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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/01/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Elemental Gelade, Vol. 1 (DVD)"

Elemental Gelade, Vol. 1 - React (DVD)

Review by Tom Good

There is a genre of anime that I think of as "Normal Boy / Special Girl" stories. In these tales, a rather ordinary, underachieving boy finds himself paired up with a girl who is very unusual: an alien, witch, ghost, robot, goddess, cyborg, or some other exotic, fascinating being. Though ordinary girls are not particularly impressed by Normal Boy, and have little interest in his assistance or companionship, for some reason Special Girl needs him. These are also known as "magical girlfriend" stories, and are generally thought to have been inspired by TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched.

In Elemental Gelade, the Normal Boy is Cou, a young "sky pirate" who encounters a Special Girl named Ren. She belongs to the mysterious race of Edel Raids. When she "reacts" with a human she can turn into a powerful weapon, which makes her highly sought-after, especially by evildoers who crave weapons. Her powers come from a magic gemstone embedded in her body called the Elemental Gelade. It turns out that some human women have been implanted with artificial gems to make them into counterfeit Edel Raids with lesser powers. The process creates great stress on the body, so these women -- called "Sting Raids" -- are at risk for side effects or even death.

Cou and Ren meet three members of an Edel Raid "protection agency," led by a girl named Cisqua. Cisqua, together with her companions Kuea and Rowen, first offer to buy Ren, but when they are turned down they join Cou and Ren and follow them around. They claim to be helping, but may just be waiting for an opportunity to seize Ren. Meanwhile a bad guy named Beazon also discovers Ren, and he and his Sting Raid Parl fight the others.

Normal Boy / Special Girl stories usually have plenty of interesting symbolism. The Special Girl is often a young, childlike "fish out of water" character who struggles to understand the surrounding culture and communicate with people, yet she has great power either through technology or magic. Normal Boy helps her use and develop her powers and cope with living in society, and though things may be rocky at first, eventually they forge a successful relationship. One way to interpret these stories is as symbolic of the relationship between Japan and the West. When Japan was opened to the West in 1854, the U.S. had superior technology and an unfamiliar culture, sort of like Edel Raids or DearS. Japan adopted (and then in many cases ultimately improved upon) Western technology, and eventually Japan and the U.S. became allies.

Of course, at another level these stories are all about the battle of the sexes. Elemental Gelade takes place in a world where men use women for their own gain. Giddy with the prospect of "reacting" with Ren, Beazon casts his Sting Raid companion aside, literally throwing her to the ground. (The whole Sting Raid concept seems to show women getting unhealthy implants in order to become more what men want them to be.) And Ren suspects that Cou sees her as only a weapon. Alone in her room, she asks, "Am I just a tool to be used for fighting?" Oddly, the male companion of an Edel Raid is called an "Edel Raid Pleasure," and the story has some sexually suggestive quotes. Ren tells Cou, "you don't know how to use me properly yet," and she also says, "If I'm destined to be used by someone anyway, I'd rather be used by someone who knows what they're doing."

Seeing all this, I thought the story would try to make some sort of interesting feminist point, but it never really went that far. Maybe a future episode will further develop these ideas. There are a lot of other loose ends. For example, how can Edel Raids be a "race" if they are all female? How do they reproduce? But since this is only the first volume, it may be too soon to expect answers.

English voice director Karl Willems, who also worked on Starship Operators, did a great job of matching the English voices very closely to the Japanese originals. The Japanese narrator has a silky smooth voice that I could listen to all day, and the English narrator sounds amazingly similar. And Cou's exaggerated, melodramatic speaking style also can be found in both versions. The English dub is great, but in one area the translation departs from the Japanese script. Cisqua's formal Japanese contrasts with the informal speech of the other characters, and because she is bossy and manipulative, her "politeness" comes across as a bit humorous. The English version lacks this formal/informal dimension, and though this is no great loss it is an interesting difference.

Despite having a name that sounds like it should be a hair product, Elemental Gelade is pretty entertaining. There are some funny moments, like when Cou runs through a deadly hallway full of sharpened stakes, swinging tree trunks, and other obstacles, and discovers that the final trap is a pie in the face. The incidental music is fun, and the good voice acting makes up for a few clunky lines like "It's my sworn duty to protect you so that I can prove I'm a real man!" I think this series is worth checking out.

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