Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Perfect Score DVD Collection
Self-absorbed teenaged horndog Kei Kurono and more noble-minded friend Masaru Kato find themselves dead when an effort to rescue a bum from being run over by a subway car ends in disaster. Instead of going to the afterlife, however, they wake up in a Tokyo apartment with a big black sphere and several other individuals who have also recently died, including the sexy, naked wrist-slitting teenager Kei Kishimoto and an acerbic boy who seems to know more about what's going on than anyone else. The sphere, named Gantz, soon declares that they're all dead, their live belong to it, and if they want to get their lives back they must do its bidding – namely, participate in a live-action version of an alien shooter video game, albeit one where the players can end up permanently dead. They cannot resist being summoned to the game, and they must continue playing rounds until they die or achieve 100 points from kills. Worse, each round not only gets more difficult, but also brings in new players to fill out the “team” from past losses. In such a deadly game, what will Kei do to survive and still get some lovin'?
If you missed this orgy of extreme graphic violence, foul language, and explicit content the first two times around, and appreciate lots of gore and nudity, then this is your “perfect” opportunity. ADV's Perfect Score Collection comes in a black metal Gantz sphere, whose well-padded interior houses a fold-out containing the entire 26 episodes and all of the original Extras (primarily original cast and staff interviews/discussions and related commercials), condensed onto five DVDs – and yes, you can roll the sphere around without fear of harming the disks. At an MSRP of $89.99 for the whole thing, it may not be the best bargain for a series of this length, but it still has a price of less than $3.50 per episode and will look damn cool on your shelf while taking up only about as much space as a normal 5-6 volume boxed set.
Taken as a whole, the series can be looked at one of two ways. Those who appreciate violent, explicit fare will find an unquestionable exercise in extreme content, one which so pushed the limit of what even late-night broadcasts in 2004 Japan would allow that its initial TV broadcast was heavily censored. (Never fear, though; both the Japanese DVD release and the version ADV got are free of any truncation.) In fact, at times it almost seems to be in competition with the hyper-graphic Elfen Lied, which aired roughly concurrently and was released in the States at about the same time, for the title of the year's most graphic release. Name your offense – pervasive foul language, messy deaths, intense violence, nudity, sexual innuendo, even outright sex scenes – and Gantz has it, along with plenty of thrilling action and visual delight. While the series never exactly glorifies sex and violence, it is uncompromising in its look at the most base and crass side of human nature, which it uses to promote a decidedly pessimistic world view. In this environment cuteness does not exist and nobility only truly lasts until push comes to shove, as even the most upstanding of the heroes shows the capacity for frightening bursts of violence in the right situation. Those who cannot rise to the challenge, or face the harsh realities of the situation, simply do not survive.
The entirety of the series, and everything it stands for and seems to be saying, is epitomized in Kei Kurono, who may be one of the freshest and most interesting anime protagonists of the past few years. Little about him could be considered likeable, as he often acts with his brain in his pants, usually puts his own interests first, acts crudely, and refuses to take the initiative unless personal gain or safety is at stake. When spurred to action, though, he becomes a magnificent example of skill and fierce determination, the kind of person who can unintentionally lead by example. For all that Masaru wants to be the compassionate, noble leader and all-around good guy, Kurono is the one he idolizes, the one who can ultimately get done what needs to be done. That is what makes him the ultimate survivor.
But the series can also be interpreted another way. As friends, allies, lust interests, and enemies fall aside, it very gradually becomes apparent that the whole series is about Kurono learning to step beyond his self-centered nature. This becomes most apparent in the final few episodes, which diverge markedly from the manga on which the series is based and result in an ending oft criticized for being indecisive and unclear, but one may also get the impression that the Kurono at the end of the series is at least a slightly better individual than the one that started it.
Kurono is not the only fully-developed character, either, as Masaru and Kei Kishimoto also get their own distinctive personas. Masaru wants to be and act good, but he proves truly decisive only when taking direct action and carries a lot of deeply-buried anger within him. Kishimoto may seem at first to just be the put-upon female lead and sex interest, but anyone desperate enough to resort to slitting her wrists in a bathtub clearly has some serious Issues. She has to deal with a lot of crap and a bleak situation both in the real world and in the game, and unlike many anime heroines in her situation she does not maintain a positive attitude throughout, nor does she fall into any convenient stereotype. Other colorful characters come, go, and recur over the course of the series, filling out a cast that rarely turns dull. The ball Gantz and the man inside, with its smarmy attitude, atrocious spelling, and penchant for blaring Japanese exercise songs, has its own character, too, though its true motives never get sorted out even in 26 episodes. At the end of the series it remains nearly as much of a mystery as it does in the beginning.
For all that the series does well, though, it falters in its pacing. Whether in between games or during them, events frequently D R A G as characters overly agonize about their actions, play out protracted, excessively dramatic death scenes, or just waste time in general. Even in the heat of combat this can be a problem, which on several occasions offsets the dramatic tension generated by the intense action. It may offer more mature content but cannot escape the stretching-out phenomenon common to series like Dragonball Z, Bleach, and Naruto; 3-4 full episodes, and possibly more, could be pared out without losing anything. At least no time is wasted on training sequences!
Gonzo did the animation work with their “A” team, which means high-quality traditional artistry and plenty of 3D obvious computer graphics in the “game” scenes, complete with shifting perspectives and other tricks. The integration may not be the greatest, but the “game” feel gives them more leeway in acceptability. Handsome or ugly, sexy or plain, the character designs all look great and thoroughly distinctive, eschewing many common anime style standards. Little expense has been spared in the depiction of fan service and gore, and the series ranks amongst Gonzo's better efforts on animation, too. It does sport some occasional consistency issues – one one occasion a female character's panties change colors in between scenes without explanation, for instance – but that is only a minor quibble. Less impressive is a musical score heavy on video game-styled themes, although the dynamic hip hop-flavored opener “Sharp Shooter,” whose visuals update with every new game, sets an enthusiastic tone.
The voices for the English voice actors are not always the best matches for the original Japanese performers, but the English dub offers little else to justifiably complain about. The performances do fit the roles and, in many cases, not only strike the right note for the character but do so impressively well. Chris Ayres' inspired, profanity-laden work as Kurono may rank as his best performance and stands out as the highlight effort, though most of the rest of the cast gets to participate in the profanity-fest, too. Also listen for Greg Ayres in a gleeful and atypically evil performance as the bum-clubbing teen Hajime Muroto.
On the whole, Gantz does a lot more things right than it does wrong. Fans of the manga will not like the ending, and any viewer may occasionally get impatient with the foot-dragging, but it offers enough flash and bang to work on a purely visceral level while offering a general impression of overall meaning for those who wish to look deeper.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Excellent visuals, lots of blood, nudity, and mayhem.
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