ADV Films // 2005 // 325 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jonathan Weiss (Retired) // March 15th, 2006
"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." -- Mark Twain
Based on a popular weekly serialized comic book, Gantz premiered in 2005 and took Japanese TV by storm. But before that could happen, each episode had to first be censored and extensively re-edited. It was still a hit. The first season has just been collected for the first time and released in all its uncensored glory. Now it's time to see what all the fuss was about.
Two students save the life of a drunken homeless man after he stumbles and falls off a subway platform onto the tracks below. Before they can reach the safety of the platform themselves, the express train comes roaring through the tunnel and they are both run down and decapitated. Or so it would appear. Seconds later they find themselves very much intact and standing in a room with a mysterious black sphere called Gantz, along with a wide variety of people -- each of whom had similarly just been in situations that should have left them for dead. Gantz soon sends them out on their first of apparently limitless missions. If they die on a mission, they die. If they don't complete a mission, they die. But if they survive enough missions and earn enough points, they get to go back home -- probably.
On first impression, Gantz is a sexy and violent variation on the Alice in Wonderland mythos (much like The Matrix Trilogy is). Only instead of a rabbit hole, there's a near death experience. Instead of Wonderland there's a secret room, futuristic weapons, and an incredibly dangerous hidden world of enemy aliens. Instead of the Mad Hatter there's a mysterious black sphere that scolds, makes fun of, and then scores each individual player after each mission. Instead of the Queen of Hearts threatening "Off with their heads!" bodies actually do get mutilated, gutted, ripped to shreds in a variety of creative ways. And perhaps most significantly, instead of one Alice -- there are dozens, maybe even hundreds. In fact, you could be next.
But you're not. Instead this box set, which includes 13 episodes from the first season of Gantz, focuses on the lives of three individuals. Kei Kurono is a self-absorbed, horny high school student with a penchant for soft-core porn who wouldn't go out of his way to help anyone. Masaru Kato is an imposing figure and used to play with and idolize Kurono when they were younger -- until his grades fell and he was sent to another school. In many ways Kato is the moral compass of Gantz, always trying to do the right thing; always trying to get others to do the right thing too. Yet beneath the surface, there is a definite violent streak within, one that he tries his utmost to control. Kei Kishimoto is an attempted suicide was was plucked from her bath just as her life force began to wane. Needless to say she materializes into the hidden room disoriented, confused, and buck-naked -- much to the boner-inducing surprise of Kurono.
That's not to say there aren't any other characters. There are plenty. Including a dog. Yes, a dog. That's the beauty of this kind of story line -- characters can live, die, and be replaced at any time. In this way the story never gets old and the viewer can be introduced to all sorts of different people from all different walks of life at any point in the series.
Naming and rating each episode doesn't really apply here in that they are all of equal importance to the overall storyline. However the Gantz -- Season 1 Box Set is broken up into three distinct story arcs over the course of its thirteen episodes. The first three discs focus on the introduction of Kurono, Kato, and Kei as well as the whole Gantz concept. The next 5 discs take our characters back into their daily lives and we get to delve into what makes them tick. This is where we also get to meet some of the new characters that are destined to become the next pawns of Gantz. The last arc brings all the players, both new and old, back into the game.
What's really nice about Gantz is that the viewer really does get to know these characters. We get to see a bit of their backgrounds, their social surroundings, and their place in the world. A distinct emphasis has been placed on internal dialogue so that we really get into their heads and find out what's going on inside -- which is usually a marked difference from what does or doesn't come out of their mouths.
The one thing we don't learn too much about in the first season is what Gantz really is. We don't find out how long Gantz has been plucking people from their lives (or near-deaths) and reinventing them in his room. We don't learn where these aliens that Gantz wants hunted down come from or what they're doing here on Earth. We don't even find out what the suits our protagonists wear really do or what happens after one of them reaches 100 points. Not really. But that's okay because it's all part of what makes Gantz so addictive. And boy, is itaddictive. Simply put, Gantz is anime crack. You'll love some characters and loathe others, but either way you won't be able to slide in those DVDs fast enough to find out what happens next.
What needs to be made clear is that Gantz is definitely not for kids. Adult situations include suicide and attempted rape. The language is harsh; the violence is bloody and graphic, and yes, we do get to see Kei naked. Putting it in perspective, that's not much different from the average episode of The Sopranos.
Extras are included on all 6 discs. All discs include clean opening and closing animation and DVD credits. On the first disc there's an interview with Director Ichiro Itano. On the second, an interview with Daisuke Namikawa, the Japanese voice talent for Kurono; and on the third and fourth disc there's a two-part cast talk with the Japanese voices of Kurono, Kato and Kei. Starting on the fifth disc they've also included a sneak peek of the following episode -- though the only one really worth watching is the one on the last DVD -- as it previews episode 14, the beginning of the next story arc -- which will hopefully also be collected in a box set sometime in the near future. Looks to be a sizzler too. As far as the interviews go none of them are particularly enlightening and you don't really need to watch them to get the full Gantz experience. In a nutshell, the first two interviews basically make a point of saying that the more times you watch the episodes the more meaning you're going to find in them. The second group interview looks to be conducted in a convention atmosphere. The cast looks uncomfortable and they jump from subject to subject; no earth shattering insights are revealed. However, the do provide some comparisons between the uncensored DVD and what was shown on Japanese TV -- but not much.
The English voice acting cast does an excellent job overall -- though the high-pitched whining of Chris Ayres as Kurono does get grating at times. The sound design in general is fantastic, using the 5.1 surround medium to maximum potential -- whether it's an explosion, rain hitting the streets, or the hinted echo of an internal monologue. Of special note is the opening theme song, Super Shooter by Japanese Rock group Rip Slyme -- a pulsing techno anthem if there ever was one -- that may just get you surfing for a download.
The anime itself is lovely to look at -- seemingly a combination of hand drawn and digital. Since this is a DVD compilation of episodic television there are redundancies in storytelling, usually through flashbacks, in order bring new viewers up to date, but they never bog down the story and more often than not are used in an almost haunting way -- as if hinting at events to come or freedoms lost.
If you're a novice to anime, the Gantz -Season 1 Box Set may just be the perfect way to ease yourself into this most influential genre.
Everyone involved is free to go -- until, of course, Gantz calls you all back into service once again.
Review content copyright © 2006 Jonathan Weiss; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* Interview with Director
* Interview with Japanese Voice of Kei Kurono
* Cast Talk
* Episode Previews
* ADV Previews
* DVD Credits
* ADV Films Gantz Site
* Official Australian Site
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 1
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 2
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 3
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 4
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 5
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 6
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 7
* DVD Verdict: Gantz, Volume 8