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Gunparade March Staff Review



Flash Gordon (Anime Corner Staff Writer)


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ANIMATOR: J.C. STAFF/ TAKASHI WADA [director of animation]/ KIO OHKOUCHI [director of photography]/ YUJI MATSUKURA [animation producer]


Operation 1

Episode 1: The Visitor
Episode 2: Going My Way
Episode 3: Fire Works
Episode 4: Duelist

Operation 2 
Episode 5: Thursday’s Child
Episode 6: I Guess Everything Reminds You Of Something
Episode 7: In The Forests Of Nights
Episode 8: With Your Musket, Fife And Drum

Operation 3
Episode 9: A Day In The Life
Episode 10: Once Upon A Dime
Episode 11: A Good Reward For Their Labour
Episode 12: Gun Parade March

Atsushi Hayami
Mai Shibamura
Yohei Takigawa
Tadataka Yoshiyuki
Takayuki Setoguchi
Motoko Hara
Mio Mibuya
Nonomi Higashihara
Sika Mori
Matsuri Kato
Maki Tanabe
  REVIEW (Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

Gunparade March [Aratanaru Kogunka] kicks it in with a BANG! Much like the Japanese video game it emulates the series opens with very big guns. Of course, the anime series, Gunparade March, fleshes out the original concepts of the video game into a much deeper, poignant story of love and loss. 

Imagine Earth overrun by an alien brood everywhere, except Japan. Why not? It could happen. Episode One’s establishing shots depict a polluted planet saturated by poisonous gas thanks to a hideous, invading, alien race known as the Genjyu. Following World War II [1945], the Genjyu all but annihilate the planet’s population except for those still attempting to live peaceably on the island nation of Japan. The battlefront focuses on Kumamoto City, Kumamoto, Kyushu. The year is 1999, as the war rages between the remaining humans and the monsterous Phantom Beasts. The series kicks off in rousing fashion. Our defenses [anime surprise] are high schoolers left to pilot massive assault mechas dubbed Humanoid Walking Tanks [HWTs]. Joking aside, Gunparade March is possibly one of the most logical anime in history in offering a logical explanation for this decision. Since much of humankind has been eradicated, select teens have been forcibly drafted into military service to be pilots and support in various units. Humanity’s last standing hope comes at the price of the young thanks to the Citizens Military Service Law [a.k.a. the Student Draft System] passed in 1978 through the national legislature. The adopted drafting age is sixteen. Near human extinction has a way of dictating the situation you might say. Fortunately, Shibamura Industries has created the HWT and an explosive device called the PBE as countermeasures on the battlefield to literally obliterate the Genjyu. The PBE invention is pure science-fiction, a bomb the HWTs must deliver on the battlefield and insert underneath and into the Brain via a zero-distance engagement. In other words, a kind of suicide mission involving a highly dangerous face to face showdown. The Genjyu is abundant in number and includes many types identified by Unit 5121 that organize around a central brain much like a hive of bees swarm a queen. To disintegrate the Brain the PBE actually detonates imploding an ephemeral black hole, in effect, sucking in and destroying everything in its wake within a specific radius. The area is laid waste and desolate upon completion. The Genjyu are wiped out; the battle is won, but not the war. Interestingly, the bomb, before insertion into the beast by the HWTs, is actually pre-activated by a genetically-engineered young child who never ages, but has been enhanced with this special ability. Orphaned children have been modified thanks to further experiment via Shibamura Industries. Suspend your disbelief at the door. Trust me, this is engaging stuff. Nonomi Higashihara, often called ‘Nono,’ is that young girl for Unit 5121 and she is one of the many vibrant characters in the series.

Gunparade March cleverly walks the line mixing action elements from its video game source material with its own original script developments for a believable, engaging science-fiction drama. Otaku take note. Gunparade March limits the action allowing episodes to delve deeper into the character’s personalities. Certainly, Gunparade March has a touch of healthy post-Neon Genesis Evangelion-envy [what series doesn’t], mixed with a kind of homage to Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, but it’s an age-old formula that works when it’s executed correctly as it is here by J.C. Staff and Project GPM. The concept of a young military unit piloting HWTs and living the deadly reality before them is a terrific drama in keeping with the best in sci-fi anime. Gunparade March is a beautifully-rendered human tale with interpersonal relationships developing throughout the series with genuine sensitivity and heart. But let your sensibilities be aware, this is a story with dialogue steeped in teenage angst and adolescent puppy love as teen-starved romance pulses through this series’ veins. The writing speaks for itself as it rings mostly true from start to finish as a coming-of-romance story meets life and death saga. 

Gunparade March centers upon the developing love story between the strong-willed, stubborn and often hardcore Ms. Mai Shibamura and sweet, “he couldn’t be more average” likeability of Atsushi “I’m sorry” Hayami. Shibamura obtained her hard-line instincts from family, and while graceful, lacks significant social skills and etiquette. This is magnified by her visit to the library in Episode Four when she signs out the book The ABCs Of Human Relationships. She is the daughter of the prestigious Shibamura Industries’ family, but has elected to go into service of her own free will and determination disregarding her privileged background. She is conceived as a bit of a mystery. Her short-fuse is contrasted by the tongue-tied, milquetoast that is Hayami who never seems to say the right thing and appears paralyzed with ineptitude around her, but possesses a truly kind heart. An impressive slow motion sequence in Episode Two intensifies the first moment Hayami lays eyes on Shibamura. It is the first moment in the series that truly illustrates Gunparade March is not just another dumb robot adventure. Love at first sight indeed as it makes a big statement about the series. Things begin to really heat up by Episode Four when Shibamura and Hayami are selected to be pilots of the sole, newly-built Two-Seater Tandem HWT Unit. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start following a disastrous first training simulation and not much better on the second go round. Fortunately, Shibamura’s self-help tapes keep her moderately in check, but building trust toward one another remains a significant issue as things seem to get more complex. Their forced interaction leads to a full-blown argument. Much of Episode Four feels like a tour in sexual tension as much as it is an exercise in team-building. The connection of Shibamura and Hayami grows stronger in Episode Six and Seven. It is here the creators seamlessly weave melodrama and action into a suspenseful thread for the series. Hayami and Shibamura are surrounded by Genjyu and abandoned by their team that has been ordered to evacuate the site as a new Genjyu brain appears on radar. Like a wintery grave, covered in falling snow the Tandem model sits lifeless and disabled with the two pilots trapped. Their oxygen depletes with each passing minute as poison gas surrounds their mecha. With little time to spare, Hayami decides to abandon the HWT and place an unconscious and wounded Shibamura on his back as he fearlessly walks past the enemy monstrosities that lay in wait outside. Courageously Hayami recants a passage, “this is the end of you, for the rest of eternity you will bow down before my shadow….” He suspends our belief and the Genjyu attack long enough to take shelter in a dam control facility at the edge of the forest as he plans their escape. There is a genuinely eerie peacefulness amidst the desperation of these episodes as the two are alone and deserted. Awakened Shibamura and Hayami share intercourse by a fire [not that kind]. Hayami proves his strength of character and discipline to Miss Shibamura as he remains steadfast for their survival. As they escape, Shibamura’s trust and stock in Hayami grows and actually earns him an unexpected ‘thank you.’ Once out of the forest and back at homebase, Shibamura begins to regress to her inability to express her true feelings yet again, or is she beginning to fall in love? This is some of the most gripping, suspense-filled and poignant material in the series. If Operation 1 and Operation 2 roar in like a lion, Operation 3 concludes like a lamb. Any sexual tension between Shibamura and Hayami seems to evaporate with every stumbling moment for Hayami. Ladies’ man Setoguchi could be more right when he blurts to Hayami, “act like a man and show her ya got a spine.” Will ya? Jeesh. Still, these are awkward years for some and the show captures the essence of that first love. The final act, Operation 3 [Episodes Nine through Twelve], is strictly for the romance set. It is exclusively dedicated almost in its entirety to the relationship between Shibamura and Hayami, while the colorful cast of characters does everything in their power to bring them together through deceptive interventions of every variety. Those secondary characters are equally delightful too, including the hot, leggy and flirtatious Motoko Hara, the otaku-loving and energetic Yohei Takigawa, the chauvinistic Takayuki Setoguchi, and many more. But the question remains, do Shibamura and Hayamui consummate their love? More importantly, does Hayami get his much needed set of family jewels to speak those three excruciating words to Shibamura? Otaku fans will have to watch for themselves and discover their fate. 

Again, the military struggle against the Genjyu horde is merely a backdrop sprinkled throughout the human drama, but some of those sequences are unnerving. Gunparade March is a strong anime series for either fans of science-fiction or the character study. It’s easy to relate to the lives and faces that populate Gunparade March. For some, the stunning battle sequences may seem few and far between, but when they materialize they’re pure brilliance. Episode One is loaded with grainy, high-tech, HWT point-of-view, screen-scanning images as Unit 5121 tracks the Genjyu. The opener culminates in a rousing conclusion to save a Genjyu-trapped Mibuya seconds away from PBE detonation. The war-weary group takes its casualties, but also pays tribute to the fallen before them. A particularly striking flashback in Episode Three recalls the one-year anniversary of the loss of Hayami’s friend who Mio Mibuya replaced. The tragedy plays out during a bridge battle with the Genjyu that is intensified by just the right amount of silence and erratic breathing creating a frightening atmosphere of being alone in war. Later, another classmate from Unit 5121 meets an untimely demise from the toxin of the Genjyu that has poisoned their system. Everyone knows ‘war is hell’, but how often does a series reach this kind of life and death realism taking one of its own main characters to make a point? Once again, you’ll have to see this for yourself. The day to day living in dorms and classrooms mixed with battle is played out like the monotony of business as usual for the high-spirited, battle-ready Unit 5121.

Visually, the mech designs of Gunparade March are splendid, especially the Tandem Unit. The Humanoid AMTT500 is introduced specifically in Episiode Three and the AMTT519W ‘Spirit Of Samurai’ Tandem model generation with its dual firearm and pilot control systems is explained in detail in Episode Four. The quick cut action is complimented by shaky camera, breakaway edits and some terrific animation photography to lend the designs a gritty realism and color. Some sequences will take you to the brink of hand-clutching anxiety. Where anime can be graced with poorly designed mecha creations, Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure comes to mind, Gunparade March is blessed with thoughtfully-created mecha and ship designs. Dark greys and military greens, including the deep red of the Tandem Two-Seater, are appropriate for the coloration of a wartime vibe. The elite Unit 5121 is spearheaded by four HWT Shikons and complimented by one Two-Seater Tandem model with a highly fortified internal muscular structure. These five humanoid designs compose Unit 5121’s sturdy, lethal arsenal. The series shines further with its airlift-styled, transport ships classified as CVs [Carrier Vehicles], reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s UN fleet, utilized to transport Shikons to the front line. The CV doubles as a mobile command center for field operations and is equipped with vertical take-off and landing [VTOL]. The CV is normally wing-supported by the rocket-launching and formidably-equipped Kitikaze helicopters. Weaponry enhancements to the HWT Single Seater M-Type Shikon include samurai-styled sword [wait’ll you see these massive swords cut through Genyu like warm butter] and machine gun, while the Two-Seater Tandem is backed additionally with an offensive package of missile-launching capability. One has to wonder if there was more. One uniquely cool scene in Episode Five witnesses one of the Shikons utilize an external/remote unlocking mechanism to extract a bloodied and trapped pilot. Bottom line: these mech designs are simply awesome and need further action in the spotlight. Character designs, too, are also memorable from the eye-catching student uniforms to the dark combat gear. 

The animation throughout is drawn with real beauty. In fact, Gunparade March is one of the finest contemporary examples of ‘classic’ anime going, whereby 2D cellular animation is employed almost entirely throughout the series with only minor CG enhancements. It seems a clear decision was made to stay away from extensive 3D CGI excess, opting instead for a variety of special effects and filters to create an alternate look throughout this dramatic series. The deliciously drawn color palette is highlighted by the falling white snow set against striking deep blues and dark forest. The orange hues and sunsets are as picturesque as they get. Battle sequences are expertly colored with just the right grain or haze for the chaotic frenzy of the moment. The only complaint might be the animation could have been more fluid throughout the series. While more cels per sequence would have been preferred, it is the lighting and cinematography, soft and warm, that really grabs your attention. It is a striking testament to the talent of the director of photography to make the best of what may have been budgetary constraints from the outset.

The soundtrack boasts an impressive resume with enlisted legendary composer Kenji Kawai of Patlabor and Ghost In The Shell fame. The content has a significant percussive and militant feel as might be expected and is a thrilling instrumental opus on the whole, while maybe not his best work. Furthermore, otaku-friendly pop singer and easy-on-the-eyes beauty Yoko Ishida performs the summery vocals of up-tempo opening theme The Door Of Truth. The closing theme, Over The Darkness, is lent an equally lovely turn by Masumi Harada. The audio mix as a whole is impressive during firefights, but would have benefited heavily from a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix or a DTS track. The percussive bursts and machine gun fire offer stirring moments, but could have been a bigger thrill with the proper surround sound treatment. Equally notable is the director’s use of silence during battle sequences building upon the tension in a more realistic audio environment. It’s eerie stuff and works wonders on the mind if not your subwoofer.

Gunparade March offers solid, gritty action for the sci-fi set, while set against the drama inside a passion play. Some would welcome a series leaning more heavily in favor of the video game-based action this series was adapted. Unlike the unabashed action of Resident Evil or Doom, Gunparade March has taken a much different tact to its credit and inevitable success. The decision for the production is a smart one given the dumbed-down film adapted failures of the aforementioned American-based video games [perhaps its comparing apples to oranges but the argument can be made]. Loaded with substance, Gunparade March winds up being one of the finest transitions to anime from another source to date. It is lovingly filled with all of the necessary original story-driven touches often lacking in game-to-film adaptations. It offers a refreshing depth of story and character not often found in the rushed and clichéd world of ‘big robot’ anime series. Instead of falling back on the SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] found in mecha anime there is surprising care and detail underneath the explosive surface between these special players. This is recommended to the mecha-drama niche, as it paints a vivid portrait of everyday life for students while also fighters during war. Their lives symbolize the undying spirit of the human desire to live and love which is why it speaks so honestly to the heart. It’s delicious combination of animation style, design and story places this one a cut above appealing to young and old. The fanboy in you will scream for the HWTs to absolutely cut loose with the big guns for an all out assault, but you’ll just have to wait for that the creators to make that one! Nevertheless, Gunparade March is a worthy entry into a pantheon of quality anime series. Bring a rose, bring a date, this is one you can watch together.

Footnote: The sequel is titled Gunparade Orchestra. The new series will have entirely new characters and take place in a remote part of Japan as yet unmolested or besieged by those nasty Phantom Beasts. The scene leaves the group unprepared for the attack and the dysfunctional relationships continue. The new series will be accompanied by the release of a new video game.

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