Reviewby Bamboo Dong,
DVD 1: Game of Death
Kei is living the normal life of a high school student until his fateful encounter with Kato, an old childhood friend. Together, they save the life of a bum who falls onto the subway tracks, only to be killed in the process themselves. When they die, they're transported to a secluded apartment in Tokyo where they find themselves with other recently deceased people—and a giant singing ball. It informs them that it is their duty to go outside and hunt down alien criminals. Their first target? A meek alien whose greatest obsession in life is eating green onions. Can the group find him and kill him, or will it be their turn to die… again?
Since the dawn of science fiction, the premise of man versus alien has always been popular in pop culture, but never did it have so much animated violence and nudity… until now. When Gantz was first aired in Japan in 2004, there were so many liberal doses of blood and sexual content that it had to be heavily edited. Luckily, fans could see the original episodes in all their gory glory on DVD, and now North American fans are getting the same chance, thanks to ADV. Oddly enough though, ADV is only putting two episodes on each disc. While this may seem like an unfortunate deal to consumers, the prices have been reduced as well, from a typical MSRP of $29.98 to $17.98. The final price count is still enough to leave a sour taste in many mouths, but for a series as engrossing and as eerily beautiful as Gantz, there's certainly enough incentive to brave the disc count just for the chance to watch the show, two episodes at a time.
Even with only two episodes down the hatch, Gantz is already more than just a show about dead men tracking down alien refugees. It's a social commentary that frowns at the apathy and selfishness that seems to plague humanity. Right from the beginning, viewers are given access into the minds of everyone on the screen. Whether it's Kei's fantasies as he sees his teacher and female classmates nude, or the thoughts of a businessman as he recoils from a staggering drunk, everything is made perfectly obvious. As the audience watches, the ills of humanity are slowly paraded onto the screen. When a drunkard falls onto the subway tracks, no one is willing to help him. Instead, they all stand back and complain that everyone else is too lazy to do something. The only one willing to sacrifice his life to help the man is Kato. Interestingly, the only minds that are closed from viewers are Kato and a girl who appears at the end of the first episode. Innocent and devoid of selfish and perverted thoughts, it's almost like they have no reason to be exposed to audiences. It's this battle between purity of heart and the ills of mankind that complements so well the clash between man and alien.
Of course, with the uncut version of Gantz, one of the first questions that come to mind is, “how is it different from the TV edit?” Blood and breasts. Lots of both. Severed heads spraying with blood, as well exploding bodies and messy entrails... there's even a scene where a dog orally pleasures a naked girl. Not to mention the added amount of nipples and cleavage that are scattered at every turn. It's certainly not the most scandalous thing to ever be animated, but it adds plenty of spice to an already unique show.
Visually, it stands out like any Gonzo show inevitably does. The artwork is bold and smooth, even though the entire atmosphere is somewhat subdued. Splashing in a few 3D rendered scenes every time they want heads to spin, it still matches well with the rest of the animation. If anything else, it makes one heck of a pretty show. At the same time, Gonzo also employs quite a few typical corner-cutting tricks. Blurry pans of characters are shown layered at staggered angles, giving the illusion of movement all while saving hours of actual animation. In fact, if there is one weakness in the animation for Gantz, it's character movement. The mobility of the characters seems awkward and stilted, with graceless lumbering and plenty of moonwalking without ever actually getting anywhere.
The dark mood of the series is bolstered even further by the background music. An eclectic mix of sweet orchestrations and clanging sound effects, the music does what any good soundtrack should—it complements the series without drawing attention to itself, except when it's needed to emphasize a scene. The vocals are what really make the music interesting. Rip Slyme kicks off the opening theme with their song “Super Shooter,” an energetic hip hop piece with great Engrish lyrics like “Brand New Sound soul still survival / Here come the sound boy.” The ending theme is a polar opposite, featuring a sweet ballad by Bonnie Pink. The best vocal song though, in terms of sheer oddity, is the song that the black ball sings. Reminiscent of the old community-rousing songs they used to play in the mornings during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it presents a quirky contrast to the dark series.
As far as audio goes, the screener copy reviewed only had the subtitled track, but that was done rather well. Fans who dislike hard English overlays will be overjoyed with the treatment that Gantz received. Rather than overlaying any of the onscreen text with English, all of the translations are put on the subtitle track. This gets a little messy at times, but considering the alternative, this is a graciously accepted option.
When all is said and done though, is Gantz really worth getting two episodes at a time? For anyone who wants an edgy new twist on the man versus aliens theme, Gantz is definitely something to watch for. Once you press play, it's easy to keep begging for more. It's just an absolute shame that the disc count doesn't make it more attractive to consumers. With a series that uses momentum and suspense to keep viewers on the edges of their seats, one can only hope that viewers won't lose interest with a thirteen-disc release. Still, it's a fascinating series, and while it deserves a better release platform, it's definitely worth seeing.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Exciting new take on an old science fiction theme
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