Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 26th 2005
DVD 1: Orphans of the Apocolypse
Years ago, a research project in the Middle East went awry when a scientist-turned-terrorist named "Enkidu" unleashed catastrophe on the world. The sky turned into a watery mirror, computers were rendered useless, and civilization took several steps backwards. In this ruined world are a brother and sister, Tatsuya and Kiyoko, whose runaway life takes a strange turn after encountering three mysterious "brothers." When the brothers turn into monsters, Tatsuya and Kiyoko are rescued by three youths who take them away to meet the Countess, an aristocrat who knows more about them than she ought to. Tatsuya and Kiyoko learn that the monsters they met are called Gilgamesh, and the young agents who fought them are the Orga. The Countess asks Tatsuya and Kiyoko to join her in this battle—since the two of them do happen to be Enkidu's children.
Of all the world civilizations and mythologies that have been adopted into anime, ancient Babylon might be the last one left untouched. That's no longer the case in Gilgamesh, which takes its cue from the old Mesopotamian culture and uses the original Gilgamesh legend as a basis for a modern-day thriller. This subdued tale is slow to reveal its secrets, hiding behind strange names and mysterious characters, but it drops just enough hints to keep everyone curious. With striking visual designs and a unique source of back-story, Gilgamesh is quick to set itself apart from the rest.
Although the Babylonian background and somber mood seem intriguing at first, there's also the uneasy feeling that this has all been done before. It's set in yet another post-apocalyptic world, albeit one where civilization has only been pushed back about as far as the mid- to late 20th century. Then there's the arcane battle between two powerful but secret organizations: the Countess and the Orga on one side, and Enkidu and his Gilgamesh creatures on the other. By the time it's revealed that Tatsuya (who's about the right age for a young anime hero) has a secret power, you're just wondering when they're going to break out the giant robots.
But don't go condemning this one to the cliché pile just yet. Although monster-battling and psychic powers are a necessary part of the story, they're not the main focus here as with typical schoolboy romps. This is a mystery first and an adventure second, as evidenced by the number of dialogue scenes and cautious explorations. Tatsuya and Kiyoko want to know what's going on, and they're going to keep asking people until they find out. Tatsuya uses his powers maybe once per episode—and when he does, it's always by accident, since he's in no mood to be come a sprightly shounen hero just yet. In fact, none of the characters are outspoken, and when they raise their voices it's only out of shock or fear. This uneasy mood makes Gilgamesh the quiet antidote to wild post-apocalyptic tales where explosions tell the story. In contrast, it's the urge to understand Enkidu's mysteries that drives the plot here.
Few shows can make a strong first impression on visuals alone, but this is one that does, and that's without flashy multimillion-dollar CGI. The character designs are unlike anything else in modern anime—boldly drawn with staring eyes, strongly defined features, and thick hair. Against the dim, carefully shaded backgrounds, the characters' vivid (but never cheerful) colors stand out even more. The animators also get a brief chance to show off traditional Mesopotamian artworks, bringing yet another culture into the cosmopolitan world of anime illustration. The animation itself isn't particularly striking, as most of the series so far involves static situations and slow movements, but it never falls into the realm of cheap or lazy. The few action scenes that do come up are exciting enough, although this series looks cooler when the characters are just standing around looking creeped out, rather than rampaging in battle.
Of course, standing around looking creeped out is doubly effective when there's chilling music around you—like a full orchestra hitting some harsh notes. The dissonant music score reflects the uneasy mood of the whole show, rarely approaching anything that resembles a melody or even a major chord. The dance-pop opening by Koda Kumi is the one exception to this mood, but everything else is the sound of suspense. Even the battle music refrains from anything energetic or triumphant; rather, it echoes the fear that comes from knowing very little about these enemies.
ADV's dubbing studio makes a smart move and matches the style of voice acting to the tone of the series. Everyone speaks in a restrained but uncertain manner, lending to the air of mystery that surrounds the story. Any traces of overacting or hammed-up dialogue are absent in this dub. Even the script is a solid re-working of the exact translation, changing words around a few times but sticking as close as possible to the phrasing in the subtitles. There's just nothing to complain about here; the dubbed dialogue makes the characters and their situations as believable as the original audio.
Extras on the disc include a clean opening and closing plus two art galleries, one for character design and one for set design. Although they would be easy to pass by on most other DVDs, it's worth taking a second look at the unique visual style of the show, especially with the character designs.
After these first five episodes, it may seem that Tatsuya and Kiyoko are no closer to understanding the mysteries of the modern-day Gilgamesh. In that time, however, you'll probably have been roped into their strange world and are curious to find out more. Such is the compelling quality of this post-apocalyptic mystery, which is about more than just battling monsters and training one's psychic abilities. What do Enkidu and Gilgamesh really want? And what exactly happened during the terrorist incident years ago? The subtle approach of this series is a stark contrast to other hyperactive adventures, and because of that, it becomes all the more alluring.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : B
+ A unique mystery that draws viewers in with its subtle approach.
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