A group of sky pirates find themselves with a mysterious container among some loot. Young pirate Coud, overcome with curiosity, opens the container to find a girl named Reverie “Ren” Metherlence. Coud quickly realised that a group called Arc Aile, and other interested parties, are also after Ren. To keep them away, Ren suddenly melds with Coud and turns into a huge saber attached to his right hand. From then on, Coud decides to make good on the promise he made to Ren: that he will take her to Edel Garden, a place – according to legends – where all Edel Raids can live happily.
I started reading this back in my teens. I probably got halfway through the series before moving onto my next obsession. Ten years later, I decide to finish Coud and Ren’s journey to see where it ended up.
The reason I picked up Elemental Gelade in the first place was because it had that JRPG vibe which I was really into as a teenager and, to be honest, continues to be of interest to me in the present day. Despite the fact that we have the usual cliches of this genre staring us in the face – a larger-than-life, reckless hero; a beautiful female with magical powers and a group of colourful supporting characters. It’s not the most original storyline, but it does set out to grab and entertain its readers right from the first chapter, jumping straight into the action.
The plot is actually Elemental Gelade‘s biggest strength and it pushes the story ahead, giving the characters time to step out of their stereotypical boxes and make their own identities and do things that actually make you like and believe in them. Things never get too stagnant since the group are always moving around. Just like in a JRPG, an ever-expanding group of good guys move from one place to another discovering new information and exciting revelations. Even though it’s nothing new, it does work. And of course if it ain’t broke…
Coud, Ren and the members of Arc Aile meet a lot of other Edel Raids in order to illustrate and reinforce one main point – Edel Raids are not weapons and shouldn’t be treated like such. Instead they are very much like humans: they fight, they love, they protect and they are looking for peace and happiness. Coud’s cockeyed optimism gains a bit more context and the events of the manga make him stronger, more serious about what he is doing and more determined – even though he hears many warnings about taking Ren to Edel Garden. In many instances, Edel Raids are just used by their pleasures and the more we see this happen, the more we see the emotions surface within the usually deadpan Ren until they finally reach their destination.
Coud’s energetic and straightforward approach to things not only motivates the team, but pushes the storyline ever-onwards. He has something of a shounen hero about him – determined, stubborn, righteous, looks out for his friends and can be as dumb as a bag of rocks. Ren is a good balance for him – cool, calm, beautiful and mysterious and their symbiotic relationship as Edel Raid and pleasure is a trigger for many other happy and tragic similar relationships and is compared and contrasted to many of them. We also see romance blossoming between the two of them. This could have been over done, but things nicely and slowly develop and there are some subtle moments that leave things up to the readers imagination.
The supporting characters, the three members of Arc Aile, started off as comic relief more than anything, but we eventually see that Cisqua is more than an inflexible money-grabber and Rowen and Kuea (another pleasure and Edel Raid pair) have a deeper, more complex relationship and eventually drift away from their initial roles as the primary comparison for Coud and Ren.
Though Elemental Gelade doesn’t break any new ground in its genre and is predictable at times, it still has a very strong delivery overall. There is plenty of action and Edel Raid battles on small and large scales and, due to the wide variety of Edel Raid weapons, they all bring a new and interesting aspect. We see many insights to the cast of characters and the relationships of humans and Edel Raids alike. The simple objective of getting to Edel Garden is what drives the protagonists on a seemingly straightforward journey that will supposedly answer all their questions. It’s a plain premise that addresses a lot of ethical issues about equality and diversity in an attractive JRPG-esque way.