In the 21st century, the tomb of the legendary half-divine Sumerian King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, is discovered by archaeologists. When it becomes apparent that the tomb of Gilgamesh may in fact have supernatural properties, a huge research facility is built on top of it and many of the world's brightest scientist flock to this "Heaven's Gate" to advance mankind's knowledge.
A terrorist act destroys the facility and in the ensuing chaos, civilization itself is threatened during an event dubbed "Twin X". After Twin X, an unusual electromagnetic phenomenon, the Sheltering Sky, has surrounded the Earth. Disrupting many electrical reactions, the Sheltering Sky has seemingly brought progress on the planet to the halt.
Years after Twin X, two siblings, Ensaki Kiyoko and Ensaki Tatsuya, find themselves protected from gangsters by mysterious young men with supernatural powers. These men are more than they appear, as they are dangerous creatures called Gilgamesh and allies of the terrorist who caused Twin X, a man who now has named himself after King Gilgamesh's legendary best friend, Enkidu: the same man who also happens to be their father. A mysterious Countess and her three telekinetic wards seemingly oppose the Gilgamesh, and Kiyoko and Tatsuya soon find themselves drawn into a battle between factions they can barely understand, let alone trust.
The name of this show is what got me interested in this to begin with. The Epic of Gilgamesh happens to be one of the oldest surviving written stories in the world. I hadn't heard anything about the anime, so I was curious if it was actually based on that or was going to take elements from the epic. As my summary shows, the actual personage of Gilgamesh is important to the story, but this is not exactly a retelling of the legend, even if there are certain interesting thematic links brought up as the story progresses.
I suppose the first aspect of this show I should comment on is its unbelievable ugliness. That is to say that the character design work is hideous. It isn't that it is low quality just that the way everyone is drawn just makes them seem incredibly unattractive. Now, I'm the last person to say that an anime show must have attractive character designs but there are several characters in this show that were obviously not supposed to look like mutant heroin junkies yet still ended up drawn that way. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that the manga the show is based on is rather old (it was published in 1972) and thus uses a style that I'm not normally exposed to. Suffice to say, it takes a while to simply get used to the character designs. It didn't help that one of the main odd features of the designs were the character's unusually large drawn lips which were seemingly highlighted by a seemingly requisite dining scene in several episodes where the viewer is treated to long shots of chewing. Chewing is just never particularly interesting to look at.
Besides the character design work the animation itself is rather subpar. I have certainly seen worse but low frame rates make many of the psychic battles involved in the show a bit dreary and unengaging. Generally, you simply see a psychic wave emanate out of a character and just a bit of debris or a lot of inferred hits and the like. As this really isn't an action show per se, I suppose that isn't as much of an issue but it definitely was noticeable to me. An unusual number of battles in the opening half of the series also helped focus my attention a bit more on this particular weakness.
I will credit the show in regards to certain visual techniques. Many nice alternative angles and different types of lighting effects are used to enhance the mood in many scenes. The actual scene design work, though rather dreary and dark, was done fairly well and helped communicate the desperate state of the world after Twin X.
Despite the fact that the visual elements are not particularly appealing, the actual story of Gilgamesh is fairly intriguing and is an interesting and layered mystery involving a number of different people and factions. Though the initial few episodes make it seem like this show is going to involve nothing but psychic battles between the Countess's children and the Gilgamesh, that gives way to plot development that explores the importance of the Ensaki children, what really happened during Twin X, and the motives and goals of a wide variety of a number of all the people involved with Heaven's Gate, a newer project to remove the Sheltering Sky, and the Gilgamesh.
The actual development work for most of the characters is fairly strong though I can see how many viewers might have trouble empathizing with many of them. Almost every character in this show is deeply emotionally scarred by various events and/or their upbringing. This is, of course, consistent with a post-apocalyptic world but at times dealing with multiple near sociopathic and ruthless people or even the somewhat creepy near incestuous overaffection Kiyoko and Tatsuya have for each other could be disturbing. The characterization here is focuses more on subtlety and nuance than in many titles. I can imagine that some viewers might interpret that, initially, as the characters seeming flat but as the show progresses and different pieces of the plot unfolds, we are shown more of the depth of the characters.
This is unfortunately not the case with the Gilgamesh themselves. Though a number of them are introduced in the show, with one major exception, they do not get a tremendous amount of development. I think the show would have been stronger if we were shown more of the events from the point of view of the Gilgamesh. Some of this lack of development had to do with the show's attempt to keep certain events (such as the true origin and nature of the Gilgamesh) more mysterious to heighten plot tension. I still think they could have done more with the character development of the Gilgamesh without damaging the plot pacing and atmosphere though.
Though I found Gilgamesh interesting, after the end (incidentally there is an additional scene after the closing credits of some importance), I must admit it felt a bit hollow. This entire show carries a rather misanthropic feeling and even the flailing of the various leads against the suffering they have faced or may have to face at times seems to just be delaying an inevitable surrender to melancholy or heartless apathy. This general atmosphere did make it somewhat harder for me to connect with the characters and really identify with them.
The ending, as well, was a bit rushed and certain final plot clarifications, though they did make sense left me a bit unsatisfied. It is, in a sense, a somewhat misanthropic statement on the nature of humanity and ties in with the themes of hubris, suffering, and struggle that thoroughly permeated the entire series. I don't object to dark themes or morally and thematically complicated endings, but I do feel the final few episodes could have been paced a bit more effectively to help more clearly communicate some of the themes the show without everything feeling so overwhelming and sudden at the end.
Despite ugly character design work and low quality animation, the actual plot and character work of this title kept me engaged. The emotional distance of the characters and underdevelopment of some in the antagonist factions hampered my ability to really identify with them, and this in turn lowered the overall and final impact of the title.
This is a relatively slow paced title, with more atmosphere and plot than action, so if you are looking for high-powered fight scenes, you'll probably want to subtract a star. Additionally, as noted above, this is not exactly a happy show. Those seeking more pleasant or happier anime will definitely want to take a star off. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: There are a few scenes of a sexual nature. Though they are not as explicit as in some shows, the length, nature, and plot importance of the scenes does really make them stand out. Though most of the initial violence in this show involves telekinetic waves, as the show progresses, things get a bit bloodier with impalements, blood, and many people being killed. Overall, I feel it is appropriate for older teens and above.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Gilgamesh © 2003 Group Tac / Japan Vistec / Kansai TV
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