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Gantz: The Complete Series

FUNimation // Unrated // January 25, 2011
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted February 8, 2011 | E-mail the Author

The
Series:
 






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.






The
DVD:












Audio:




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
Dub option.

 

Video:






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. 



Extras:




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.



Final Thoughts:






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.



Recommended.




Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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