Shelf Life
Gantz Gantz Revolution

by Erin Finnegan, Mar 7th 2011

Noah and I have slowly been watching Adventure Time (the Cartoon Network series) between anime titles for Shelf Life. The writing is brilliant, weird, and funny. If you've ever played a fantasy-based game, I can't recommend it enough. I have my fingers crossed for a DVD release so I can loan it to friends. Particularly our friends who play Dungeons and Dragons.

One of these D&D playing friends heard we were watching Gantz this week and asked, “Isn't that the show where ghosts get raped and fight aliens?” Partial credit!

Rental Shelf: Gantz Complete Series DVD

Gantz is problematic. I could only make it Shelf Worthy with severe caveats. Sure, it has high production values, a compelling plot and thoughtful themes, but I reserve Shelf Worthy for titles that I would recommend to anyone. I could never recommend Gantz to coworkers. Casually recommending a show containing dog-on-human cunnilingus (and more than one instance) would have people looking at me askance for weeks. My other Shelf Worthy criteria is re-watch value, but Gantz has the feel of a puzzle I wouldn't want to solve again.

Clearly, Gantz is designed to offend, with its barrage of severed limbs, spilling guts and near constant profanity (in the dub). Frankly, the entrails didn't bother me as much as the interspecies non-consensual sex acts or the alarmingly high number of rape attempts. In light of the surreal plot and violent content, I was convinced early on that the show was just pseudo-philosophy aimed at adolescent boys. No one is more surprised than I that by the end, the series won me over with its larger message, which makes the extremes meaningful.

Ichiro Itano's interview is a worthwhile explanation of the series. He is far more honest than what you usually see in extras. Itano speaks frankly about his thoughts on censorship and anime industry.

Bamboo has reviewed Gantz plenty of times, but for those of you just tuning in, here's the story: high school student Kei Kurono is a jerk. He is beheaded by an express train during an attempt to help his childhood friend and do-gooder Kato rescue a homeless man who has fallen onto the train tracks. Post mortem, Kei and Kato find themselves transported to a creepy room full of also-dead strangers where a black sphere named "Gantz" gives everyone super suits and futuristic guns and orders them to murder aliens.

Halfway between survival horror films and a video game played out in real life, we get brief back stories about each stranger, but they are killed off so quickly it's hard to sympathize with the characters. The CG zooms over 3D modeled “stages” make the series look disturbingly videogame-like.

Gantz lends itself to marathoning; the end credits often roll at off-putting moments that aren't exactly cliffhangers, but do leave you reaching for the remote to get to the next episode. I suggest watching Gantz in three sittings, from episodes 4-7, 8-13, and 14-26. In individual episodes, very little happens. The story could probably be handled better in 18 episodes.

Halfway through, there is a tonal shift. Early on, the show feels like a mouthpiece for a very bitter author to voice his views on the worst of humanity. We can hear the thoughts of every pedestrian and they are all huge jerks. Eventually the series mellows out (and gets less third person omniscient), but in doing so, it loses its dark edge. The ending is slightly ambiguous, but it's impossible to discuss without a ton of spoilers. I will say that the series raises great questions about the morality of killing.

I'm in favor of making viewers a little uncomfortable. I'm in favor of testing limits. Unfortunately, the same limits make it impossible to share Gantz with a wide audience. (I assume children's entertainment self-censors out of fear of losing certain audiences.) When I initially watched it, the first two episodes offended my sensibilities so much (both morally and aesthetically; the bad CG pans early on drastically improve by the second arc) that I dropped this show until I got paid to watch it. But far be it for me to stop Itano or Hiroya Oku from including such scenes.

Chris Ayres gives a rather screechy performance as Kei, but his constant outrage and disgust are justified. The dub gets sillier as Gantz goes on, adding creative insults that are missing from the subtitles, like calling Gantz a “cocksucking eight ball”. Some of the minor thug roles are hammed up, which reminded me unfavorably of the over-the-top Golgo 13 dub. Gantz takes itself pretty seriously, and I wished the dub cast did the same.[TOP]

One creatively dubbed line in Initial D could have also been in Gantz: “The air around here is so tense you could punch it.”

I started watching Initial D: Second Stage with a gearhead friend who had never seen it. Based on his reactions, I'd say I'm missing out on over half the content! All of my friends and family love Top Gear, but I only drive twice a year, so I just can't get into it (that, and my rigorous Shelf Life schedule prevents me from watching much non-anime).

In this second season of Initial D, the CG has drastically improved over season one. It even looks like there's been an attempt to improve on the character design, but adding more lines to Shuuichi Shigeno's already ugly characters doesn't strike me as a great idea. A steamy shower scene in the OVA (included here) begs the question: is fanservice of an ugly character still fanservice?

At the height of the season arc, Takumi is involved in his first car accident (details would be spoilers, so I can't be specific). I loved Takumi's emotional reaction to the accident (ironically it's a bigger reaction than after a fight with his almost-girlfriend). I also loved the touching scene between Takumi and his super-cool dad, who anticipates Takumi's emotional and automotive needs well in advance.

I may have mentioned it in one of my earlier Initial D reviews, but it bothers me that cars in Initial D very rarely get scratched or dented. You have to wait for the movie to see a car's wheels leave the road. This is clearly cutting corners in the animation department. Showing a car impact a guard rail requires deforming the 3D models, and animating extra scenes instead of relying on gear shifting reuses footage.

Towards the end of the season, my favorite character, Itsuki, has a good shot at getting a girlfriend. It's so rare that the doofy Itsuki has a chance to act cool! I was cheering him on the entire time.

Itsuki has a conversation with his potential girlfriend where she talks about getting her driver's license. Recently, a Japanese friend asked how much it costs to get a driver's license in the U.S.. The answer varies by state, but usually it costs less than $50. In Japan, it costs several hundred dollars, most of which is the cost of driving school. By contrast, my public high school offered a driving course for free, and in most states you need only pass a test. For the teenagers in Initial D, shelling out hundreds of dollars just to get a license seems like a serious lifestyle choice. These aren't rich kids, after all. The high schoolers in Initial D are not often bound for college.

The included OVAs are about the girl racing team Impact Blue, who made an appearance in season one. I'm generally in favor of including more girls in this show, and they do have a cool car. The CG in the OVAs is a step up from the regular season… but since Takumi isn't in the OVAs, I thought they were a little dull. I'm mostly interested in Takumi's story (or Itsuki's!).

In theory, I should make this Shelf Worthy since I plan on loaning it to my aforementioned friend, (who watched Overdrift without ever seeing Initial D). But I still can't get over a gear shift as a dramatic moment. Initial D is laughably bad to outsiders who aren't familiar with it (even if they are already anime fans). Even the improved CG in this season is embarrassing by today's standards. Fourth Stage Part 2 and this movie might be Shelf Worthy, but I just can't get behind Second Stage (although I can get behind it more than season one).[TOP]

I can totally get behind Durarara!!, though, and loan it to any one of my friends.

I loved Durarara!! when it was streaming, so I pre-ordered the DVDs. The sleeve is pretty cute, with a caution tape theme that's also in the nicely designed (if not slightly dizzying) menus. The DVDs also come with a set of high quality glossy postcards. As for the bonus features, I don't think putting “DVD Credits” under an Extras menu is fair to the people authoring and translating the DVD!

But never mind that, let's talk about the dub. Kari Wahlgren as Celty sounds exactly how I pictured her (in my mind's ear?) from listening to the Japanese track. The same goes for Patrick Seitz, who sounds just about right as Simon with his somewhat goofy Russian accent. Masaomi trying to sound cool generates some interesting English slang in the translation that I thought was a little awkward sometimes, but probably appropriate for his character. The subtitles differ from the dub adaptation slightly, but it isn't to the extreme that you see in some Funimation titles lately.

I don't have a lot of time to re-watch much of anything thanks to Shelf Life, but Durarara!! is the kind of show that once you know all the character's secrets, it's fun to watch again to notice stuff you didn't notice the first time, (unlike Gantz, as I mentioned above).

On my re-watch this week, it struck me that the first two episodes of this show are not terribly compelling. The first episode is fairly standard school drama, and the second focuses on a character who isn't a protagonist. The third episode sucked me in. It also struck me that there is a lot of narration in this show. I enjoy the magical realism (or urban fantasy) aspects of Durarara!!, but I don't know how much I need a narrator shoving it down my throat. Conversely, I don't know if the series would work without the narration. Would it be like Garfield without Garfield?

Sure, there are only nine episodes in this set, making for a 3-set release in this day and age of two-part releases and series box sets, but I don't feel shorted on content. I liked the first half of the Durarara!! better than the second half.

I watched Durarara!! streaming the first time, and I ought to confess at this point that my internet speed is somewhat slow. I found the clarity of the DVD picture striking. I watch streaming shows on an aging Mac Mini (a PowerPC G4 with 512 MB SDRAM – wait, that's all!? I ought to buy more RAM!) hooked up to my TV. Consequently, I often pick the lowest quality option on Hulu, youtube, or Crunchyroll so shows will load without lagging. As you may have noticed, I strongly prefer watching things on DVD because the picture quality is so much better. Plus it's easy to loan DVDs to friends with lower tech set-ups. [TOP]

As of late, I get the feeling DVDs are going to go extinct, along with most other physical media. What if this is the only DVD release Durarara!! gets? Sorry about the side tangent here, but the recent interview with Chris Beveridge has this on my mind.

I feel like I just admitted that I still listen to phonographs.

The loan-ability of anime kept coming up in my column this week. I've heard from a lot of fans who write in to podcasts that they just don't know people in real life (offline, if you will) who like anime and who they can talk with about it. I guess I'm super lucky to know so many friends and coworkers who watch anime (and read comics). Although, as the saying goes, we make our own luck. Long ago I quit a boring job to devote my life to cartoons. I sought out nerds to be friends with. Plus it helps to live in an urban center where there are bound to be people into whatever it is I happen to be into.

This week's shelf is from Tinaa, who hails from the glorious land down under.

"Hi this is my shelf I know it's pretty lame atm but I'm working on getting the "chi's sweet home" and "pokemon adventures" mangas(which I can't buy directly from australia) and also the rest of the nana collection :)"

Hey, there's nothing lame about just starting a brand new collection! Thanks for stepping up and sharing with everyone!

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to [email protected] Thanks!


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