A caveat up front: This series is a far different animal than others you might be tempted to hold up for comparison's sake, such as Macross or Escaflowne. All these shows, along with other series like Gundam and Evangelion that were available during the same period, had in common was the mecha, or giant robot theme we referred to earlier. Where Gasaraki went in a different direction was by taking focus away from endless robotic battles and redirecting to the human struggles. In a typical episode of Gasaraki, only about 3-5% is occupied with actual robot action or combat. What's left is a fairly dense narrative about warring factions in Japan, and global politics. If you aren't signed up for a lot of dialogue and character development, Gasaraki is absolutely not for you. If, on the other hand, you are tired of watching robot drama that feels like it's just swapping out one robot from one story to pretend to tell a new story, Gasaraki will feel refreshing.
As the story unfolds, we're introduced to a cast of characters that centers on young Yuushiro Gowa, a soldier in the Japan Self-Defense Force and member of the highly influential Gowa family. The JSDF is actively testing mechanized units, referred to as Tactical Armor or TA units. Yuushiro is really just a civilian, placed in the JSDF as a result of his family's connections, but is an extremely gifted pilot. We see some machinations behind his family's decision to have him in the JSDF, but it's not clear until later what they are driving at. When the JSDF is called to assist in an unstable Middle Eastern country, we discover that Japan isn't the only country testing TAs. In hindsight, it is easy to see commentary about the Iraq conflict of the early '90s, complete with shadow forces and imperial overtones. Yuushiro finds a connection with one of the rival TA pilots, the Gowa family is opposed in their native Japan, and allegiances become highly fragmented.
Binding together the complex plot is a running theme of dark magic and primitive religion, tied to the Gowa family's legacy, the mysterious force of Gasaraki, and its embodiment as a hellish organic TA that seems linked to both Yuushiro and his love interest, Miharu. Some standout episodes include "Return," where the JSDF escapes a complicated situation in the war-torn Belgistan and Yuushiro demonstrates his skill as a TA pilot. "Storehouse" is the moment when we see the full power of the organic TA; Yuushiro's identity is called into question as the plot seriously thickens, when he discovers a secret laboratory run by Gowa with human clones and the previously dormant TA. Without spoiling the latter half of the series, suffice it to say that the drama between Gowa and their rival clan Symbol, escalates into full-blown war. The political tension perceived during the Belgistan episodes (#4 - #7) also boils over as the United States asserts itself, and the TA conflict takes Gasaraki into more stereotypical territory. Epic, exciting battles and the capstone of the series pays off, in exchange for some of the slower, denser aspects of the show's first half.
Gasaraki: Complete Series Collection is a good collection of a series that deserves more attention, and that holds up well after all these years. It may not have the same spotlight as its big cousins Gundam and Evangelion, but it aims and scores in different areas. Certainly, in the realm of more "serious" anime, Gasaraki ranks highly in the mecha genre. If you're ready to pay attention to its rather epic storyline, you won't be disappointed.