Gantz (Japan 2004)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/21/08

Divided into 26 episodes.

Wow... This is a really fucked up anime series. "Gantz" is a story about a couple of high school students named Kurono and Kato who die in a subway accident while trying to help a homeless person who has fallen on the tracks. Much to their surprise, after dying they find themselves in an apartment room with several other recently deceased people and a giant black sphere known as "Gantz" which forces them to play a cruel game of survival. If they can hunt down and kill the targets that Gantz chooses, then they get to return to the land of the living, only to be called upon when the next game begins. The targets are bizarre alien creatures of unknown origin and are considerably stronger than the humans, but the humans are equipped with powerful weapons and special suits to help even out the playing field. Gantz's motives remain unclear, and the increasingly dangerous games seem to only serve as sick entertainment. Against all odds, Kurono manages to not only survive, but to excel at winning in these twisted scenarios, and the violence nearly consumes him. Will he ever manage to escape Gantz, or is death the only way out?

Coming from Studio Gonzo, the animation is very slick and does a good job of combining 3D CGI elements with traditional 2D character animation. Unfortunately, some of the environments don't work completely and suffer from frame rate conversion problems that make them hard to watch. The quality also drops about half way through the season, but picks up again towards the end. The character design is very good and the female characters are quite attractive. Unfortunately, they also have enormous breasts, like most contemporary anime seems to have these days. It also follows another current anime trend in that the main character is almost completely unlikable. Kurono is an annoying asshole who puts up a tough front but is really a pathetic coward underneath. While he manages to find the strength and courage to fight and survive in the Gantz arena, in the real world he's just a selfish loser with a porn obsession and a bad attitude. The supporting characters are much more interesting and likable, with Kei Kishimoto and Sei Sakuraoka topping my list. While Kei is pretty useless, I find her tragic plight and melancholy endearing.

The series is extremely graphically violent and features lots of disturbing imagery. The first several episodes are difficult to stomach, but after that you start seeing a much deeper story evolving that focuses more on the characters and their relationships. The plot also tackles some hard hitting issues like suicide, gang violence, child abuse, war, and terrorism. It even makes some scathing, but sobering, commentary on America's involvement in the Middle East. On a more personal level, it explores the human psyche and the levels of cruelty that it is capable of when pushed in that direction. We're all just savage animals in the end. What is Gantz? What is its purpose? There is an implication that it's from space, but where did it come from and why is it in Tokyo? And what is the nature of the creatures that the humans have to fight? They seem to exist on Earth, but in an alternate realm that normal beings can't perceive. They too question Gantz and want to know what they've done to deserve being hunted. As the series moves towards its shockingly bloody climax, we're left with no answers and no resolution or closure. As horrific as the whole thing is, I found it extremely engaging and was consistently intrigued by what was going to happen next. I may just have to read the manga now and hope that it fills in some of the gaps.