Take a handful of “living dead”, put them in a room with a giant, black, mysterious and somewhat sarcastic sphere, add a sprinkling of aliens, a few weapons and some superpower suits and you’ve got the recipe for one of the strangest but most interesting shows I’ve watched… Sound like the kind of thing you might be into? Then read on…
Gantz, which falls under a seinen category (action, sci-fi, horror) is based on a manga by Hiroya Oku which was published from 2000 – 2013 with a total of 37 volumes. There has also been a new manga release which came out last month (November 2015) under the name “Gantz: G”. In addition to the anime, which we will be looking at here, there have also been games, a novel, side stories, two live action films and there is a new 3D CGI animated film that is due for release in 2016 based on the series. The anime was produced by Gonzo and directed by Ichiro Itano. Gonzo, to my mind, is one of the risk-takers in the anime business who are not afraid to “go there” with violence, gore, sex and depravity as evidenced by some of the titles they’ve released in the past including: “Speed Grapher”, “Hellsing”, “Basilisk”, “Trinity Blood” and “Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo”. In addition to some of these titles, “Gantz” was also censored when it was aired on TV but the uncensored version is available in the boxset.
Some of the anime titles brought to us by Gonzo
Ichiro Itano has also been around for a while and has lent his skills to shows such as “Cowboy Bebop: The Movie”, “Fist of the North Star” (that legendary show), “Mobile Suit Gundam” and “Blassreiter”. “Gantz”, which aired in 2004, comprised 26 episodes divided into 2 seasons which had a direct follow-on story line. It should be noted that what is presented in the anime doesn’t follow the events of the manga to the letter, but it doesn’t detract from the appeal of it either. As a point of interest, Hiroya Oku has a pretty interesting method of creating manga (using computer-made 3D models in combination with normal hand-drawn manga) while he tries to give his works a sense of realism, hence the violence etc.
A sampling of some of the animes Ichiro Itano has been involved in
As stated in the opener above, this show is a bit “left of centre” but the plot is actually somewhat straightforward. One day, a high school guy named Kuruno Kei is waiting at the train station when he spots an old friend, Masaru Kato, that he used to go to school with, Even so, Kei pays him no mind and doesn’t bother with him. As they’re all waiting, a drunken, homeless man falls on the tracks and Kato, being a bit of a boyscout, takes it upon himself to try and help the man in order to save him from being killed by the train. Seeing Kei, he calls out to him to help out and before Kei even knows what’s happening, he’s helping out even though he really didn’t want to. Although they save the man, they see the train coming and try to outrun it since it’s bound to stop to pick people up. Unfortunately, they don’t quite make it but find themselves in a room in an unfurnished apartment somewhere in Tokyo. In that room is a huge, black sphere and a handful of people all standing/sitting around. This is when things take an interesting turn and the “fun” truly begins…
Kei & Kato “reunited” at the train station
Getting drunk & falling on the train tracks is never a good idea
Kato calls out to Kei for help & an unwilling Kei follows
The moment that changes their “lives” forever
Kei, Kato and the others in the room are those who have recently died but instead of remaining dead, they are transported to this room. The sphere, known as Gantz, comes to life and gives those who are in the “waiting room” orders. These orders usually involve killing aliens that are living on earth and they are provided with weapons, equipment and body suits that enhance their physical abilities. There is a time limit for each mission and, depending on the role they play in the elimination of the alien, each person is given a score. Once the mission is complete, they can go back to their normal life, but the catch is that this arrangement is a temporary one that is based on whether or not they manage to survive the next extermination mission. Should they die while they’re taking on aliens, they die for good. People can’t see them while on missions and if they get hurt and manage to make it back to the room, all their wounds get healed, but this just confirms that they are indeed dead. And what of the points system? Well if they make to 100, they’re given their real lives back. But making it out alive is a lot harder than it seems…
Kei & Kato comes as new arrivals to the apartment
Weapons, suits, targets & a points system are all you need to get your life back
This was one of the earlier animes that I watched and was possibly the first one that I remember having so much gore and nudity/sex, especially since our main character Kei is a bit of a pervert (typical high school boy). It was also one of the first ones that had me experience what it was like to get punched in the feels…repeatedly! and brought my attention to Gonzo. I recently re-watched this anime since I knew I would get a bit more out of it this time around and the difference is definitely clear. The first time you watch this show, you will be hit multiple times by the sheer shock factor. Dismembered bodies are par for the course and things blowing up a-la “Psycho Pass” style by bubbling before exploding makes it all the more gory. That said, I actually quite enjoy a good gore fest every now and then! Reminds me of all the horror movies I used to watch where you’re in two minds about whether you should be enjoying it so much! But I digress. The first time around there is shock factor while you’re trying to take everything in, keep up with the plot, the constantly changing characters and the progression of the story line while we experience things predominantly through Kei’s view point as well as his internal monologue. The second time around allows you to appreciate the characters and connect with the human level of things, e.g. their experiences, the way in which they died and how they deal with what’s going on around them. Although there is plenty of action in the show, the vehicle behind it is the emotions/attitudes of the characters, whether it be fear, anger, greed, jealousy, loyalty, a sense of duty etc. So I guess you could say that this show has a number of levels to it: the upper levels comprise the missions and achieving the objective of killing the aliens and gaining points and as the levels get deeper, so too does the plot.
Kei becomes fearless in the face of possible death by alien
Another interesting aspect of the show is the “merry-go-round” of characters that we get to know. Whenever people die, new people come in and so we’re introduced to a myriad of different personalities on a rather regular basis. That in itself keeps things interesting and fresh because you’re never sure who you’re going to get and looks can always be deceiving because everyone has their own situations and things that they’ve had to deal with in their lives. Although the time spent with the characters can be rather short at times, their roles are rather well-defined which makes you, as the viewer, more decisive when it comes to choosing to support them or not as they try to make it to the next stage. Even the main characters themselves undergo their own developments as the things they witness and experience change their outlooks. So even though we know them from the start, there’s sometimes more to them than we initially would have thought.
Some of the MANY characters you’ll get to meet throughout the show
The animation style is typical of Gonzo (assuming you’ve watched some of their other works) which I find appealing, although that’s just my personal opinion. There is heavy use of panning shots which probably drive animators bananas because of the lower frame rates, but I thought it brought a level of interest to the show instead of following a stock-standard format. Even things such as shrines etc. are given 3D treatment, which was also rather nice. The colour tones used in the show are somewhat muted but that’s part of Gonzo’s style, which works when you consider that most of the missions take place at night therefore the tone, as a whole, is generally dark. The music was one of the things I loved about this show. There’s this one track called “Bubble” by Tomoko Death that reminds me of 90s bands like Dubstar and Garbage. It shows up as a background track from time to time but it’s worth giving a listen to if you like that kind of sound. The OP gets extra special mention from me because it lead me to one of my favourite Japanese hip-hop bands RIP SLYME. The intro is called “Super Shooter” and when you listen to it, you may understand why it’s a damn awesome tune! The ED is by Bonnie Pink and is in direct contrast to the OP, which kind of speaks to the fact that although there is action, there are deeper aspects to the show. And having Namikawa Daisuke (see Dups’ first review on voice actors in anime) as our main character was a great choice because he was able to pull off being a perv and a bit of an ass but someone that you could kind of relate to and wanted to support.
Gonzo follows the manga’s art/characterisation but shows similar use of colouring & animation style across various titles
The parting shot:
For me, this show was something that was completely out of the box. It had action, emotion and had me getting hit repeatedly in the feels but still coming back to see how it all ends. Although the anime’s ending is completely different from the manga, I think it was handled well and gave the viewer some sense of open-ended closure at the end – a paradox, just like the show itself: bringing about death in order to bring about life…
Image credits: Shueisha, Gonzo