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Gestalt
A region 2 DVD review by CNash
 

As a genre, animé is heavily influenced by the successes and failures of its past productions. If a sci-fi horror series gets a lot of viewers, then many more sci-fi horror series will be made because of it; likewise, if the latest police drama fails to attract people's attention, it's unlikely that more police dramas will be produced. The same, of course, could be said of any genre, but as far as I know, animé is the only one that seems to go through set "phases" of similarly-themed series being produced in blocks of four to five years.

This time around, we're firmly in the mid-1990s, where medieval fantasy tales were the order of the day. Series such as Slayers and OVAs like Dragon Half, set either in Earth's medieval past or on some other world where sword and sorcery reigned, became immensely popular – and it wasn't surprising that even more medieval manga and animé series cropped up because of them. Gestalt is based on the manga of the same name, and was made into a two-part OVA (Original Video Animation; the equivalent of straight-to-video productions) in 1997. It's only this month turned up on R2 DVD, after a six-year wait since its English translation.

Gestalt tells a tale that's heavily influenced by Japanese role-playing computer games (indeed, games production house Enix had a hand in its development). Father Olivier, a high-ranking priest, decides one day that he must travel to the forbidden land of Gestalt – known as "G", since the populace have taken the Harry Potter turn of never speaking its name. The head of the church hires a dark elf called Suzu to bring him back, and she'd normally do the job easily... were it not for the mysterious Ohri, a young sorceress who decides to tag along with Olivier on his long journey. In addition, Ohri has a hidden past and may not be what she appears – something that nearly everyone on their journey, save Olivier, can see.

The pair find themselves in a walled city, where they're forced to participate in a tournament against resident pretty-boy Soushi, the evil Queen (who's got a Theoden-like hold over the King), and their pet monsters – including nasty "carrion crawlers" and various dragons. Because, of course, you have to have at least one dragon in every medieval fantasy story – right? While they're there, Olivier begins to discover more about both his self-appointed mission to Gestalt, and about Ohri's true powers.

The animé is replete with RPG references and in-jokes: Ohri is initially under a "Silence" spell and talks exclusively in blue text boxes; the characters cast spells and summon monsters to do battle; and most RPG players will recognise the generic "castle town" and "small village" locations right off the bat. Combat, while obviously not played in a turn-based game fashion (for the sake of the narrative), is done with both weapons clashing and magic spells flung around. In addition to the specific RPG references, there's a liberal scattering of elements from other famous fantasy tales, such as the aforementioned Lord of the Rings riff with the King, and the appearance of "dark elves" (a common archetype in fantasy fiction).

Story-wise, the series is hampered because of its status as an OVA – bearing only two episodes, it doesn't have nearly enough time to do anything other than set out characters and motivations. I like to think of OVAs as "pilot episodes" that might eventually become a full series; however, given the age of Gestalt, I'd say that the possibility of this is slim to none. The manga upon which it is based obviously goes into far more detail, but all my sources indicate that it's only available in Japan and was never translated. Still, the series makes good use of the time it has, telling a good yet encapsulated story in a world that – as an avid RPG player – interested me.

On the animation front, it's easy to tell the series' age through looking at the visual styles alone. Bold lines, solid colours and detailed animals and creatures identify this as a series produced in the mid- to late-1990s. It doesn't have the "scratchy colours" common to series like Twin Signal and Pokémon, which I feel is a good thing. CG is sparse, only rearing its head when certain spells are cast. Relating to its accessibility, while the sword and sorcery setting would clearly appeal to younger viewers, there are a couple of instances of bloody violence and one shot of nudity – and the female cast are drawn to the worst extremes of fanservice animé.

The music is forgettable and again very typical of the era, with jaunty melodies and little else. The only piece I took note of was a raucous violin melody that plays during Part 1. Voice acting goes back to the dark ages of English dubbing; it's technically sound, with mouth-movements corresponding to the speech, but hopelessly miscast. Suzu's voice is eardrum-burstingly screeching, Ohri is just loud, and the supporting cast indulge in some of the worst scenery-chewing I've ever heard. I didn't listen to the Japanese vocal track, but I'd reccommend listening to that – it has to be better than the English one.

In conclusion, Gestalt is a humourous take on the medieval fantasy genre. While it doesn't send itself up as much as Dragon Half and at least tries to set up an engaging story, it's clear that the restricted runtime hurts it overall. With no accompanying English manga to continue the story, Gestalt could be viewed as a mere curiosity; just something to pass the time. Reccommended to older viewers, particularly those who enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies.

sound and vision

The framing is 4:3 and the signs of an NTSC to PAL conversion are all there – double image freeze frames on action, a very slight softness to the picture – but otherwise the transfer is a pleasing one, the colour reproduction and contrast looking about right. As ever with MVM, there are not dust marks or damage.

Two soundtracks are offered, both Dolby 2.0 stereo, on Japanese, one English. Sonically there is little to choose between them, although the background music is sometimes a little louder on the Japanese track. Both are clean and distortion free.

The bright yellow English subtitles are very clear throughout.

extra features

Extra features are limited only to an art gallery, a screenshot gallery, and trailers for Chobits, Fruits Basket and Fullmetal Alchemist

Gestalt

Japan 1997
60 mins
director
Osamu Yamazaki

DVD details
region 2
video
4:3 OAR
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Art gallery
Screenshot gallery
Trailers

distributor
MVM
release date
4 December 2006
review posted
7 December 2006

See all of CNash's reviews