The Summer 2020 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
In the year 2030, a young girl named Kathleen Funada has joined a ragtag group of survivors to navigate the post-apocalyptic ruins of Sumida, Tokyo. For two years, the remains of human civilization have been fighting the Gibia, former humans who were transformed into monstrous beasts that can infect others with their venom. The search for a cure to the Gibia infection becomes even more complicated with the sudden arrival of Sensui Kanzaki and Kenroku Sanada, a samurai and a shinobi from the Tokugawa period who were transported without warning nearly five centuries into the future. Why were these ancient Japanese warriors flung into such a terrifying and strange new time, and what is their connection to the Gibia that ravage the land? There are plenty of mysteries Kathleen, Sensui, and Kenroku will have to solve, but they'll need to figure out how to survive this nightmarish world first.
How was the first episode?
Gibiate's biggest claim to fame coming into this season was its character designer: Yoshitaka Amano. After gaining immense fame for his early Final Fantasy designs, Amano has expanded his work into a variety of fields, and is at this point one of the most beloved illustrators in Japan. That said, Amano's style is incredibly rich in details and composed of copious, delicate linework, two things that are almost impossible to translate into fluid animation. So how do Amano's contributions fare?
Unfortunately, about as well as you'd expect. In Gibiate, Amano's art is simplified to the point where it's largely indistinguishable from most generic anime characters; and unfortunately, Gibiate itself is largely indistinguishable from most generic anime. Presenting a world where humanity has fallen beneath a plague that transforms people into low-resolution CG monstrosities, Gibiate spends its first episode half on exposition, and half on transporting a pair of samurai swordsmen to its post- apocalyptic present. A terribly composed action scene ensues, and eventually, our swordsmen meet up with a young woman who's intent on developing a vaccine for CG Monsteritis.
In terms of storytelling, this episode felt simultaneously uninspired and drawn out; you've definitely seen a version of this story before, and Gibiate's only twist on the formula is taking a very long time to get on with it. In terms of art design, the appeal of Amano's designs is pretty much entirely lost in translation to anime, and the show is very light on fluid animation. The ugly CG monsters also mean the show's fight scenes are a serious drag, when they should theoretically be its main sell. The decaying Tokyo backgrounds are this episode's one visual bright spot - detailed and alluring, they manage to convey the decline of humanity in a way that feels consistently beautiful, and more emotionally resonant than any of the show's actual dialogue.
On the whole, outside of the novelty of seeing Amano's designs hacked into pieces, there's not really much to Gibiate. A curiosity coming into the season, it has swiftly proven itself to be one more easy skip.
Gibiate had its hooks in me with its very first scene. A young girl, seemingly alone, recording what we assume is her final testament in a camcorder. She is one of the few survivors of an apocalypse brought about by the arrival of the Gibia, humans that were transformed into terrible monsters by a virus that can be spread via the Gibia's venom. She's only a teenager, and she never got the chance to graduate high school, but she vows to help find a cure that will wipe out the Gibia before humanity is destroyed.
This is a great premise, and the well-realized art and mood of this opening gave me strong I Am Legend vibes (the good parts of I Am Legend, I mean). Things begin to crack apart when the second hook of the premise shows up though, which is that Kathleen and her group of survivors will be joined by Sensui and Kenroku, who are a samurai and a ninja, respectively. And not Mad Max-styled post-apocalyptic samurai and ninja either; these two were yanked straight from the 1600s by some magical beam of light, which means that in addition to a horror-survival anime starring a group of mismatched but determined fighters, Gibiate is simultaneously delivering a fish-out-of-water action/time travel caper about badass ninja warriors from feudal Japan.
This is a lot of story to cram into a single half-hour episode, and Gibiate really struggles to bring it all together in a satisfying way. For one thing, the non-time-travelers are all awfully willing to just accept Sensui and Kenroku's story, so much so that it is a full twenty-one minutes before a single character bothers to question whether or not the soldiers from 17th-century Japan might not just be a couple of crazy guys who stole some old kimonos when the world burned down. Granted, the doctor of the group admits that, in a world where evil bug monsters appeared out of nowhere to destroy mankind, why shouldn't time travelling samurai and ninja be a thing. If the story was able to play up the ridiculousness of the situation more ironically, that approach might work, but so much of Gibiate's premiere consists of very serious exposition dumps about the bug monsters that there's no room for levity, characterization, or anything but table setting.
The artwork is mostly good, if inconsistent and choppily edited in spots, so getting through this premiere isn't exactly a chore, but the episode never regains the strong footing it had in those opening minutes. I will admit that I am curious to find out just what in the hell is going on with this show, so the premiere did its job in that one respect. I'm just not going to get my hopes up until Gibiate proves that it can balance its mishmash of subjects and tones with a little more grace.
Cross the 2016 series Kuromukuro (about a 16th century samurai who get put in suspended animation and reawakens in the modern world to fight alien invaders) with either the 1999 series Blue Gender or the 2020 series Cagaster of an Insect Cage (both of which feature post-apocalyptic settings where humans turned into insect-like monsters due to a virus) and you more or less have this series. As interesting as the combination may sound in concept, the first episode much more suggests that this could be schlocky, low-budget affair than any grand exercise in the Rule of Cool.
One immediate sign of concern is the way that Kathleen is introduced. I don't have any problem with the gimmick of her making a film record to introduce the realities of the setting, but instead of merely showing the devastation, she's posing in almost idol-type clothing and fashion, as if preparing pictures for social media. That on its own is a big dose of tonal dissonance, but even in later appearances the camera seems to be emphasizing her beauty rather than her ruggedness; for instance, she is conspicuously shown wearing make-up despite living in what amounts to a refugee camp. She just stands too distractingly at odds with the first episode's overall visual scheme, in a way that reminds me of low-budget monster movies.
The character design style leaves a bit to be desired elsewhere as well, with body proportions sometimes being inconsistent, but the visuals are not the only stumbles here. Despite accepting that the two new guys may be a samurai and ninja from the past, the doctor proceeds to explain the situation using technical jargon that would be way, way over the heads of even a well-educated person from the Edo period (the notion of the body consisting of cells did not exist until later into the 1600s, much less DNA), and yet neither of them are shown questioning that or seeming confused by it. They also seem curiously unfazed by the presence of what are clearly gaijin or the fact that Kathleen is clearly meant to be at least biracial if not of solely European descent. Since this is a bug-hunt scenario, the minimal level of action in the first episode – and how limited the animation of it is – are also concerns, but it looks like the samurai will have a proper sword next time around, so maybe that will help.
The two things that the first episode has going for it are the detail work on the background art and the interesting variety of Gibia, but that's not enough. This one does not currently show enough spark to even count as trashy fun.
I think that I might have liked Gibiate more had I not watched it after Deca-Dence. The similarities, granted, are really only surface level: post-apocalyptic worlds where plucky young heroines strive to fight the vaguely bug-like monsters that have destroyed humanity. In nearly all of the details, the two episodes are quite different; the problem is that Gibiate's differences don't necessarily add up to a compelling start to the story.
In part this may simply be because I'm really not in the headspace where “enjoying a pandemic story” is going to happen, but even without that factor, this simply isn't an episode that fully comes together. Kathleen, our main female protagonist, is an eighteen-year-old girl determined to find a vaccine for the Gibiate virus, which transforms humans into…things. Those things vary by location, and all of them look like combination lizard-mammals, with a few resembling dinosaurs and the one our male protagonists get up close and personal with looking like Stitch's face on a porcupine/ape body. Those heroes, by the way, have been brought to the show's present (2030) from 1600, where they were headed into exile for Sengoku-era reasons. Kathleen is totally willing to accept that they're a samurai and a ninja, as is her mother…who we're told has had a break with reality, so what that says about Kathleen and her doctor friend Yoshinaga is perhaps up for debate. Regardless, the time travel bit feels very much like a gimmick in the episode, although I suspect that won't turn out to be the case; perhaps humans from the past have some sort of resistance to Gibiate that modern people lack. That would make the most sense given Kathleen's stated goal of creating a vaccine, and the series badly needs to make the two elements of the story come together.
Mostly that's due to the fact that as introductions go, this is a bit lackluster. Partially that's due to the visual choices made. The colors are universally dull, with Kathleen's red eye makeup and a few characters with blonde hair (apparently Marines who were stranded in Japan?) standing out against a background that's otherwise mostly brown. The Gibia (infected monsters) are all very plasticky in their appearance, making them look more like toys someone forgot to put away or particularly cheap props than threatening instruments of doom. Add in the very pointy chins on the purportedly attractive male cast members and this is a combination of visual elements that don't quite all pull together.
There's some promise here once things start coming together, but I can't say that I'm particularly enthused to see where it goes. There's a better post-apocalyptic show streaming this season, so if you're not so devoted to the genre that you'll watch anything, looking elsewhere may be the way to go.
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