Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 17th 2009
Apathetic teenager Kei Kurono and his schoolmate Kato died in a railway accident, or so they thought—instead, they've become caught up in a bizarre, sadistic game of life and death. A mysterious black sphere named Gantz has summoned them and several other recently-deceased humans to hunt aliens around the city of Tokyo, with their latest target being the seemingly harmless Tanaka alien. Beneath Tanaka's plain exterior, however, lies a creature of terrifying power, and Kei must use all his survival instincts to defeat it. Then, when Kei returns to daily life, he finds that his actions and interactions in Gantz's game are affecting him more deeply than he thought...
Perhaps one's enjoyment of Gantz depends not on waiting for the series to get better, but on waiting for one's expectations to change. It's too easy to get caught up in the hype (especially when even the publisher is riding the bandwagon) and start believing that this is the darkest, most twisted, most psychologically piercing, most profound, most everything manga ever made—and then have those perceptions shot down when the whole thing turns out to be nothing more than a parade of boobs and blood. But taken for what it is, Gantz does reach an acceptable level of accomplishment: it's simply a trippy ride through a nightmare world, loaded with horrific surprises at every turn. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.
The Tanaka alien hunt, which encompasses Volume 4 and half of Volume 5, is easily the best part of the series so far—and that can probably be attributed to Hiroya Oku finally getting the hang of the story he's trying to tell. Instead of striving to be all things to all people (and failing), this story arc focuses on action, violence, and scaring the hell out of readers with pure grotesquerie. A simple approach, but it works! Suspense and fear fill every chapter as KEI and his teammates struggle to survive against a vastly more powerful opponent, and the alien's own terrifying powers add to the shock factor. At the same time, however, the story has its missteps as well: all attempts at building the love triangle between KEI, Kato and Kishimoto (i.e. the hot girl) are clumsy and simple-minded, and the backstory that was built up for the secondary characters in the previous volume gets wasted when they end up being mere targets, or worse, non-participants.
The payoff in Volume 5 is worth it, though—the Tanaka alien "boss" springs into action, KEI ends up in the middle of the fray, and the climactic battle is sure to get one's blood pumping. Again, this proves the importance of maintaining a straightforward focus and keeping to one's limitations (that is to say, if you're only good at action stories, then do action stories). The emotional high doesn't last long, though, as the second half of the volume returns to the drift of KEI's everyday life and we have to put up with the awkward emotional thrashings of his teenage mind. The boy is clearly undergoing some psychological changes, but Oku lacks the finesse to pull off this kind of storytelling—he might as well get back to Gantz's gruesome game, and thankfully that's where things will be headed for the next volume.
The shock and horror aspect of the series, however, is limited by of Oku's questionable drawing abilities. Sure, he can think up some seriously frightening images (the way Tanaka kills its victims definitely stands out in this category), but actually executing those images is something of a crapshoot. One of the most fundamental problems with the series is poor anatomy, and this isn't just about the horrifically misshapen breasts every time a fanservice illustration pops up—it's the fact that the characters' faces often appear misproportioned, and that their bodies tend to lock into stiff poses everytime they perform an action. The backgrounds don't fare much better, often looking like they were handled by someone who just figured out how to use perspective guidelines last week. But for all the shaky linework and unpolished style, at least the layout is presented effectively—each panel flows easily from one to the next, often with split-second transitions that emphasize the brutality of the moment.
Since action is the main focus throughout an entire volume and a half, dialogue is clearly not a make-or-break issue here; in fact, some of the best sequences are the ones where no one has anything to say. Still, KEI's outburst during his confrontation with the boss alien is some pretty potent stuff, and as always, Gantz's quirky language at the end of each round is a source of amusement. However, the dialogue in the latter half of Volume 5 shows that emotional subtlety is a lost cause here—KEI spends most of his time yelling, whining, or thinking horny thoughts. This just in, folks: Gantz is not a dark philosophical sci-fi masterpiece; it's just a bunch of crazy people acting out. The lack of a glossary or editor's comments (isn't that supposed to be Dark Horse's specialty?) also makes these volumes feel a little scant, even if they do pack just over 200 pages each.
In the end, an altered set of expectations—as well as a storyline with a stronger sense of focus—seem to be the critical ingredients to making Gantz an enjoyable experience. The alien hunt in Volumes 4 and 5 strikes the right tone of fear and terror, combining familiar elements (Tokyo city streets) with startlingly unfamiliar dangers (Tanaka) and then forcing the characters to fight for their lives. Gore and violence rule the day, KEI gets his heroic moment, and the big-breasted hot girl still appears once per chapter even though she accomplishes absolutely nothing. And as long as you understand that the series is nothing more than that—no deep philosophical themes, no stunning artistic experiments, just a lot of freaky disturbing things going on—then there's no need to ask if it gets better. Rather, this is right about where it's meant to be.
Overall : C
Story : B
Art : D+
+ The latest round of alien-hunting delivers a satisfying dose of violence, death, and shocking imagery.
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