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"Elemental Gelade" Lacks Cutting Edge

Not a lot of original anime series get distributed in the West; mostly we get manga adaptations. So how should a critic like me approach such adaptations? Should I be ploughing through volume after volume of manga material to give a fair appraisal of the anime adaptations?

This question was very much in my thoughts as I watched Elemental Gelade. There’s nothing fresh here; in fact, I felt as if most of the anime I’ve reviewed for Toon Zone was regurgitated in some form in Elemental Gelade. Faithfulness as an adaptation was just about the only virtue I thought I might be able to find in it.

Elemental Gelade is set on Gaudia, a world where humans and a race called Edel Raids live together in a tenuous balance. Edel Raids can bond with humans to become the human’s living weapon, and each has a distinctive signature (think shades of Pokemon). This particular tale follows a young, foolhardy aspiring sky pirate named Coud Van Giruet (think of a bland variant on One Piece pirate Luffy) who finds himself as the protector of an Edel Raid named Reverie Metherlance (or Ren for short), who beneath her meek, fragile exterior holds an unbridled power than several agencies want to get their hands on (think Speed Grapher/Black Cat/Moon Phase). Looking to protect the Edel Raids is the organization Arc Aile. Three of Arc Aile’s guardians join Coud in protecting Reverie as she follows her inner calling to discover the birthplace of the Edel Raids, the mysterious Eden Garden. However none of the party realise the true danger this quest presents. Soon enough they find themselves at the mercy of dangerous bounty hunters, rogue Edel Raids and even the protectorate Arc Aile in a fight to protect Reverie and prevent their world plunging into civil war. (Think Chronos in Black Cat perhaps). Adding to the dramatic complications are the feelings of love between Coud and Edel as Coud—in typical fictional Japanese teen hero style—blunders his way through his own masculine awkwardness as he comes to terms with his affections (see virtually every anime produced).

I’m not brings charges of plagiarism against Elemental Gelade—Eastern fiction, like the West, has its own tropes that you’ll invariably see over and over again. The exposure one has to any genre will bring their common character and story archetypes into clarity. It’s just that, with Elemental Gelade, it feels like a composite of so many other anime shows with little in its mix to raise it above its rivals. You can’t help feeling you’ve seen it all before, and where you have seen it before, it was a more enjoyable experience. It’s not a bad series, but it’s just too much of a hodge-podge to really stand out in any shape or form. There are in fact some quite enjoyable and well put together episodes, like “The Village With the Large Windmill”, a midpoint, standalone episode that is really quite delicate and beautifully paced, and a far cry from the loud bellowing of the majority of the series.

But going back to the original question—how does Elemental Gelade compare to its source material? If the anime is so familiar, is that the fault of the anime, or of the manga?

I managed to find one volume of the manga in my local library, one that fortuitously included a story arc covered in the show. Visually, the two are very close, but from what I read within this single volume, there seems to have been some major shifts within the characters and their motivations.

As in the anime, the manga volume expanded on the tale of Viro, an apparently harmless lovesick groupie of Coud who proves to be something a little more dangerous. In the manga, she’s far colder, deadlier and very mixed up—far more than in the anime where she’s played more as an ambivalent third wheel for Coud and Ren. In the manga, her story revolves nearly entirely around Rowen, the near-perfect member of the Arc Aile squad that accompanies Coud and Ren. Rowen barely notices Viro in the anime (which is a pity as Rowen is woefully underused in the anime). The resolution to Viro’s arc differs greatly between the manga and the anime, with an entirely different tone and motivation separating them. So, the anime superficially carries Elemental Gelade’s banner, but I suspect a great deal of what gives Elemental Gelade’s identity as a comic book has been lost in the transition to television show.

But it’s worth noting that not all we have in this boxset is bad; there just isn’t much to pen home to your mom about. There are some nice ideas in Elemental Gelade—the social turbulence between the humans and the Edel Raids is mildly interesting, as are the individual perspectives on their interaction. It’s just unfortunate that until the last few chapters, the social complexity gets suffocated by the fairly turgid romance story between Ren and Coud.

I think more than anything the biggest problem with the show is its lead. Coud lacks both the charm and charisma to drag your attentions away from the show’s genre pitfalls. This isn’t the fault of the voice artists (and I have to say the English VA all do a good job at realising these characters), and I think its something more integral to how the show has been conceptualised. Coud is just a dull blend of hot-air and confused affections. Nothing to really propels the audience through twenty-six episodes.

The box set is neat but ineffectual, with very little in terms of features. It comes with a behind-the-scenes commentary (for the aforementioned “The Village With the Large Windmill”) that is an enjoyable off-the-cuff chat, and there are a couple of the obligatory Japanese cast interviews on the disks for the hardcore fans.

Overall, if you’ve followed the manga, there are enough deviations to make this an interesting comparison. If you are new to anime, I don’t think Elemental Gelade is at all a bad introduction to some of its common themes and structure. However, if you are someone who has indulged in a fair bit of Japanese fantasy animation, I would be surprised if this anime offers you anything you’ve not seen done better elsewhere. Elemental Gelade is a face that is too easily lost in the crowd.

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