Gunparade March: Volume 3
Like a lot of anime series, Gunparade March suffered from something of a mid-season slump. The problem is that with only 12 episodes in the run, the mid-season slump turned out to be one third of the story, the whole of the second volume. Gunparade March does have an intriguing premise, but not a lot of space to develop it in. With four episodes that seemed to waste that premise rather than explore it, I have to say that my opinion of this show dropped when I reviewed the previous volume. But here we are anyway, volume 3 of Gunparade March, where the series and the story come to a conclusion. Let's see if it can salvage something with these final four episodes, and go out on a high.
In 1945, as the second world war was drawing to a close, a strange alien species appeared on Earth, and started attacking humanity, poisoning the land with its very presence. Dubbed Genjyu, it began to overwhelm the land, spreading across the world, leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake. Mankind was on the back foot, armed with ineffective weapons. But the alien's arrival was the impetus required to unite the world, as they fought against desperate odds to stay alive. Fifty years have passed, it's 1999, and Japan remains one of the few bastions left standing against the Genjyu menace, although the aliens have begun to encroach on Japanese soil. In such a war, an innocent childhood is a luxury, and the military recruits directly from high school, sending children into battle, piloting giant armoured robots called HWTs, Humanoid Walking Tanks.
The final four episodes of Gunparade March are presented on this disc from MVM.
9. A Day In The Life - You Are The One That Makes My Heart Pound
Atsushi's preoccupied, and Mai is moody and depressed. It seems that everyone knows what's going on except the two people in question. It's time for a little heart to heart and friendly advice. First Setoguchi gives Atsushi a few tips, and Atsushi's soon working up the gumption to approach Mai. Unfortunately, his timing could have been better, as he happens to overhear Mai confront the gossiping mechanics, setting them to rights about how she 'truly' feels about Atsushi. Now he's depressed as well. It gets booted up a rank, and it's up to their superiors to restore harmony to the team. The only problem is that Haru wants Mai to be honest about her feelings, while Atsushi's superior wants him to focus on his work.
10. Once Upon a Dime - Hello Sadness
The unit klutz Tanabe is in for a shock. A girl that is renowned for her bad luck, suddenly finds a wallet in the street, and gets a reward from its grateful owner. Then she pulls the best possible fortune at a temple. It's enough to make a girl faint. When she gets to class and finds everyone in rehearsals for a play, she wounds up cast as the princess, and best of all, the knight in shining armour is the guy she's most interested in. All that good luck has to be a bad omen, and sure enough Kato has a video camera aimed at Tanabe all the time, claiming to be filming her last days on Earth as a present for her grieving family. And just as the play is about to start, an alert is called. Tanabe has just passed her PBE preparedness test, and this time she will be on the front lines.
11. A Good Reward For Their Labours - I Couldn't Bring It Up
There's being patient, and there's just ridiculous, and seeing Atsushi and Mai almost but never quite get together is taking its toll on the rest of the unit. So for Christmas, they come up with a plan. Atsushi and Mai have been elected to do the shopping for the Christmas party, only this shopping trip is going to lead them down the path of eternal happiness, with everyone else prodding along the way. Of course the perfect plan hasn't taken Atsushi's mouth into consideration.
12. Gunparade March - Every Time I Say Goodbye
The end of the year approaches, Atsushi is more depressed than ever, and with Mai on the verge of transferring out of the unit, it looks like he's blown his chance completely. But with everyone else going home for a rare holiday, it will be just the two of them left in the dorms.
It's just a 4:3 regular image, which is something of a shame given the quality of the animation. The transfer itself is one of the higher end NTSC-PAL conversions, with an image that is clear, sharp, smoothly animated, and free of ghosting and judder. The only slight flaw is the intermittent aliasing that appears on some of the pans and scrolls. It looks as if the budget has gone up for the final episodes. Certainly I didn't spot any of the niggles that I had with the second disc, and the animation was strong and fluid once more, with little evidence of stock footage.
It's also a little disappointing then that the Japanese and English audio tracks are in vanilla DD 2.0 Stereo, but it does get the job done. The action is as meaty as you would expect, and the dialogue is always clear in both languages. There are some nice tunes book-ending the episodes, and the incidental music is suitably grand and orchestral in feel. The English dub is still decidedly mediocre and unimpressive. Japanese is definitely the way to go with this series.
This time we get more than Region 1, although it is only a minute-long television commercial reel. There are also trailers for Slayers and Daphne In The Brilliant Blue.
Gunparade March manages to pull itself together for the final four episodes, and deliver an ending worthy of the name. After the meandering and aimless diversion of the middle volume that can only be a relief, and Gunparade March manages this by ditching most of the extraneous nonsense, and concentrating solely on the series central pairing of Mai and Atsushi, exploring whether in the end they do indeed get together.
It's with a touch of irony though, that that aimless diversion ceases to feel so aimless. In the Once Upon A Dime episode, we step back just a tad from the Atsushi Mai storyline, and focus a bit on Tanabe, eternal klutz of the group. She gets centre stage for this episode, as her bad luck begins to wane. Suddenly everything is going right for her, she's landed the part of the princess in the school play, she's acting opposite the guy she has a crush on, and it all seems to be going so well. But as the story progresses, with her happiness growing, and hope swelling, it begins to take on worrying parallels to episode 5, when the unit put on a puppet show for the kindergarten. When the alert sirens bellow, and Tanabe is sent into combat for the first time, it seems ominous indeed. If that was the point of episode 5, to set the stage for this episode, then it did its work well indeed.
But that's the last of the Genjyu menace, the last of the mecha combat, the last of this alternate history, for what follows in the final episodes is pure rom-com nonsense. We're full on with the Atsushi and Mai romance now, with the rest of the Unit egging them on, and Atsushi managing to mess things up. It's all gone a little Love Hina, albeit without the slapstick, or the girl beating the boy up. No matter really, as this was the whole point of the show, to see if Atsushi and Mai could indeed get together, and you can't really fault the show for pursuing a happy ending with all its might. You'll have to watch for yourself to see if there is one.
Gunparade March is a pretty commonplace anime love story, set against a fantastic background of alien war, giant robots and a parallel history. The trouble is that there is only so much narrative that the romance can take up, and it's when it comes to filling the space left over that Gunparade March begins to falter. It's a premise with a lot of scope, a whole lot of back-story, and a universe of storytelling opportunities. If it had picked one tack and stuck with it, the show would have worked, but it tried to do everything at once, the mecha combat show, the parallel world, the slice of life, and develop the other characters as well. It just couldn't do it, which is why the central part of the series was such a mess.
When it comes down to it though, Gunparade March still looks divine, certainly a notch or two above most other anime, and if you have any empathy for the central pairing of Atsushi and Mai, then you'll certainly get your money's worth from this show. Besides, even if the middle is questionable, the story does have a beginning, and most importantly for anime, an end. For that reason alone, it's worth a shot if you have a three volume gap on your shelf to plug.