Gantz vols. 1-2

Gantz vols. 1-2
 Jason Carter  rates it:    

(Author’s note: This review covers the first two volumes of the commercial, region 1 release of Gantz. It replaces an earlier review that dealt solely with a preview disc and contains the author’s final opinion on the subject, which is somewhat more positive than it had been previously.)

Well, this was a pleasant surprise.

Gantz and I have a checkered history. I first heard about Gantz through internet rumors. It was one of those must-see shows in certain circles, and while I don’t follow these things particularly closely, I do make it a point to at least take note of what others are watching, since popularity is generally a sign of a show being at one extreme or the other of the quality range. In this case, I liked what I saw. No, I more than liked it, I loved it, and I had every reason to look forward to its US release by ADV. I was already sold on Gantz. Sadly, when I got around to reviewing it for Anime Jump, all that was available was a preview disc. To make matters worse, ADV had announced that they intended to release this series on 13 DVDs – that’s right, two whole episodes per disc. It takes a lot to spark a fit of fanboy rage in me, but ADV managed to do it, and my original review voiced my irritation.

I’m glad to report, though, that the final product is better, much better, than I had concluded it might be. The actual English release, at least this far into the show, seems to be a faithful adaptation of it’s bizarre, perverse, and fascinating original.

Gantz started life as a nudity and violence filled manga by Hiroya Oku. This work was then adapted into two thirteen-episode seasons of anime with much less skin and somewhat less gore. In fact, the first season was so bloody that enough material for two full episodes was edited out before broadcast; only 11 segments ran on Japanese TV, with the rest being reserved for people who were willing to buy the DVDs. By itself, that’s not enough to attract me. But Gantz was different: it had a totally loathsome main character, a supporting cast who were mostly likable, if somewhat pitiable, and a plot that managed to make me think less of myself as a human being for my reaction to its events.

Our protagonist is high schooler Kei Kurono. Kurono is somewhat like other boys his age; for example, he ogles women, including his shapely teacher. Unlike some other teenage boys, he’s also despicable – a real horny jackass. In addition to his libido, Kurono harbors a deep seated contempt for others; in the first episode, he spends considerable time trash-talking people inside his head while going about his daily routine.

All of this makes him a neat contrast to his long-forgotten childhood friend, Kato. Kei runs into Kato by pure chance at a subway platform. Circumstances force them to relate to each other despite Kurono’s wish to remain unnoticed. A liquored-up bum manages to wander in and faint right near the edge of the tracks. Shockingly, no one makes an attempt to help him – instead they stand around and we get to hear them make excuses to themselves. One person runs, and then Kei looks at Kato – who seems to have a look of agony on his face. Suddenly Kato makes up his mind and gets down on the tracks. While trying to help the bum up, he recognizes his childhood friend and asks for assistance. Kei hides his annoyance, and then they manage to get the lush off the tracks in time. Alas, they don’t get off in time themselves, and the next thing they know, they are in an unfurnished apartment with:

  • a middle-aged elementary school teacher
  • an elderly Diet member
  • a blonde punk with long hair and a smoking habit
  • a pair of Yakuza
  • a chillingly creepy junior high kid who sits in the corner and glares at everyone
  • a lascivious dog (you’ll see what I mean – twice)
  • and a very large and totally featureless black sphere.

While everyone wonders if they aren’t dead and some people exchange introductions, a newcomer joins them: a naked girl with a remarkably developed chest (she’s faxed in, so to speak – again, you’ll see). Kato gets another chance to act like the reluctant hero he is when one of the gangsters makes a move on her, and then the sphere starts playing a corny tune from an early morning exercise show and flashes characters on its surface announcing that it is the new owner of everyone in the room. Kurono’s life is now seven thousand percent more interesting.

It’s a shame that this show didn’t get better animation than Gonzo saw fit to bestow. The character designs are quite striking (Kato especially looks like the reluctant hero he is) but nearly everything else is bad in one way or another. Specifically, the backgrounds often seem to clash with the characters and have a look to them that seems to holler THIS WAS ANIMATED ON A COMPUTER. The movement of the characters is also a big problem – it is frequently stilted and jerky (see the ending credit sequence – it looks like something out of the late 80s in terms of the fluidity of motion). And to top that off, the viewpoint pans frequently in a manner that is often disorienting. Technical details (the sphere, the weapons and other equipment Kurono and company receive) aren’t bad at all, but that doesn’t make up for everything. Curiously, the backgrounds in the flashbacks don’t seem to have this problem at all, which makes me wonder if Gonzo wasn’t trying something new with this show’s more important scenes. If so it didn’t work.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the English dub. It isn’t going to win an award, but it manages to put an original spin on the characters, leaving me with somewhat more sympathy for Kato (voiced by Illich Guardiola) and a lot more dislike for Kurono (done by Chris Ayres). The English script seems to have been rewritten somewhat to make the dialogue more profane and Kurono more irritating. I’d say it worked; the sub is alright, but the English version of Kurono is now my favorite.

I fell in love with Gantz because of the way it made me look at myself. As far as I can tell, the anime has conveyed a faithful if lessened sense of what a sick little bloodsport this story revolves around, and I really wish I could recommend the disc. Unfortunately, I can’t. Why?

ADV have shifted their stance from the original 13-disc plan; instead, they’ve made the decision to release this first season with two episodes per disc over a run of 6 discs, with the second season distributed on four discs– making a grand total of ten discs for a 26-episode series. Anyone who buys R2 DVDs might be a tad familiar with this distribution of material. I am not, and never will be, because I am not buying Gantz until I get a shot at picking up the whole thing for cheap in a collected edition. It’s not prohibitively expensive, especially taken out over the length of the release, but it is a pain in the neck from a number of perspectives, one of them being storage. I simply don’t want to buy ten DVDs. I strongly recommend that you rent this and see if you can stomach it’s remorseless murder, vulgarity, and above all else it’s absurdly low episode count per disc before you invest your money.

Added:  Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Related Link:  ADV Films
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