Every once in a while an anime comes along that makes waves thanks to the innovation of its creators. Back in 2003 when Gilgamesh was broadcast in Japan the internet buzzed with anticipation. The rich gothic atmosphere, the unique character designs, and the reported constantly building mystery surrounding the plot built the hype Gilgamesh up to a point that it was hard to ignore.
ADV began releasing the DVDs in 2005 and spread the 26 episode series across seven volumes. I personally tend to wait for complete collections when it comes to anime due to the marketing (and cost) of individual volumes, but that's a discussion for another day. With this in mind I held off on checking out the show despite reading countless amounts of critical praise. Now that I have had the opportunity to check the series out I can honestly say that it met most all of my expectations.
Based on the original story by Shotaro Ishinomori and directed by Masahiko Murata, Gilgamesh takes place in an alternate reality or future if you will. It's never really discussed throughout the show when exactly it takes place but given the technology that is available it appears to be modern day. In the first episode we see a strange research facility located somewhere in a desert. Two characters, Dr. Madoka and a woman who later becomes known as the Countess are working deep in the facility. Something strange happens and Dr. Madoka enters the underground core after talking about Gilgamesh. That's when all hell breaks loose.
The facility erupts in a flash of light and the Earth becomes enveloped by a mist that veils the sky. Layer upon layer of this sheen piles on and in no time the entire globe loses electricity, computers, and much of its life in the ensuing chaos. Madoka has become known throughout the world as the instigator of the worst terrorist attack in history. Humanity may have rebuilt itself (sort of) in a matter of years but the effects of the Sheltering Sky are as omnipresent as the day it happened.
With this setting in place we are introduced to two children; Tatsuya and Kiyoko, who are on the run from some debt collectors. It would appear that their late mother owed these goons quite the sum of money and even though she's no longer around the responsibility of payment rests on the shoulders of her children. Sure it's not fair, but whoever said the world was a fair place?
As Tatsuya and Kiyoko continue to evade the debt collectors they run into a trio of oddly dressed guys in a mansion filled with cloned salamanders. It's a little strange to say the least and when it appears that these guys have powers and want the siblings to help them fight the "devil children" things get weirder. More super-powered kids show up and the original trio turns into demon-like monsters. To say the mystery is building at this point is a gross understatement and there is much more to be seen.
Tatsuya and Kiyoko wind up in the care of the other super-powered kids and they are taken to meet the Countess. Once they meet some answers begin to trickle through the plot. The demon-like children are part of a group known as Gilgamesh and the Countess' kids oppose them. Both factions are trying to get their mitts on Tatsuya and Kiyoko and it is revealed early on that they are the children of Dr. Madoka; the scientist that caused the Sheltering Sky effect. All of this happens on the first disc in this collection but things only get better (and more twisted) from here on out.
Madoka's children are forced to choose between working with the Gilgamesh who have some connection to their father and teaming up with the Countess and her Orga. Later in the show a third entity, Mitleid Corporation, comes into play and adds yet another layer of depth to this already crowded plot. What is the secret of the sibling's origin? What caused the "terrorist act"? How far is Gilgamesh willing to go to meet their goals, and what exactly are they? There are almost too many things going on in Gilgamesh at one point but fortunately the story stays focused enough that it never really loses its way.
It's safe to say that Gilgamesh is a show that constantly dangles a carrot in front of your face and entices you to keep watching. Every once in a while the series will infuse a new morsel of information that will raise more questions. Considering there are 26 episodes of this, the pacing between these events is kind of stretched out so there are some lulls in the middle where things become frustrating. These sections weren't enough to turn me off but they certainly made me want to fast-forward through them at times.
As I previously mentioned, style is another big part of Gilgamesh. The show is quite unique in the way it presents the story and animation but it's something that is an acquired taste. The artwork features bold lines and sharp contrast to get the effect of a dilapidated world and defeated characters. That, coupled with the fact that everyone in the show is emo, makes Gilgamesh feel like an animated My Chemical Romance video. It's not really a bad thing mind you but it is certainly a style that will not be appreciated by everyone.
Overall Gilgamesh was definitely worth the wait in my opinion. The plot was fresh enough and the intrigue level was high enough that I found myself sitting through consecutive episodes just to see what happened next. The development is solid all the way through and though I felt things lagged a tad in the middle I was very satisfied in the end. If you're looking for something different and memorable you absolutely must watch Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh is presented on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen ratio and it is quite stunning to look at. The unique art style and animation shines through thanks to some masterful implementation by the director. Some times it can look a little stilted or silly but for the most part it's very creative and equally impressive. As far as the quality of the transfer is concerned the image is virtually flawless. While there is a slight amount of grain there are no artifacts to be concerned about and the contrast is solid the whole way through. This is a great looking show that wins points for style and quality of the transfer.
On par with the visuals in Gilgamesh is the audio. The sound direction for this show is phenomenal whether you're listening to the English 5.1 track or the Japanese 2.0. The voice acting for both languages is impressive and conveys the finer dramatic points and emotions of the characters perfectly so the dubbing is definitely a plus. Both audio tracks offer similar ambient noise but the English 5.1 gets the nod with the greater sense of immersion. This is definitely a show to lose yourself in!
Unfortunately Gilgamesh is another one of those ADV thinpaks that included absolutely nothing for bonus material. It's a shame because competitors continue to offer the extra features from original releases to entice consumers. ADV should really step up their game and bring the content from the individual volumes to their complete collections.
Full of mystery and intrigue Gilgamesh keeps you guessing most of the way through. The show pays off gloriously in the end and this was a 26 episode ride that I won't soon forget. The level of detail paid to the plot, character development, and artistic direction make the series stand out in practically every way. In my opinion this is one of the better titles in ADV's catalogue and it comes highly recommended.