Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 24th 2008
After being struck by a subway train, the last thing Kei Kurono expected was to not die. Instead, he and his former schoolmate Kato are transported to a tiny apartment where other recently deceased souls gather. In this apartment, a mysterious black sphere called Gantz sends people out on bizarre and deadly missions. Kei's objective is to kill an "onion head" alien living in the area, but when the creature goes berserk and starts slaughtering everyone on Kei's team, he realizes that this is very much a matter of life and death. If Kei should survive, he will have plenty of questions: what kind of sick game is this? Is he actually alive or dead or what? If he goes home, will life continue as normal? And just what is Gantz trying to accomplish?
There is at least one aspect where Gantz lives up to the hype: it contains all the gore, nudity and depravity that everyone else was warning you about. As for the actual story ... well, when is it going to show up? After two volumes, our morally ambigious hero has basically survived one blood-and-guts-spewing mission and is now wandering around trying to make sense of this mess. Maybe readers are trying to make sense of it too, as we still don't know what that evil black ball is all about, and the characters are as flat and directionless as the computer-assisted art. With each passing chapter, the plot is starting to look thinner and thinner, and if there isn't some sudden improvement, this series will be revealed for what it is: a pointless exercise in gratuitous violence.
For what it's worth, however, the violence and action are at least exciting enough to propel this volume for several chapters. The battle against the onion head alien—which involves both running in fear as well as actual fighting—is a visceral experience that deserves the hundred-plus pages that it occupies. Between the evasive maneuvers, hand-to-hand combat, and sci-fi weaponry, this is one extended fight scene that uses variety to its advantage. But as soon as the story tries to reach any higher levels of intelligence, things start to fall apart: Kei gets pulled into a stilted "will he or won't he?" moral dilemma when told to shoot the alien, which of course has been done hundreds of times elsewhere. Yes, maybe the story is trying to make some statement about the downfall of society, but this wishy-washy "Killing is kind of ... um ... bad" attitude from the hero, while throwing out stomach-churning death scenes, sends only mixed messages.
Once the mission is over, the quality just snowballs even further downhill: now Kei and Kato and their surviving friends are left to discuss the meaning of this madness, and clearly, discussion scenes are not Hiroya Oku's strong point as a manga-ka. There is some yelling, some threatening with a gun, and more mixed-message morality as each chapter continues to dodge the question of where the heck we're going with this plot. (At least they get around to sort of explaining what happens if you complete enough missions.) Ironically, only when everyone gives up and goes home do answers start to emerge, but the dry presentation and a weak attempt at cliffhanger suspense (oh no! The token girl's family is completely confused!) don't inspire much confidence going into the next volume.
If the artwork were worthy of the ambitious action sequences, it would almost make up for the poor storytelling, but aside from graphically detailed violence, there isn't much to get excited about. The bonus content in Volume 1 explained how Oku draws over computer-generated models to create the art, and clearly, it's not working: the character poses are as lifeless as the machine that created them, and the generic suburban setting results in the blandest textures and backgrounds possible. Perhaps the only visual innovation to be found here is the freakish "unwrapping body" effect; everything else is run-of-the-mill sci-fi design mixed with bloodshed and gratuitous fanservice (of the female variety, of course). The page layouts are similarly dull, relying mostly on variations of 3x2 panel division and blindly slapping on speedlines whenever the characters are supposed to be running. Just imagine if an artist with a natural flair for action, who didn't rely on technology as a crutch, redrew the alien fight scene ...
To its credit, at least the series makes the fight scenes go by quickly thanks to minimal dialogue. With violence as the selling point, it's best to let the action speak for itself—especially when the most of the writing ends up being "Ooohhh! Argh! I'm running from the monster!" The difficulty level doesn't get much higher during moments of plot exposition; if anything, the wittiest dialogue is to be found when Gantz "grades" each of the survivors after the mission. (It's a very telling sign when the inanimate object is more eloquent than any of the humans.) Even the sound effect translations are handled in a crude, simple manner: the Japanese characters have been replaced with English sound-alikes ... all in the same font. Visual nuance, who needs it? A lack of extras also makes this volume feel rather bare-bones for its $13 price tag.
So, has Gantz gotten better yet? Although this volume might impress with a long, graphically violent battle scene, that's not enough to make up for a plot seemingly headed nowhere and an art style devoid of life. It's one thing the create a stark, terrifying sci-fi dystopia, but this series is missing one vital thing: a reason to keep on reading it. No, buckets of blood and dismembered body parts and naked girls do not count as legitimate reasons. Those elements may seem thrilling and enticing at first, but once the plot tries to develop anything of greater substance, the weaknesses start to become painfully obvious. These poor, freaked-out characters have no idea what they're doing or where they're going. Neither does the creator, apparently.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C
+ Does its best when dishing out violence and terror in an extended chase and battle scene.
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