disregard for her only friends feelings makes her a little less than likeable as she's often the most playful character of the series. The shift in personalities is a great one which further highlights the series on/off dealing with obsession, and a tragic, lonely side to her and no doubt we'll be seeing more of Catherine's quest in the future.
If there's one consistent problem that I'm having with the series then it's the character of Takumi who continues to be highly irritating. Until now that's all he's been but we finally learn a few reasons behind his annoying attitude and I have to say even after learning more about his past it doesn't make him any more likeable. This girlie boy spends episode after episode moaning and telling everyone how he has to be some champion of justice and his role in the world is too important. He dislikes bad things and even tries to pay a police officer not to work as a stripper for her second job, even though he seems to enjoy breasts as he can't take his eyes off of hers or Aiko's for that matter - a blooming romance perhaps?
Speaking of which there's a whole new other side to the series. The two female police officers who enter the fray every now and then have interesting jobs indeed. One of them isn't dedicated to her job; she works as a stripper at night, acknowledging that she works in a place filled with dubious activities for which the force is supposed to look down upon. But she has a life to live, she has to earn money and the force doesn't cover her bills. As a statement toward the economical situation in Japan, this might work but so far the series hasn't been so forcefully blunt, so it's unlikely that there are any deep undertones here, but it is an element that's certainly interesting.
Volume 4 plods along with the following episodes:
Episode 13: Dwellers of the Dark
Hajiki contemplates his standing in life, wondering what it would be like if he never had Lightning to lean on. His worries are cut short when he becomes involved in a fierce chase, alongside Katana as they run from an unstoppable assassin who has the power to merge human flesh with machine, to create monstrosities known as his "friends".
Episode 14: Seeking Lost Time
Catherine finds a lead which takes her to the docks, where she hopes to find a Gad. She meets an old man who begins to talk a lot of nonsense about time and refuses to hand over the small statue that he holds. Catherine becomes more desperate in her search and begins to use her friends for help. She doesn't know that she’s about to set herself up for a reality check, leaving Hajiki to do what he can to save her.
Episode 15: A Garden in the Sun
Aiko starts to wonder about what she wants to do with her life. After talking to her father he shows her his precious collection of Gad stones, informing her that she will inherit them one day. He tells her that these stones are able to produce a tremendous amount of energy and that they are highly sought after. Enter Jack, once again returning to town, this time to get revenge on Aiko's father, Larry. Jack kidnaps Aiko and threatens to kill her unless Larry gives him the Gad collection in return.
Episode 16: The Day We Bare Our Fangs
Takumi carries on taking Thunderbolt out to fight for justice, one night crashing through the wall of a strip joint where he meets a buxom police officer who he tries to talk out of her night job. He soon confronts Katana and Zero before getting seven bells kicked out of him. Later, Aiko hands out invitations to her friends, asking them to visit her house and have tea with her family. They agree and soon they are introduced to Larry's Gad stone collection, much to their amazement. After the party Takumi and Aiko have a personal chat but something strange occurs. Why is Thunderbolt suddenly lashing out at Messerschmitt?
Like previous volumes, Gad Guard comes in a standard amaray case with reversible cover. On the front we have Takumi and his Techode, Thunderbolt whilst on the reverse side we get Aiko and Messerschmitt. A small booklet is included, which folds out as a mini poster featuring Hajiki, Arashi and Aiko.
Presented in its native 1.33:1 aspect ratio the series looks very pleasing. As you can see from some of the grabs here the digital banding is quite noticeable and this kind of thing continues to be a problem when certain techniques are used. In the case of Gad Guard it has a lot of light manipulating effects, which often brings out a haziness which reflects the issue at hand, with aliasing noticeable in a few areas. Otherwise the series maintains its strong look, with great colours and nice detail in its animation.
For sound we have an option of Japanese 2.0 and English 2.0. Both tracks are very good so your preference will only come down to obvious reasons. The main speakers carry action, music and dialogue well which is all you'd want really.
Optional English subtitles are available which are of excellent quality.
Fifteen pictures, most of which make up the front and back cover for this volume are available in thumbnail sized splendour.
Geneon Previews Trailers for Paranoia Agent, Submarine 707 and Ikki Tousen.
Gad Guard "Collections" isn't a huge step up from the previous volume though it does manage to provide a little more interest in terms of character development. As to where the series is heading well it is hard to guess despite being four volumes in so it will have to seriously pick up its real storyline soon as we've passed the half way point.