Ga-Rei: Zero is a 2008 anime adaptation that serves as the prequel to the manga, Ga-Rei. The anime is set around two years prior to the events of the manga. It focuses on the nature of the relationship between Kagura and Yomi who serve as the protagonists of the prequel anime. Particularly, the series highlights the connection that was built up between the two characters and the eventual fall of Yomi who serves as the antagonist of the manga, introduced in its first chapters.
Serving as the prequel to an existing manga, Ga-Rei: Zero follows a plot that ends in tragedy, setting the stage for the events to follow. Coming into the series, it is easy to expect the ending to be an epic battle that has the good guys winning after a hard fought battle. For this anime however, that isn’t the case. The series shows us how Kagura and Yomi were related and how Yomi eventually fell into darkness. As a pro and con of the series, the plot of the anime truly felt like the plot of a prequel. The entirety of the series felt like one big set up to highlight an aspect of the characters of the series serving as an introduction to Kagura, Yomi, and the setting of Ga-Rei.
The character development of the series is good but not perfect. Ga-Rei: Zero effectively executes what it made to do creating a link between the character of Kagura and Yomi. We see how the senior member Yomi takes Kagura under her wing treating her like a sister going so far as telling Kagura to call her onee-chan. It is this connection, this relationship, that the series builds up and gets audiences invested in, establishing that familial connection between the two. This connection is heightened by the fact that Yomi, an adopted orphan, and Kagura hardly see their fathers. Their lack of family bonds brings the two girls together and strengthens their bond as sisters. It is precisely this relationship between the two that makes the ending so tragic. With the fall of Yomi, Kagura is forced to evolve as a person to take the former down.
While the series manages to establish this relationship between the two and build it quite well, the development of the individual characters were lacking throughout the story.
In Ga-Rei, we see Kagura as a mentor who has learned to fight effectively using the beast of the Tsuchimiya family, Byakuei in combat. However, in the series set years prior, we see Kagura as she enters the profession of exorcism. In the years leading up to her personality in Ga-Rei, Kagura had a completely different character. We see that in Ga-Rei: Zero, Kagura was less independent and was more cautious altogether. Being a new recruit, she lacked the experience which was a consistent flaw throughout the anime. Her insecurities and indecisive nature lead to trouble in more than one occasion in the anime. My problem with her character is that she didn’t gradually grow throughout the anime. On multiple occasions, we see Kagura struggle to fulfill her duties of slaying demons due to their human form. For about ninety percent of the series, her character showed little growth with repeated scenes of weakness. Considering the one cour run of the anime, it might have been better to show Kagura gradually develop over time.
Yomi’s development also had some flaws. My biggest qualm with her character was that her skill was downplayed by simply labelling her as a prodigy. There was little to no exploration of Yomi’s history or life outside of her time with Kagura. This bumped down the quality of her character tying her value to that of Kagura rather than establishing it distinctly. For instance, instead of simply calling her a prodigy, the supporting cast could have explained instances wherein her skill and abilities changed the tide of battle. A scene of her dedication to training would have also served as a good basis for her skill. Aside from this, her connection to the Isayama family was never really explored in the anime. Being adopted into the family and eventually earning the right to be called the heir and inherit the Shishio must have been an interesting story. In the very least it would have added another level intricacy to her character. The failure to explore Yomi outside of her relationship with Kagura is what made her seem flat by the end of Ga-Rei: Zero.
Overall, Ga-Rei: Zero does a great job as a prequel to Ga-Rei. While it was not perfect, it was easy for me at least to overlook the flaws of the anime knowing that it was a prequel that was meant to set up the world of Ga-Rei.