June 7, 2008
I used to be such a fantard for this series. Looking back, I can still see why I loved it so much, but I feel like I evaluate it with a more objective perspective now.
STORY – I would venture to say that Gravitation was probably one of the first of its kind. Certainly, this was the title that opened the floodgates for hundreds of other shounen-ai titles at the turn of the century. Sure, if you pick through the music and ignore the gay pairing, you leave yourself with a simple, old-fashioned love story about one person pursuing another’s love while a troubled past stands between them. Nothing new there at all. But Murakami’s decision to intermix a very strong musical plotline together with the core romance was a very smart move indeed and probably one of the main reasons I took to this series so readily. I really appreciated the fact that Shuichi’s attention was split fifty-fifty between his career and Yuki — this balance made things interesting in so many different ways because there were times when Shuichi’s two goals seemed to go against each other and he had to decide which was more important. The fact that he sometimes had trouble putting one above the other made him easy to sympathize with, and it was refreshing to see that the romance wasn’t always the absolute central point of the series.
I also really enjoyed the insight into the music industry, though much of it was certainly exaggerated. It’s amusing in a way how much I shirk away from caring about the rival bands and scandals for musicians in real life, but Gravitation got my attention anyway. The drama was good, and I suppose you grow to care about these characters much more than those in reality. Unfortunately, Yuki’s deep, dark past could be considered the most cliché aspect of the entire series, and even in my fangirl days, I was never really impressed by it. Still, within the thirteen episode series, the subject is skirted around constantly and details always remain a bit fuzzy around the edges. I suppose it’s partially because much of the series is very comedic and the horribly tragedies of the past are only explored enough for the present to make sense. It works alright enough, but it certainly isn’t anything amazing.
All in all, Gravitation’s story is a good, fun twist on a simple, old love story. While not perfect by any means, it’s still both a brilliant comedy and a touching romance, and there’s enough little surprises to keep you excited for the entirety of its run!
CHARACTER – I don’t think there was a single bad character in this entire series. Each and every one of them had some sort of role to fill and had their moment in the spotlight. Though there were a few classic archetypes like Yuki, the dark and mysterious one, and Hiro, the best friend, somehow the little quirks in their personalities made them seem a little less typical. Yuki especially, armed with his tragic past, was an interesting character to follow because he himself admits that he doesn’t understand himself. In retrospect, his probably wasn’t the most accurate or the most convincing account of trauma and psychological health problems in the world, it works well enough for the story’s purposes.
Shuichi was a fun protagonist, considering he was also one of the series’ primary sources of comedy relief (in the first episode, he was late for a meeting because he had to go save a turtle being harassed by a bunch of kids, you know). Spastic and crazy most of the time, he’s moments of seriousness almost seem random, but where Yuki’s past only worked well enough, Shuichi’s dynamic personality actually worked very well. It’s clear that his love started off as simple infatuation and that he had to deal with mostly un-reciprocated feelings for several episodes; it was thus intriguing to watch how his generally happy personality dealt with the chaos, turmoil, and heavy uncertainty that came with the relationship he found himself in. It was also nice to see a character that wasn’t always sure of himself and his feelings — even though it was easy for the audience to tell how he felt, Shuichi still questioned himself and the “purity” of his love wasn’t cheapened by the absolute certainty other characters sometimes have.
Pretty much all of the other characters are also worth mentioning, but I’ll try to be more brief for the rest of them: Ryuuichi and Tohma are probably the most interesting characters aside from our main boys. Both front one image of themselves while maintaining ulterior motives that are both understandable, easy to sympathize with, and realistic enough, making them more whole as characters. K and Sakano, both wonderfully unique and quirky, aid Shuichi in the comic relief, and they do it oh so very well. Tachi, and to a lesser extent, the rest of ASK, are probably the flatest characters in the entire series, which is rather impressive, I think, because they’re not that unbelievable of characters despite that. And though Gravi is a very obviously bishounen-centric series, the three whole female characters we get are all fairly respectable. Mika, Noriko, and Ayaka all serve their roles well and don’t bring down their sex! Power to that.
ART & ANIMATION – The animation was more or less average. It wasn’t outstandingly exceptional, but nor was it terrible and poorly done. Some introductory scenes are made to look like a live action piece, which made things interesting, but again it isn’t anything eye-popping. The bright and flashing lights during performances were good and realistic; some of the backgrounds throughout the series also looked quite nice because of similar effects. Though the characters are drawn in a pretty generic style for the most part, super deformed chibi people jump in quite often for emphasis and comical effect. The “normal” characters don’t much resemble Murakami’s original style, but thats probably partially due to the fact that Murakami’s style changed dramatically during the course of her twelve volume manga. The chibi style on the other hand, is pretty easy to recognize as Murakami’s own.
MUSIC – Gravitation is everything about the music. The music in this series is what makes it complete, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. From beginning to end, Gravitation is filled with perfectly appropriate background music, no matter how long or short the clip or scene is. Many a times, insert songs are rehashed as soft instrumental and piano versions, helping to bring in familiar themes for emphasis and emotion.
J-rock artist Kinya Kotani sings all of Bad Luck’s music in the series. Though his music has changed significantly since his work in Gravitation, his work at the time suited Bad Luck very well because Kinya’s personality was near identical to Shuichi’s. Seriously! Someone like that actually did exist in real life! “The Rage Beat,” Bad Luck’s main insert song is incredibly upbeat and energetic, perfect for pumping up the audience; it’s also very inspiring to listen to and helps gear everyone up for some exciting confrontation. “The Rage Beat” actually plays once an episode for like the first five episodes, but you don’t really tire of it. If anything, you get more excited for it every time. “Blind Game Again,” the band’s other insert song is equally energetic, though a bit more serious sounding, which fits very well with when its used. Nittlegrasper’s only song in the series is “Sleepless Beauty,” which is performed by K.ITO + D.K. (Kenichi Ito and Daisuke Kuroda) It’s a breathtaking song and also suits the band very well.
Funnily enough, Murakami obviously got her inspiration for some of the characters in Gravitation from real life groups. Nittlegrasper, a legend in the series, is comprised of Tohma Seguchi (keyboardist), Noriko Urai (keyboardist), and Ryuichi Sakuma (vocalist and lyricist). Nittlegrasper disbands with Ryuichi leaving to pursue a solo career in America, and Tohma becoming the president of NG, a producing company. Now, Icemen was a real life j-rock band, though they certainly weren’t as famous as Nittlegrasper, they performed “Shining Collection,” Nittlegrasper’s song in the Gravitation OVA. Icemen is comprised of Daisuke Asakura (keyboardist), Kenichi Ito (guitarrist), and Michihiro Kuroda (vocalist). Icemen disbanded in 2000 with Kuroda leaving to pursue a solo career in America, and Daisuke is now the very capable producer of many j-pop/j-rock bands. Including Kinya Kotani. And K.ITO + D.K. And Yousuke Sakanoue (who did Gravi’s OP theme). NG produces all the music for Bad Luck. DA produces all the music for Kinya. Well, what a coincidence! The change that Murakami made was adding in Noriko, the purple-haired keyboardist in place of Kenichi, the red-haired guitarrist. But wait, Hiro, of Bad Luck, is a red-haired guitarrist! And they’re both on white guitars no less! Guess she was trying to make it less obvious where she got her inspiration.
Really though. The music in Gravitation is fantastic. The OP theme is one of the few that I actually sat through every single time because I was so enthralled by its energy. The ED theme is similarly entrancing, though with a slower, calmer melody. Good stuff guys, seriously.
VOICE ACTING – The original voices in Gravitation are exceptional. A lot of renowned voice actors worked in this anime, and they all live up to their name. Seki Tomokazu works Shuichi’s personality beautifully. His voice is energetic and strong when need be, and softer, more quiet and scared when need be; the emotion that rings in Shuichi’s voice is incredibly convincing. Shuichi’s singing voice is that of Kinya Kotani, and I’ve already rambled about that. Ryuichi’s voice has a similar effect with emotion. Yamaguchi Kappei has played a lot of famous leads, including Ranma and Inuyasha, and though he doesn’t play lead in this anime, his character is nonetheless quite essential and a good voice never hurt in that. And since Ryuichi’s character changes so quickly from second to second, it’s amazing that he sounds so good. His normal, chibi, cute character is fitted with a perfectly adorable and simply lovable voice. It really does sound as if a child is running around and squealing about the Monster Gao and cars going zoom. Then, quickly, in the blink of an eye, Ryuichi will be serious and his voice suiting him just as wonderfully.
My favorite voice in the series is neither singer however, but rather, Tohma Seguchi, for he is voiced by Orikasa Ai. You can’t really can’t tell Tohma was voiced by a woman unless you already knew. She does a phenomenal job with it, making Tohma a strong and eeriely convincing character. He can show support and kindness when he wants to and give calm and simply chilling orders when he’s irked. Tohma means buisness; he gets what he wants. And that’s made perfectly clear. Orikasa Ai is also the voice of Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo!, and not to mention Quatre from Gundam Wing, who looks freakishly like Tohma’s twin.
Gravitation has been licensed and dubbed in the US by The Right Stuf International. Because TRSI hasn’t worked with that many series, the names on the cast list are unfamiliar and unimpressive for the most part. I bought the first two DVDs when they came out and thus saw the first six episodes dubbed. I couldn’t do it anymore after that. As a fan of the series, I realize I was probably (and still am) a bit purist about it, but I usually consider myself to have a pretty high tolerance for bad dubs (I made it through ten episodes of the 4Kids One Piece, after all). Gravitation’s dub was just that awful. All of the characters sounded flat and unemotional, and they all sounded like they had the same voice actor. Shuichi wasn’t nearly as energetic as he should have been. It was simply bizarre hearing Tohma with a very generic man’s voice. Yuki’s voice was probably the most forgivable, but that’s probably because his archetype was the easiest to type cast for. One of these days, I might go back and watch those DVDs again for a second impression, but when the original is just so damn good, I don’t know why I would. (My impression of the dub does not affect my score in the “sound” category of this review.)
OVERALL – Gravitation really is a piece of work. It can go from absolutely hilarious to troublingly dark (and vice versa) in three seconds flat. You get two stories at once, two missions, two goals. You seem to jump back and forth from one to the other, but in truth, they’re both intertwined through relationships and an mysterious history, making things quite intriguing. Gravitation is worth a watch, even if you aren’t particularly fond of shounen-ai. In the end, it’s a romantic comedy with a dark twist, and I’ve known a good number of people who don’t care for the genre at all to have fallen in love with this series because the boy’s love isn’t the point. (Just a plus?)