Movie: While most anime is decidedly friendly to the younger crowds, such is not always the case. Be it conceptual ideas or outright sexuality, there is a growing niche of the genre that caters to a more mature, or at least more openly adult set of values. Such was the case with a series called Gantz, that I reviewed earlier this year when the season one boxed set came out. While I know numerous fans got off to the show based on the ultra violent battles it showed or the nudity displayed onscreen, I found it an interesting character study of the lead protagonist; a young man with various flaws trapped by his situation. Well, today's review is on Gantz: Season 2 Collection and it finishes up the story with a bunch of twists and turns that were not expected, providing the kind of psychological mind game that very few anime series have been able to achieve by this point in time. Before going too deeply into the second season, here are a few highlights of the previous season to bring you up to speed:
Gantz is a story about a near future Earth that has a number of powerful alien invaders roaming about at will. They generally don't interact with humans except when threatened, though the story had many plot elements that were still unclear even after watching the entire 13 episodes that comprised the first season. The protagonist for the story is a teenager named Kei Kurono, a slacker that ogles women and has about as much success with them as your typical Otaku does when approaching the varsity cheerleading squad. He's grown jaded at the dismal world he lives in and looks out for number one even though he knows what the right thing to do is most of the time. One afternoon, he waits for his train in the subway and sees a homeless man fall down on the tracks. Knowing it would mean instant death when the approaching train runs the guy over, he screams in his mind for the drunk to wake up and move. Needless to say, the rest of the crowd does the same thing to the point where this diffusion of responsibility has everyone acting helpless, unwilling to risk their lives for what appears to be a worthless wretch of a man. That is, all save one young man, named Masaru Kato; a childhood friend of Kei's that slipped into a rougher crowd.
Kato pleads with the rest of the crowd to assist him in moving the hobo off the tracks, settling on Kei to the point where our young protagonist feels pressured into jumping down to assist in saving the man (instead of doing if because it was the right thing to do). Needless to say, when the train comes along, a calculated risk turns sour and while the bum is saved, the bodies of the two would be heroes are torn into bloody pieces that fly everywhere. Throughout the entire show, the audience is treated to hearing the random thoughts of those in the vicinity, most thinking something similar to what a "real" group would come up with. Just after impact, the two guys awaken in a small room with other people standing around and a big black sphere in the middle. They aren't sure what happened to them but it's obvious that they're alive since they can think, breathe, and interact with the others.
The sphere is called Gantz and somehow controls various aspects of the physical world in which the recently deceased occupy. They are being given a second chance to live as long as they follow the orders provided. Unfortunately for them, there is no rule book and the only guy that appears to know what's going on isn't willing to discuss it. The basic premise is that the individuals get points for the aliens they kill with a need to acquire 100 points. How the points redeem and what happens at the magic number is pure speculation since every time a mission comes up, a mostly new group of people appear in the room (apparently, if you die on a mission, you aren't resurrected again). Exactly why the aliens are dangerous to people (they never seem to go out of their way to hurt anyone that isn't attacking them) and must be eliminated is not discussed except to say that if the team doesn't kill them off, they suffer the consequences.
Gantz: Season 2 Collection is another wild ride into the mind of director Ichiro Itano and picks up soon after the point where Season One finished off. Kei Kurono is still obsessed with busty Kei Kishimoto and his pal Masaru Kato has assumed something of a leadership role in the game. The season concentrates on two missions that are even more difficult than the first with the obvious consequences in terms of a team body count. Kurono deals with his sexual frustration by immersing himself in the game, getting a false sense of power as he boldly (and foolishly) starts aggressively attacking the aliens. The results of his attacks, at least at first, result in the others learning to admire his skill and drive but the end result is that he soon appears to be as bloodthirsty a lunatic as any of the marginal characters. The Gantz solves that dilemma soon enough too, resulting in a Most Dangerous Game scenario that truly has no winners.
Conceptually, I wondered about the specifics more than I should have in regards to how the players were picked (seemingly at random yet something nagged me about this, making me wonder about the connections). I also couldn't help but think that some of the cultural differences between the Japanese and Americans led to misunderstandings about the details too. The bottom line for me was that I enjoyed the series and the second season was even more amped up than the first but I admit to not liking how it ended on such a nebulous note. I'm not going to be a prick like a few reviewers on other websites and spoil the details for you but suffice it to say, the idea that it was open ended and allowed for the viewer to decide what happened is a cop out of tremendous magnitude (and bugged me more than a little). I can think for myself all too clearly but just as I wouldn't care for a "hero riding off into the sunset with the girl" style ending, some kind of definitive closing would have made more sense to me. I think the show was easily worth a rating of Recommended or better, but I would have enjoyed even more of a proper finish to end the series.
Picture: Gantz: Season 2 Collection was presented in a 16:9 anamorphic widescreen color presentation, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that maintains the original look of the show as it aired in Japan. It was clean, dark and had a few minor flaws that were almost certainly done on purpose to project a mood for the series as a whole. This included a slightly washed out look when the crew were on missions, a number of special effects that appeared at specific times, and some light moiré here and there. I saw no compression artifacts and it looked very well done overall.
Sound: The audio was presented with the choice of the original 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo in Japanese with English subtitles or the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English language dub handled by ADV Films. Due to the way so much of the audio content was handled by the characters thinking (rather then speaking things aloud), I think I would have appreciated thoughts to be in a different color than spoken words but otherwise the tracks both had their pluses and minuses. The Japanese track almost always "felt" right in conveying the horrific situations that the cast were thrown into but the dub had a better range of separation for the special effects and music. Neither was perfect but both had something to add for the anime fans, leaving aside the usual arguments about dubs versus subs in favor of quality employed on both.
Extras: While most of the recent boxed sets coming out have been stripped of extras, this was not the case here. There were clean openings and closings, trailers, and a wealth of interviews that were tremendously spoiler ridden again. The first disc of the cardboard box enclosed six disc set had an interview with the Japanese director, Ichiro Itano, and his computer graphics director, Yashuhiro Kato. It wasn't long but it provided some oversight to the series that was helpful to my understanding of the show. There was also an interview of the original creator of the material, Hiroya Oka, and voice actress, Chiaki Kuriyama. If you've followed the warnings in the past, you'll know to watch the entire boxed set before watching these since the spoiler content is quite heavy. The second disc had similar extras of the generic nature accompanied by a music video (which was cool but not enough to compensate for having only three episodes) with the third disc returning to some of the interviews that helped flesh out the extras previously (sound director Hiroyuki Hayase, with voice actors Masashi Osato (Kato) and Hitomi Nabatame (Kishimoto). The last disc had a ~15 minute long feature called The Secret Behind the Impeccable Images of Gantz; a show that explained in part how some of the visual elements of the show were created; and a recap extra of the interviews with some seemingly minor footage added in to tie it all together called Gantz DVD Special Features Collection. In a sense, the extras were almost an integral part of the show's enjoyment since so much was left up in the air but in all, I thought the only truly missing extra was having some audio commentaries by Dub directors Matt Greenfield and David Del Rio. They might have helped explain some of the weirder parts of the show and if the possibility for a sequel to tie up loose threads was in the works.
Final Thoughts: Gantz: Season 2 Collection was thankfully not a carbon copy of Season One as it relied on a heightened sense of violence, sexuality, and the drives that make us human but even with characters that evolved as time went on, the limitations of such an ensemble cast wore thin at times. By replacing the majority of cast so readily, the fact is that many of the characters were two dimensional throw away types (like the forgettable red shirt ensigns of the Star Trek series that you knew would die moments after beaming down to a planet) and their place in the puzzle remained largely a mystery that was unsolvable. If there is a Rosetta Stone available for translating the series, by all means send me a link since it might help me enjoy the show all that much more but I have to appreciate the level of quality that went into making it just the same. If you want something thought provoking, deeper than average, and just twisted enough to set all your senses on overdrive, pick up a copy of the Gantz: Season 2 Collection as well as Season One so that you will see exactly what I mean. For optimal viewing experience though, watch it late at night with all the lights out and no one to disturb you.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.