FUNimation's hold over the industry continues with their latest acquisition from a defunct Geneon license. You may or may not have heard about Gad Guard a few years back since it was released without much fanfare back in 2004. A complete collection by Geneon was released in 2006, but shortly thereafter the publisher closed its doors and the title slipped into obscurity. It's a shame really. Gad Guard is another enjoyable little piece from the fantastic production house Gonzo. If you missed it the first or second time around, FUNimation's release is about as good as you're going to get, unless you want to scour bargain bins looking for random volumes.
All 26 episodes of this 2003 series are collected onto four DVDs. In case you're unfamiliar with this show, as I'm sure you probably are if you're checking out the review for it, the series can easily be lumped into the giant robot genre. Actually, it's about a boy and his giant robot. So whatever category that fits into, Gad Guard comfortably resides.
The series takes place far into the future where the world has been divided up into Units and the planet has more or less run out of expendable resources. Humans live in cities, much the same way we do now, but life is undoubtedly more complicated by the societal structure that's in place and how electricity is distributed. One Unit in particular is home to a trio of towns such as Gold, Day, and Night. I'm fairly certain you can figure out which town is full of the upper crust, which one is middle class, and which one is the ghetto. It's in this area that we find Gad Guard's protagonist, and I suppose it's as suitable a place as any.
In Night Town it's very tough to scrape by and make a living. As if the lack of electricity at night wasn't bad enough, many times it seems to be a kill or be killed kind of place. Think unfettered slum and you might have some idea of what living there is like. Times being what they are though, there are many people who try to make an honest living and more or less attempt to stay out of trouble. Hajiki is a rather rambunctious kid and he generally behaved like a punk, doing things that those whacky punk kids tend to do, but when his father passes away he's left as the man of the household. He has to get a job and he finds employment delivering goods for Hachisuka Express. One night and one package will soon change his life forever, and it comes in the form of a small package.
As the story goes, Hajiki has to deliver a package to a mysterious recipient. Along the way he has a run in with gang and meets a strange girl. Through this encounter he bonds with the parcel he's carrying, which happens to be a little box known as a Gad (whom Hajiki names Lightning). Soon enough the box transforms into a massive robot and wouldn't you know, Hajiki is in control of it through his emotions. It's safe to say that Hajiki's life will never be the same, but where the adventure goes from here feels somewhat familiar to us viewers.
Now that a new world has been opened to Hajiki he meets several new friends and rivals all with Gads of their own. As you'd imagine there are plenty of battles and the constant threat of the villains of the story upgrade their Gads to take Hajiki and Lightning out. There are a few surprises in store with regards to this particular plotline, but in all fairness I found it rather dull at times. The drama just wasn't "quite" there for me and ultimately Gad Guard felt a little too watered down for my tastes. It started out great, and the premise was a lot of fun, but a lack of meaningful development or character relationships left it feeling gear towards younger audiences. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you're coming to the show expecting something really cool you'll undoubtedly walk away disappointed.
Another thing that impedes the success of Gad Guard is a series of standalone episodes that pops up midway through. The beginning has this great amount of set up and there's all kinds of continuity, but eventually that energy fades away a little as the series becomes kind of episodic. Thankfully it revs things up a bit as we head towards the ending and climax, but even that lacks the satisfaction it could have.
Ultimately I'd say that Gad Guard is worth checking out if you're a mecha junky and are looking for something a little different. It's a fun show that will keep you entertained for most of its run. Unfortunately it gets a little repetitive towards the middle of the series and the overall plot isn't as original as initial impressions would indicate. However, I'm going to give a light recommendation to Gad Guard. I had a good enough time with it and it held my interest through to the end. Don't come expecting an epic adventure and you won't be disappointed. Again, this is also a show that is aimed more towards younger viewers than older, so take that into consideration as well.
Considering Gad Guard was released in Japan in 2003 it should come as no surprise that the show is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. From a design aspect the show looks nice, but it's far from Gonzo's greatest achievements. The character and Gad designs are attractive enough and the world is more atmospheric than it is detailed. Some elements stand out as being better than others and there's a definite sense that the budget for those show wasn't as large as it could have been. Despite this, the transfer for the show is fairly solid. The colors remain vibrant, the overall image is clean, and though there are a few moments where grain and compression artifacts are noticeable, they aren't too distracting. FUNimation did a good job porting over Geneon's release and compressing it onto four DVDs.
Again, as expected, the audio presentation for Gad Guard is a tad lackluster and not quite as meaty as more modern shows. Both the English and Japanese languages come with 2.0 stereo tracks as their main source of output. I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of a 5.1 English track, but considering the target audience for this show is relatively small I can see how the decision was made for budget reasons. Still, the overall quality of the 2.0 presentation is good for what it is and the dialogue, sound effects, and music are all clear enough.
Some trailers are about as good as you're going to get.
Gad Guard is a fun show that brings a fairly unique level of energy to the table, but it's far from a perfect experience. The characters and story all develop on a somewhat predictable level, there are a few too many standalone episodes, and the overall premise feels clichéd. With that being said, it's a Gonzo production. There's a certain appeal to the show that breaks past its shortcomings and ultimately it's a ride that's worth taking. I won't necessarily call this show the best thing since sliced bread, but I will say that it's worth watching and is recommended to mecha fans looking for something a little different.
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