What exactly is Gantz? If you are asking that question, the chance seems probable that you have never seen the show before. Even if you had seen the show previously at one time or another the truth of the matter is that this is still an excellent question to ask. Gantz is a mystery to behold and to become absorbed in. This word represents the title of this unique anime series as well as the name of a core character in the plot. You should probably know that when I say "character" what I am really referring to is an odd black ball in a secluded room where dead people are somehow "faxed" to after facing a seemingly untimely death. I'll describe that little tidbit as untimely because of the events that are soon to follow for these unfortunate beings. Upon arriving in such a downright odd situation each character is eventually presented with an option to return to a normal everyday life. The only cost associated with such a wake-up call to the land of our reality? All one must do to return to a normal life is kill "aliens" until 100 points have been earned. It's as simple as committing murder.
The ironic thing about what Gantz does to these living-dead (fax zombies?) is that two of our lead character - High School students Kei Kurono and Kato - died trying to save the life of a drunken homeless man who fell on the train tracks at a subway station. Kato noticed this incident first, and began to help the man off the tracks. Several individuals at the station simply stood by and stared at the event transpiring. Voice-over narration described their inner thoughts, which went something like this: "What does he think he's doing? Is he crazy? Why would he jump on the train tracks and risk his life for a stupid bum?"
Unlike Kato, Kei did not want to help the homeless man. He had been childhood friends with Kato but they hadn't seen each other in several years. Kei did not see the point in helping someone at the risk of his own life. The thing that makes this interesting: he is called out to for help by Kato... and he responds by getting down into the train tracks and risking everything. They both end up losing their lives but the homeless man is saved. Or do they?
Upon arriving in the odd little room with the giant black Gantz ball Kei and Kato find several other people are already in the room. None of them know anything about why they are there except a lone person claiming to have been there before and who refuses to answer anyone's questions. Some speculate that they are dead; others suggest it is a hospital room, and others believe it to be some kind of game show joke. At this point, a girl is "scanned" into the room. Her name is Kei Kishomoto - and yes, her first name is the same as one of the male lead characters. Kishomoto is perhaps the leading female character. Why the name correlation? I still can't quite figure out if there is any importance behind it and I've seen the whole thing.
Words flash across the Gantz ball when new people enter the room and it tells those individuals, in essence, that they lost their old lives and will now be playing a game controlled by Gantz in their new lives. The black ball opens up and displays cases with characters names on them, and inside of these cases are odd looking black suits that amplify strength. Thus begins this oddly fascinating sci-fi action mind trip that examines the darkness within human nature.
The entire premise of this show seems to be designed specifically to bring out the worst in the characters. The Gantz ball informs them that the only way to survive is to kill living things. It makes the issue seem less psychopathic by trying to persuade participants that those who will be killed are alien creatures. I suppose the insinuation with that detail is that these aliens are some kind of threat. Whether or not a viewer will even consider that as true or not is almost entirely up to the audience. This is not a series that likes to easily spell out its motives or the answers to any psychological mysteries. Does the story ever even spell out if the characters are alive or dead? I hesitate to say definitively. One may just as easily find the answer to that as the question itself might seem entirely overlooked. So much of this series is open to personal interpretation, so spelling out anything in 'easy to read' letters for the audience does not seem to be the show-runners intent. To some viewers that might sound like a blessing - a series that actually demands an audience be willing to participate and consider the positive and negative aspects behind the scenarios which are being presented. Others may choose to just scoff at the ridiculousness of the outlandish plot. I stood somewhere -- rather firmly -- in the middle of it all. I think the reason why I ended up enjoying this anime as much as I did is largely due to the almost philosophical nature of its tone and the questions it asks about humanity. I enjoyed inner-turmoil aspects that questioned what lengths of depravity or compassion could be displayed by human-kind. Indeed, I would say that I appreciated the more intellectually stimulating portions of the series. When things turned to straight action or violence my mind was occasionally subject to slight boredom, and other times I remained quite engaged. Gantz could rather easily be defined as a hit and miss show. At some points in the story it excels quite well with demonstrating an original voice and in presenting audiences with captivating episodes. There are other moments where time seems to be standing still.
Nonetheless, I was thoroughly impressed by the show's pacing for the most part. I was ultimately dismayed by some of the episodes included on the second disc, which seemed to stall the overall flow of the story. Instead of presenting viewers with more knowledge about Gantz (which should serve as the series biggest draw for mystery lovers) more time was spent in the real-world setting, and the pacing became dragged down significantly - if only for a brief time. I was especially annoyed by how much time was spent focusing on Kei's inner-thoughts and desires in regards to 'getting laid' and ultimately losing his virginity. This type of material worked to a small degree in that it allowed some more time to analyze the behavior of the characters, but it didn't feel as though it was benefiting the main plotline much, if at all. I would have preferred this element of the series to be excised or reduced to simply keep the flow a bit smoother during these early episodes.
This series was originally released by ADV in North America, and upon the first release I had viewed early episodes before losing some interest. This led to me never finishing the series at the time. I regret that decision today, and would advise any potential viewer to keep watching Gantz even if a few of the episodes seem less interesting during the second disc or before the middle point of the series. The series rapidly improves from that point forward and becomes much more consistently enjoyable. The only downside is that because the manga is still currently running in Japan the series has an inconclusive ending and is not entirely successful. It felt somewhat resolved but within that realm of containing an abstract conclusion that seems to try and leave things open for viewer interpretation. That kind of conclusion might remind some of you of another much debated series ending (wink-wink-nudge-nudge: I'm talking about Neon Genesis Evangelion). I enjoyed the ending to Gantz thematically but would like to see more Gantz anime in the future once the manga concludes: the third and final act is being published bi-monthly in Japan as of this writing.
It would be incredibly remiss of me to not mention the strikingly beautiful animation by studio Gonzo. The character designs are almost always quite impressive. The backgrounds that are used are vivid and detailed in a way that strengthens the foundation of what is seen: the temples are given great depth, even more so through the artistry on display with 3D animation which is integrated in a surprisingly effective way.
The direction by Ichiro Itano is mostly impressive, in particular during the beginning and closing acts of the series. Unfortunately, during the middle portion of the show I felt the direction was every bit as guilty as the writing was for periodically slowing things down for viewers. Even the way the camera would pan a close up shot would occasionally feel subdued rather than nuanced during some scenes.
I cannot imagine what must have initiated the kind of thought process that would be required to create and write such a bizarre anime (besides the obvious fact that this is based on a successful manga). What other story contains such a hyper and surreal drive to demonstrate to viewers exactly how many people it takes to blow up an alien "bad guy" beyond viewer recognition? Actually, there are more series existing today with that kind of gruesome mentality than I would like to acknowledge. I might send the wrong impression by merely stating that I dislike such implications. I do not enjoy the fact that many horror and action productions lack even a basic understanding of solid storytelling and merely try to shock viewers by layering on extremities -- one after another. For my enjoyment of a series, there is a distinct fine line that should be drawn. It is in finding where that line is drawn that each individual viewer may find themselves pausing to reflect and debate.
Extreme violence without consequence has become a common expectation and reflection of many cinematic experiences -- including (to my ever-growing dismay) what some viewers expect from anime. Surprisingly, I am happy to report that Gantz isn't one of these series. Gratuitous images of broken limbs never parade across the screen to simply demonstrate new levels of carnage and mayhem. While viewers should make no mistake: this is an extremely violent show, such vulgarity exists in order to explore questions about the morality of mankind. As I have already tried to express, what those morals are comes down to individual responses to the series' core themes. Gantz truly is a one of a kind experience.
This anime series is presented with the original Japanese
language track (with optional English subtitles) and in an English language
version. The original audio is only available in 2.0 stereo. It is a moderately
effective aural presentation if not one of the most engaging mixes I have
heard. The English version contains a remarkably strong dub and a solid 5.1
sound mix that features some better directionality and slightly better bass.
Either option would do the trick, but I must admit to having a slight
preference for Gantz with the English
The visual presentation is quite strong with an impressive anamorphic widescreen 1:85:1 framed transfer that looks absolutely gorgeous with strong colors, superb black levels, high contrast, and animation that looks even better given the care given in its DVD treatment. I did notice some occasional grain (notably during the opening credits) yet I wouldn't find any particular fault with that aspect of this release.
While I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a jam-packed release when it comes to extras, there are a few notable and worthwhile inclusions. The most enjoyable extra was an interview with director Ichiro Itano in which he discusses his own personal take on the themes presented within the series and what Gantz was ultimately trying to say. Itano also discusses his reasoning behind how he used violence on the show and why he felt it was important to push boundaries for what can be seen in an anime, as opposed to catering to censorship.
A production featurette covering the 3D design elements of the series and how they were created is also included. I found this an interesting and informative extra that would be worth at least one viewing by any fan impressed by the immersive nature of the 3D design work.
Rounding out the extras are clean opening/ending credits, a rather dull anime music video (AMV), and trailers for additional releases from Funimation Entertainment.
It has a catchy theme song! It even features (surplus)
amounts of action and violence. Most importantly, it's a series that actually
has a heart and mind. While the ending is a bit flawed and inconclusive due to
the ongoing manga series, which prevented the storytellers from
reproducing its eventual ending, this
is still a fun and wild ride to watch for its surprisingly dark take on the negative
side of human nature. The story drags a bit during the middle, but if you like
how it starts be sure to stick around to see how everything ends.