Who cares about danger when you have a crush?

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 6.39.36 PMTitle: Ga-Rei
Genre: Supernatural
Publisher: Kadokawa (JP) Bookwalker (EN)
Artist/Writer: Hajime Segawa
Serialization: Shounen Ace
Translation: Jessi Nuss, Nika Kusamatsu
Release Date:  October 29, 2014

This title may sound familiar to American readers since several years ago Funimation licensed a related title, Ga-Rei Zero. GRZ is an anime-original prequel to the Ga-Rei manga (which never got its own anime adaptation) chronicling the road to darkness for big bad Yomi and main character Kagura. The anime in particular was slightly infamous for having a bait-and-switch first episode. It’s been several years since I’ve seen the GRZ anime and while I don’t remember many of the details I do remember enough that this iteration of the story feels rather off.

This story starts with a character who wasn’t in the anime at all, Kensuke, a teenage boy who has always been able to see ghosts and spirits and who also knows his way around a kendo blade thanks to his swordmen parents. Our main character, Kagura is thrilled to run into someone interesting, as she could use some help during her exorcisms. The secret government organization she works for, M.O.E, has been rather short-staffed since one of its former operatives turned a couple of years ago; said former member has has been killing exorcists by the score ever since.  Kensuke wants to know more about what he’s gotten into, but everyone keeps warning him that once he starts asking he’ll be in so deep he’ll never be able to leave. That’s fine with him though; between his crush on Kagura and all of the danger he’s in, he just really wants to know!

The problem is, even though Ken is very earnest about this (and, like the reader, frustrated by all of the cryptic comments) he’s not nearly fleshed-out enough as a character for any of this to feel believable. This doesn’t feel like a thought-out decision on Kensuke’s part; it feels as if the story needs to get somewhere and it’s dragging everything along in order to keep progressing, although no much happens in this volume aside from character introductions. And I remember enough of GRZ to be a bit off-put by the characters; everyone feels at least a bit sillier which is just weird. One side character, who I remember as a nice but a professional young man, is now playing the fool and the pervert for all that it’s worth. Kagura, too, feels a little air-headed, and while Yomi is clearly meant to be a scary, intimidating presence, there’s just something about the way she’s drawn that undermines it.

None of this is the fault of the manga, clearly this story came first! But it still feels weird. Why did the anime take a more serious tone if it would clash with the manga it was ultimately supposed to be promoting? Does this series get more serious later on? I don’t know! The story hasn’t quite hooked me yet on it’s own; it’s an alright first volume but not terribly unique and engaging. It does make me want to re-watch GRZ and I am a little curious about how this continues to play out. I think part of the problem is that there are no stakes yet; this version of Japan is absolutely swarming with angry spirits and yet people are living just fine. Clearly even if all of the main characters kick the bucket the world will continue on. Yomi is a pretty powerful figure but we see that she’s only one of many powerful evil spirits, killing her might not change much. So where is this story going, what is it’s overall goal? Is the goal simply to defeat Yomi and put her soul to rest? Is there a way to save Japan from all of these spirits? Or are the characters just trying to survive? If the manga had teased out this goal then that’s what would have changed it from a “may read” to a “I need to read this” story.