Ever since it was discovered, there had always been strange phenomena and mysterious experiments going on at Heaven’s Gate, but on the day that would come to be known as Twin X, they began to affect the entire world. Thanks to the terrorist act of scientist Terumichi Madoka, the world became encased within the ‘Sheltering Sky’, a reflective mirror of particles that spelt change for everyone living on the planet beneath. Now, fifteen years later, Madoka’s two children are on the run from their father’s reputation and their mother’s debts, only to get drawn into an ongoing conflict between powerful forces wielding supernatural abilities- a conflict that could decide the very future of humanity.
When I first started watching Gilgamesh, I didn’t really know what to expect- I’d been given very vague impressions of what it was about which had left me with the idea that it was some kind of dark, incest-filled mecha series. In fact, the truth was somewhat different, for whilst Gilgamesh took all sorts of well-used ideas like post-apocalyptic futures, mad scientists and children with supernatural powers, it somehow combined them to create something that didn’t quite fit in with anything I’d ever seen before.
The result could be said to be anime’s answer to film noir, a piece that takes place mostly in darkened rooms whilst slowly unfolding the mystery behind Twin X. Nothing is at is seems here- everyone has secrets and ulterior motives, so much so that at the beginning it is hard to tell which faction is meant to be the villain of the piece. As the series progresses, however, everything starts to look a lot more promising, with sci-fi and mystery elements slowly getting woven in with revelations and a healthy dose of action.
Unfortunately, however, as Gilgamesh moves into its second half, it turns into one of those series for which twenty-six episodes is not enough. All of a sudden we are inundated with implausible scientific twists, overloading the plot even as the pace suddenly picks up. Without time to clarify and properly develop the ongoing threads, everything becomes a mishmash of flashbacks and dream sequences, to the extent that you don’t know what is actually meant to have happened and what is just a vision. And even as you struggle to fit all the pieces into place, the series comes up with one of those disappointing endings that anime seems to resort to so often, leaving you wondering just why you put so much time and effort into watching it in the first place.
At the centre of the action are the two Madoka children- Tatsuya, the typical quiet boy with destined powers and Kiyoko, the older sister who has perhaps fostered a rather closer relationship with her brother than is strictly healthy. Accompanying them is a supporting cast that includes the mysterious Countess of Werdenberg; the three teenagers she has taken in; the members of the organisation known as Gilgamesh and various other scientists and minor schemers. Although most of the cast have well-defined personalities, development is highly inconsistent, with growth and back story just shoved in here and there instead of being presented in a logical fashion.
Visually, Gilgamesh opts for a dark, gothic style to complement its film noir tendencies; settings use high contrast colours for a visual impact, whilst character designs have their own unique ‘realistic’ style. Full lips, small eyes and an abundance of hair are the order of the day here, and whilst it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing style overall, it is still memorable. Background music is simple and sparse, but fits the tone of the series without being too intrusive.
Although Gilgamesh is worth watching on the strength of its distinctive style and presentation alone, the rushed pace in the later episodes and laughably poor ending does cost it points. Rather than being the classic it could perhaps have been, it ends up being little more than a curiosity- something different from the usual anime fare but far from perfect in its own right.