Anime Review – Is Gantz Really The Most Extreme Anime Series Out There?
This article contains spoilers for the Gantz anime series (though not the Gantz manga beyond the arcs shown in the TV show. Or for the live action movies because I haven’t watched those – they look lame).
Let me start by saying I now think I have been desensitized to, well, everything. Before starting up Gantz, having never read the manga or anything, all I had were these tantalizing sounding warnings from the people of the internet, saying it was ‘not for the faint hearted’ and was about as extreme as anime could get without actually being hentai. There was promise of loads of violence and shocking bits. I like that sort of thing, but I was prepared for something so hardcore and nightmarish that I’d need to curl up in a ball and watch a few episodes of Tokyo Mew Mew afterwards to get my happy thoughts back.
Now, having finished the series, I feel kind of like, yep, that was a fair amount of violence, gore and nudity, but it really doesn’t deserve all the talk there is about that being what it’s all about. So let’s talk about what is supposedly so shocking about Gantz.
First up, many warnings that there is a whole bunch of rapey stuff in there. Actually, what there really is is a whole bunch of averted rape, which is considerably less rape than there is in say, any anime that has rape in it. The character of Kei Kishimoto seems to exist just to nearly get raped before getting rescued by someone every time she meets another character who is shall we say ‘morally dark’. Of course, we do tend to see committing rape as an unforgivable moral event horizon for characters, but from Kishimoto’s position in this series, getting raped by bikers or yakuza is notionally quite far down the list of horrifying things that could potentially happen to her. She dies by being split in half by projectile acid – I’m sorry, but that is way worse, so why so hung up on the ‘almost but not actually raped’ bits? I for some reason think the most disturbing bit from that point of view is the part when the main guy (also called Kei because yes) is in bed with her after being pushed past the friendzone into some kind of weird ‘pet owner zone’ where she basically gets to live in his house for free, and thinks to himself ‘if I forced myself on her that would be too much like a porno’. I haven’t watched a whole lot of Japanese porn but I think that line says a lot about it…
Next, violence. Well, yeah, there is truck loads of violence. People say it is gory, but I don’t think that it is gratuitously so – people do die in many and varied ways but the anime doesn’t labour the point of showing you graphic brains and entrails and whatnot, it isn’t over the top for shock value. I think what actually pushes Gantz higher up the list in people’s minds in terms of violence compared with other violent action or horror anime is not the gore, but the body count. The whole ‘anybody could die!’ thing has pretty much become a trope – people say Attack on Titan for example is the anime equivalent of Game of Thrones due to the uncertainty about just about every character’s ability to survive each episode, but that could technically be said about a lot of series (anime was doing ‘anybody could die’ before it was cool). Gantz isn’t ‘anybody could die’. Gantz is ‘most of these people are certain to die, regardless of whether they are a character we are invested in or a random guy whose name we don’t even know’. There are no ‘red shirts’ in Gantz. Some deaths are sudden and surprising, some allow the subject to experience some despair first (like Nishi, who at first I thought might genuinely be a competitor for Dio from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to be my most despised anime baddy, but who managed to slip in a sympathetic moment before his death of broken neck/exploded eyeballs/take your pick). To me, it wasn’t just a case of ‘let’s throw in some awesome video game style decapitations’ but instead ‘let’s show how futile and fucked up this all is… Through the medium of awesome video game style decapitations’. Sure, with nobody being safe that also means you are going to see a kid, a grandmother and a dog get pointlessly and brutally killed, but happily, they are all annoying as hell so you won’t mind too much.
Equally, sure, there is nudity and sex, but to me this didn’t feel gratuitous either. I find cheesy fanservice that gets in the way of the story (I am looking at you Demon King Daimao) far more of an irritation than more graphic nudity or sex that does have a place in the plot. Kishimoto is naked because she died in the bath. Kei and Sei Sakuraoka bang because he’s a horny virgin and has the balls to ask her, and she’s got nothing to lose because she’s just found out she’s dead anyway and quite likely to die ‘for reals’ very soon. There was probably actually less random sex in this anime than would occur if the circumstances in the story were real.
As a final point in defence of Gantz, people complain that Kei Kurono isn’t a likable protagonist because he is a bit reluctant to help others and he’s ‘too horny’. I honestly thought that was what was good about him – he was basically a normal 16 year old boy. I didn’t feel like he was a jerk, especially, I just think they did a good job of creating a protagonist who really did resemble a real teenager. This contrasts with the kind of intense teens we usually see as the leads in anime, who wrestle with moral and existential angst (Kato would have made a more typical anime protagonist), so it may seem like he is supposed to be a bit of a dick, but I don’t believe that was the intention. He’s also the only character that properly gets into the whole ‘killing the aliens’ thing and becomes progressively more badass (though this may have happened to a few others among the more useful characters such as The Fag – Gantz’s name for him, not mine before anyone gets offended – The Fag’s Stalker, That Karate Guy and That Sniper Guy had they not all died).
So, that is what I have to say in defence of Gantz. Now for the stuff I didn’t like.
Holy hell, almost without exception, the people in this show are as dumb as bricks. People on TVtropes often put up drinking games you can play while you watch a show.There isn’t one for Gantz, but if you want to play one that’ll get you so plastered you’ll wake up with a crowd around you, I propose that rather than the usual route of drinking every time a fairly common occurrence happens on screen (like, say, Kei getting an inconvenient erection, a newly dead character arguing about wearing the suit, Kishimoto shouting ‘Kato-kun!’ in an annoying manner, or, if you really can’t be arsed to make up proper rules, just someone being killed), you instead drink every time you find yourself shouting some variation of ‘JUST BLOODY SHOOT IT!’.
Do they forget there is a time limit and stand around gawping pointlessly for absolutely ages? You bet your sweet ass they do. Do they forget they have that gun that transports the aliens somewhere and have a big, time consuming moral dilemma every time they have the opportunity to deal a coup de grace to the monstrous thing that has just killed half their comrades? Indubitably, yes. Do any of them help when one of them (usually Kei) is fighting a massive alien one on one and they have their guns pointed right at it? Hells to the no.
Do not be fooled by the opening where you see Kei, Kato and Kishimoto posing Charlie’s Angels style with their guns. Kishimoto is as useful in all circumstances as a trapdoor on a lifeboat and Kato, while being a decent enough leader, is a complete pussy in combat (unless it’s against a school bully who wants to ‘buttfuck’ him – hmm, I actually forgot about that bit when I was discussing rapey moments). The behaviour in battle of the vast majority of characters is stupid and frustrating and will make you shout at your TV and throw whatever you are snacking on around in vexation.
Then there was the ending. By this I do not mean the final arc, which while not being in the manga, which carried on for a long time after the temple arc (and also didn’t contain that filler bit between the Green Onion Alien and Suzuki Alien fights where some of the characters we’d see later were introduced pre-death), was pretty cool in my opinion. By the ending, I mean literally the last five minutes. I did not understand it. What did it mean? Did Kei die? Did he live and somehow earn enough points to beat Gantz and that is why Gantz disappeared? Why did it send him back to the subway station? And time slowed down, and he was carrying Mika even though she was already dead, and aaaaaaarrrrrrgh it hurt my brain.
I think the Gantz anime series can be forgiven for the vague, baffling ending because I suppose they had to end it somehow, and given the manga did keep going through many, many more arcs it was always going to need to be some kind of ass pull. They could have had Kei die, they could have had Kei win and be set free, but instead they went for an ambiguous position between the two and I guess that is OK too – I am just not a fan of those kind of ‘make your own mind up’ endings. I like definitive closure – I don’t want to walk around thinking my own version of events happened, I want to know what the author decided happened. As I said at the start I haven’t read the manga, but the person I was watching Gantz with had and I do kind of want to now in the hopes of the ‘proper’ ending actually making sense and curing my headache about the whole thing.
So, in conclusion, I loved Gantz. I just thought the characters were morons and the ending was lame.
Image by L