Reviewby Carlo Santos,
DVD 1: Lightning
Hajiki Sanada is a streetwise delivery boy scraping out a living with his mom and sister on the poor side of town. When he botches a delivery involving a mysterious black cube, Hajiki finds himself caught up in an underworld battle for forbidden technology. In his attempt to retrieve the black cube (known as a Gad), Hajiki accidentally activates it and releases a 20-foot-tall robot that answers only to him! The robot quickly disposes of the goons who were after the Gad—but Hajiki's problems are far from over. A second Gad ends up in the hands of Katana, a sinister young man, and he too becomes the proud owner of a powerful robot. As Hajiki strives to understand the mysteries of these "Techode" robots, he learns of at least two other people who have also unlocked the power of the Gad. Are they handing these things out with cereal boxes now? Where did the Gads come from, and what purpose do the Techodes really serve?
Only a studio like Gonzo could take something as hackneyed as boy-meets-robot and make it look like something amazing and innovative is happening on screen. If Gad Guard were being graded on visuals alone, it would be among the higher ranks of action-adventure anime. However, with a plot that doesn't rise above its predictable trappings and fractured storytelling that keeps the viewer just as mystified as the protagonist, this show reveals a muddled core beneath its shiny exterior. If the story picks up later on, then Gad Guard might be very enjoyable; otherwise, it's just another so-so mecha title in a market that's already full of them.
This wouldn't be the first time in anime history that a teenage boy has stumbled upon some mysterious technology and found himself to be the only one who can use it. And it wouldn't be the first time that adults of varying motives have chased after him in an attempt to take control of that technology. The plot of Gad Guard is an exercise in formula, and it's the kind of formula that's normally used to sell toys of the robots featured in the show—except you won't find Gad Guard toys on sale anywhere. While the futuristic alternate-earth setting makes the premise easier to believe, the ragged pacing and editing get in the way of what ought to be a clear storyline. Scene transitions feel very haphazard, and sometimes there are even brief splices that seem to have no bearing on the story at large. Case in point: in Episode 4, Hajiki helps his classmate Arashi find a battery charger as part of a side plot, and then much later—right after a climactic fight has taken place—we cut to a 2-second shot of Arashi noting that her battery charger works. It provides resolution to the previous situation, but it occurs at a point in the episode where it feels strongly out of place.
As the archetypal shounen hero, Hajiki is rather subdued compared to his more spirited counterparts in other series. In fact, most of the characters in Gad Guard exhibit an air of "cool" about them that softens the stereotypical aspects (the only exception might be Catherine, the token ditzy/hyper girl who will incite teeth-gnashing among viewers everywhere). Within the four-episode arc, we see Hajiki quietly accept his role as his robot's owner, even switching to a makeshift battle outfit consisting of goggles and a flight jacket. Thankfully absent are the angsty ramblings about duty or courage that a robot-piloting hero usually spouts. The supporting cast, however, doesn't go anywhere with regard to character development, and after four episodes they still seem to be just a menu of options that interact in various ways with Hajiki. Even his potential love interest, Arashi, barely has any involvement with him.
What Gad Guard lacks in story, it tries to compensate for with its dynamic visuals. Gonzo attacks this animation project with all guns blazing, and this time the studio manages to lay off the overuse of CGI—or perhaps they've successfully blended the computer effects with the 2-D work. The robots, which are usually the first casualty of computer animation, all look like convincing inhabitants of Hajiki's world. The cosmopolitan city setting, with an atmosphere accentuated by Gonzo's lighting techniques, strikes a good balance between brightness and bustle during the day and mystery at night. And while the juvenile character designs may be reminiscent of anime shows that make it to the WB or FoxBox, their stylish outfits and modes of transportation—skateboards and motor scooters—make them the cutting edge of teenage heroes. The animation, of course, is at the highest standard, with action scenes that steer clear of shortcuts and still frames. Gonzo's trademark style of head-on camera angles and constant movement is in full effect, so it's a shame that the robot battles occur at night; they would be even more eye-popping in daylight.
Geneon brings in Bang Zoom! Entertainment for the English dub, with very respectable results. Hajiki's voice actor is not only similar in tone to the Japanese VA, but also delivers his lines with a confidence that suggests the hidden potential within this young male character. There's not a single grating voice among the entire ensemble cast, and even detractors who accuse Catherine's VA of sounding horrifically whiny are well advised to remember that she sounds just as annoying in Japanese.
Adding to the urban setting and fashion sense in Gad Guard is the lively jazz-inflected music score. While dramatic orchestration is still a key element of the show's emotionally charged moments, many of the action sequences are punctuated by fusion and modern jazz grooves inspired by PE'Z, the band that provides the opening and ending songs. This is another one of those anime titles where the DVD might not be for everyone, but the soundtrack CD is a highly recommended item.
Gad Guard is a tech-heavy action series with all the external elements in the right place: artwork and animation that's a joy to look at (and a masterclass for aspiring digital artists), coupled with music and voice acting that's a treat for the ears. However, without significant improvements in its internal aspects—plot advancements, story pacing, and character development—the surface polish will only take it so far before the brain starts to demand more satisfying material. Rent it, borrow it, or even check it out on G4/Tech TV to see if it's your cup of tea—but don't be surprised if Gad Guard's flashiness wears off and the first disc falls short of expectations.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : D
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A
+ Stylish characters and settings, with a music score to match
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