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A Bewildered Advance Look at "Gantz"

You’ve just died. Or so it seems. One second you’re running for your life from a speeding subway train, the next you’re in some weird room with a couple of yakuza, an elementary school teacher, a politician with cancer, a couple of quiet teenage punks, a dog, and a very ominous-looking, very large, black ball. Suddenly, a naked woman starts shooting out of the ball, being assembled before you like she’s being printed out of a macabre inkjet printer. After saving the girl from being raped by one of the yakuza thugs and later from being raped by the dog, a message appears across the ball:

“Your lives are now over, you bastards.
What you do with your new lives
is for me to decide.
So there you have it.”

And so begins one of the more messed-up, mind-screwing anime titles I’ve seen in a while, ADV’s Gantz. From the acclaimed anime studio, Gonzo, a studio that’s done everything from fan service fests like Burst Angel and Kiddy Grade to gritty sci-fi tales like Yukikaze, Saikano, and the groundbreaking Blue Submarine #6, Gantz manages to fuse, at least on a surface level, both Gonzo’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi tendencies and their propensity for pushing content boundaries. It’s clearly in the realm of dark sci-fi, but it has sexual and violent content that might put off even hardened anime fans. Plus ADV’s subtitles are loaded with much coarser language than usual. Between regular f-bombs, ample blood-spray and unsettling relations between a woman and a dog, this is definitely a mature title, at least in the sense that children definitely shouldn’t watch it.

It just keeps rolling on with the oddities and violence after the opening with almost no exposition. Once the ball declares his ownership of these people’s souls, it then ejects out two racks of weird weaponry and one rack of skin tight outfits for everyone involved (no underclothes allowed). From there, they are sent out on a mission to kill a green onion alien (yes, you heard me right, green onion alien) and they are sent out the same way they came in: via the ink-jet printer beam. Once out side of the apartment, one of the kids claims that there is some kind of big cash reward for catching the aliens, so pretty much everyone joins in the fun, exempting the senator, who wanders off and promptly suffers from a case of exploding head, the cause of which is vaguely hinted at visually. The gore doesn’t end there, as it turns out the weapons explode people from the inside out in a somewhat Fist of the North Star-esque fashion. Meanwhile, the rest of this motley crew manages to track down and corner the onion alien, who appears to be just a kid, and after a short scuffle, they blow the kid’s limbs off with the gun. Very unpleasant way to go it seems. Alas, that was the son of the alien they were supposed to nail, and when he show up on the scene he takes one of the Yakuza by the skull, the schoolteacher panics, firing his gun into the Yakuza, and that gives the Yakuza just enough time to chew out the schoolteacher, then explode from about the stomach down, though some intestines are kinda left hanging out of him. End episode 2.

I’d like to say something like “I recommend this title” or “this title is exploitative garbage” but quite frankly I can’t say much of anything after the two episodes I saw. All I can say right now is that Gantz is very weird sci-fi with the potential for depth. It’s pretty messed up and unsettling but that doesn’t give me anything to work with in terms of plot or motivation. The show is another visual triumph for Gonzo with shots that’ll leave viewers gobsmacked and the music, particularly the OP, is very good and very enjoyable. Shoot, even the voice work and character design are cool. In fact, it oozes coolness in almost every aspect. It’s just that the story isn’t there yet, though Gonzo does continue to live up to their reputation as the “ruffians” of the anime industry as Gantz is nothing if not in your face. It is meant to be a commentary on how cheap life is viewed in an age a wash with violence? Is it a commentary on how cowardly and petty the average human has become? I don’t know. There are certainly the seeds for that kind of thing, but at the moment it is a bit buried by the actions on screen.

Sometimes not immediately giving the viewer the motivation and the plot works out. Tsukihime, which is pretty gritty in its own right, gives the viewer almost nothing in the first few episodes in the way of a why, but it uses that to be compelling and almost more natural and real in its style. Outlaw Star doesn’t kick into the main plot until Episode 5, but once the setup is done, it’s ready to rock. Even the classic anime film Akira is pretty much a violent biker flick until the philosophy begins to seep in and give that violence meaning. However, given just how raw Gantz is it will have to come up with some depth, or at least some rhyme and reason, in the later volumes or else it’s basically glossy gore with a side of very creepy sexuality. Of course ADV’s had no problems with that line of reasoning lately, as they did co-fund the violent nudity-fest with a side of fetish that is Elfen Lied, but whether viewers will is another question.

I think the only thing I can say at this point is that ADV should have aimed for at least three, preferably four episodes a disc for this show, if only to give the viewer more to work with when it comes to whether it’s worth picking up the next disc. I admire the boldness of trying something different episode count and price-wise, but right now I’ve got a lot of questions that are sitting unanswered that might be at least partially explained by seeing more of the show. The first question is whether I can recommend it to anyone, and to who I might recommend it.

Ultimately, I know I want to see more, but that’s because right now I’d just really like to know what the heck is going on, and what, if anything, they are trying to say with the show. I suppose you could say I’m hooked, but only because of raw shock value at this point. Gantz will need more than that to keep me watching past Volume 2. I can only hope the finished version of the disc gives me a bit more background than this screener did.

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