Reviewby Theron Martin,
17-year-old Masaru Kato's life ended when he tried to save an old man from a knife-wielding maniac, only to wind up stabbed himself – or so he thought. Instead he wakes up in a room with a handful of strangely-dressed people and a large black ball the others call Gantz. They explain to him that he's been trapped in a survival game: players are teleported to sites where they use black body suits and fantastic weaponry to end the rampages of bizarre alien monsters that have been attacking both Osaka and Tokyo. If they don't kill off all the monsters within the allotted time, they all die, which is quite a realistic possibility even with their special equipment. This was the fate of the group's former leader, Kei Kurono, on their last mission, which has left two of the three survivors – an older man and a fashion model – playing conservatively to survive. When they're transported to Osaka for the next mission, Kato can't help but get involved trying to save civilians. Even with a hard-core Osaka team loaded with veteran players working to clear out the monsters, this will be the fight of his life.
The Gantz franchise has gone through three iterations over the past 17 years: manga, anime series, and a pair of live-action movies. Now its fourth version comes in a 3D CG movie from 2016, which has recently become available on Netflix.
But this isn't any garden-variety CG animation. It outclasses nearly every other Japanese CG production to date, making efforts like Polygon Pictures' Knights of Sidonia and Ajin look positively cheap by comparison, even with the expected quality differences between TV series and movies factored in. Motion capture is mentioned in the credits, which seems like it was used extensively. Even so, this is better-than-usual use of the technology, as the movement and especially body language captured are almost unfailingly smooth, to the point that I occasionally had to remind myself that it was animated at all. The detail work is also astounding, as the individual hairs on each character's head move fluidly, to the point that you can sometimes see stray individual hairs fluttering in the breeze. Lip flaps are fully-animated too, resulting in the same awkward impression you get from watching a live-action film dubbed should you choose the English track. The only place where the CG may not hold up is in some minor shots of prepared food, which look exactly like the plastic versions you see in Japanese restaurant displays.
The character and equipment designs also deserve attention. All of the human characters look specifically like real Japanese actors, with Kato coming off as even more physically imposing than before. The two female characters both have blatantly sexpot designs, complete with chests ample enough for lots of jiggle, but many of the male players are pretty buff too. Equipment designs duplicate what was seen in the TV series version, with the addition of a sharp-looking spherical bike and even sharper-looking giant mecha. Alien designs commonly look like something stolen from a tokusatsu production, although the giant rolling head is especially impressive, and the giant humanoid made entirely of the bodies of naked women is mind-blowing. (Its fingers are women's legs, for instance.) That creature provides the movie's only nudity, but that combined with the intense graphic violence definitely warrants a TV-MA rating.
The visuals are almost the entire reason to watch this movie, because there's not a lot to it otherwise. The scenario, which appears to borrow from the manga's Osaka arc, will be familiar to anyone who has read/seen any other iteration of the franchise, although the details have been jumbled around; a neat twist at the end reveals that the movie has been misleading you from the time that Kato ended up in the Gantz apartment room. The bulk of the 94-minute running time is tied up in the single big game in Osaka, which is heavily action-packed but allows at least some room for character development. No previous familiarity with the franchise is required to find the course of events fairly predictable, except perhaps for the unexpected ending twist, and the storytelling and characterization don't aim for much depth; this is an action piece through and through, with a standard action movie musical score to boot. Don't expect any explanation on what Gantz is and why, but it's not like the TV series version was forthcoming on that information either. The movie suffers from occasional bouts of choppy editing too, but this isn't a prevalent problem.
Netflix is offering the movie with both English and Japanese dub options and English, French, German, and Italian subtitle options. The English dub was produced by Spliced Bread Productions, the same California-based company that did Netflix's dubs for Ajin and Knights of Sidonia. As a result, the casting is completely different for characters carried over from the TV anime and live-action movie versions. Kaiji Tang (Hendrickson in The Seven Deadly Sins, Professor Futoi in Ajin) is a great fit for Kato, both for vocal quality and the way he embodies the character's heroic inclinations. All of the other casting choices are solid too, although there seems to be some dispute about the accuracy of the credits; Cristina Vee and Laura Post are listed in Netflix's credits for the two female roles, but both actresses have insisted on Twitter that it's not them. The English script sometimes alters what's being said, but not in any impactful way.
Overall, the visuals carry the movie well enough to overcome some tepid story and character development. One need not be a fan of the franchise (or even familiar with it) to quickly figure out what's going on and appreciate the ride.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B-
+ Top-of-the-line Japanese CG
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