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Elemental Gelade – Volume 1
A UK region 2 DVD review by CNash

The line between animé and video games seems to be growing ever thinner these days. It's a fact that, at least in Japan, the two entertainment mediums are closely related, especially when it comes to role-playing games; animators like Dragon Ball's Akira Toriyama have designed video game worlds and characters, and there's a lot of overlap between many animé series and traditional turn-based Japanese RPGs. While its references are not as overt as the previously-reviwed OVA Gestalt, new release Elemental Gelade clearly shows its connections to the gaming world: its plot and characters could've been lifted straight from any recent Japanese RPG. And indeed, upon reading the plot synopsis provided to me by the distributor, it seemed that this was, quite explicitly, the case.

Elemental Gelade's main character is Cou, a sky pirate by profession. He's a member of a larger group of pirates that sail the skies robbing wealthy travelers and generally behaving as most pirates do. One day, the pirates steal a strange casket; Cou's curiosity gets the better of him, and he opens it to discover a young girl inside. Pursued by forces that seek to use the girl's mysterious powers for their own nefarious ends, Cou must protect her from harm.

Sounding familiar already? While the plot point of a pirate discovering a girl in a locked box is lifted straight from Outlaw Star, the "sky pirate" theme (and the oft-used plotline of the protagonist having to protect the girl) is reminiscent of the Sega Dreamcast's Skies of Arcadia, a video game RPG that features a sky pirate who must protect a strange girl with mysterious powers. I was braced for what appeared to be a direct homage in theme and characterisation – thankfully, this isn't the case at all.

Going back to the plot: it's revealed that the girl, whose name is Ren, is an Edel Raid – an ancient race who can bond with humans and, in a process called "reacting", grant them special powers to aid them in battle. Cou and Ren and joined by three "protectors", who are intent on delivering Ren to their Edel Raid sanctuary, but beyond that their intentions are unknown. The protector group is led by Cisqua, a forceful young girl adept in martial arts and gunplay. Backing her up is the scholarly Rowan, and his partner Kuea – another Edel Raid. The series focuses on the relationships between humans and Edel Raids; in particular, it looks at how Edel Raids are treated as slaves or tools by much of the population. The sky pirate angle is all but forgotten by the end of the second episode, leaving a straightforward "traveller's journey" animé whereby the five friends must get to either Cou's destination, the mystical city of Edel Garden, or Cisqua's choice, her group's home base.

There are five episodes (of twenty-six) here to kick off the series in Volume 1, subtitled "React":

1: "The Songs of the Sky and Wind"
Cou discovers Ren on a routine pirate raid. Cisqua's group take an interest in her safety – but so do some marauding ninjas.

2: "A Fateful React"
With the pirate ship lost, and Cisqua's group stranded, Cou and Ren decide to let Cisqua and the others follow them to Edel Garden. Stopping over at a kindly villager's house, Ren is kidnapped by the evil Beazon.

3: "Betrayl & Confusion"
Cou, Cisqua, Rowan and Kuea storm Beazon's castle in order to find and rescue Ren.

4: "Elemental Gelade of Light and Darkness"
Cou and Ren join together to beat Beazon and escape his castle.

5: "The Teardrop From That Day"
While Cisqua mulls over dreams about her past, Cou meets an old friend and decides to train himself in martial arts so that he can protect Ren without reacting with her.

Elemental Gelade uses humour as well as drama to drive the story forward. Much of it is delivered deadpan-style as humourous quips and in-jokes between the characters, though there's the usual reactionary physical style of animé humour where the characters' proportions distort to show emotional reactions – it fits well with the artistic style of the series. There is some use of slapstick humour, but nothing on the level of Twin Signal's blatant overuse of the style. One particular bit of humour that had me in stitches was, ironically, a traditional slapstick moment – Cou fights through a montage of traps inside Beazon's castle, including flying blades and pits full of spikes, and just as he thinks he's safe... he's hit in the face by a custard pie, seemingly from out of nowhere. Action scenes are fluid, using mostly sword and gun techniques interspersed with more complex "magic" usage and fantasy weaponry.

Gelade's general art style reminds me of the Yu-Gi-Oh series – basic and clean, without making any unique moves of its own. For the most part, it's unassisted by CGI. The setting of Gelade's world is curious – on the surface, it's medieval, but with modern influences such as guns, grenades and combustion engines. This is often reflected in character's costumes – for example, Cisqua typically wears basic medieval-style travelling robes, but throws them off in combat to reveal denim shorts and a cut-off t-shirt. Character design is good all round, putting some original spins on the design of pirates and ninjas.

In terms of music, it's once again back to Europe. Very decentralised, though – one minute we're given Latin chanting for battle themes, the next it's upbeat Celtic violin tunes. The English voice acting is pretty good despite several unnatural pauses, with voices well-suited to each character and voice actors who sound like they're enjoying themselves.

In conclusion, Elemental Gelade is a very enjoyable animé series that, despite its various connections and plot points from other sources, doesn't disappoint. Fans of Japanese RPGs will immediately be drawn into the familiar environments and characters. I came out of watching this first volume wanting more, and with Volume 2 due for release in mid-July, it looks like I won't have long to wait.

sound and vision

The 4:3 picture appears to be an NTSC to PAL conversion but it's a good one, with detail, contrast and colour all of a pleasing standard. As with most such conversions, there is some minor blurring on rapid motion, but otherwise there are no significant issues here.

Both the original Japanese and the expected English dub are available in Dolby 2.0 stereo only. Both are clear, well mixed and have a good dynamic range.

extra features

Just the basics: textless opening and ending and trailers for Gun Sword and Saiyuki Reload

Elemental Gelade, Vol. 1

Japan 2005
125 mins
Shigeru Ueda

DVD details
region 2
4:3 OAR
Dolby stereo 2.0
Textless opening and ending

release date
14 May 2007
review posted
3 June 2007

See all of CNash's reviews