Yes, I’m reviewing manga. Deal with it, suckers!
I just started reading manga about a year-and-a-half ago, so I’m certainly not an expert, not like our supremely qualified contributors to this blog who read tons and tons o’ the stuff. But I have been getting more into it, and I now read a group of nifty titles. I figured I’d fire up the old review-o-meter to give you another opinion about some series. I’ll be doing these in a specific order; specifically, how much I like them. Therefore, our first entry is the one I like the “least.” Obviously, I still enjoy it or I wouldn’t buy it, but it’s not as good as the later ones on this list. In case you ignored the title of the post, the first series I’ll be reviewing is Gantz by Hiroya Oku. It’s published by Dark Horse, and currently eight volumes are out (volume nine will be out this Wednesday, but I didn’t feel like waiting to post this!).
I’ll say it up front: Gantz is not for everyone. It’s basically a pseudo soft-porn video game in book form.
That is, there’s ridiculously bloody violence and lots of nudity, almost all of the female variety. And the nudity isn’t really classy, art-school nudity, it’s pretty much totally puerile. So if you can get past that, you should enjoy it. It does get a bit deeper as it goes along, with the latest volume throwing some interesting spanners into the works, so if you’re not offended or bored by the early volumes, it’s worth sticking around.
We begin at a train platform, where 15-year-old Kurono Kei is waiting for a train. He sees an old friend of his, Kato Masaru, but he ignores him. Then an old indigent man collapses on the tracks and Kato goes down to help him. He sees Kei, remembers him, and begs him to help. They rescue the old man, but are run down by the train. Or are they? They find themselves in a room with a group of other people, all of whom were on the verge of death. In the room is a giant black sphere. The room is in Tokyo, but all the doors are locked and their cell phones don’t work. While they sit there, a laser comes out of the sphere and starts “transporting” another person into the room. The process reminds me of Tron, when the laser broke Jeff Bridges down line by line and then rebuilt him, except the process in Gantz is ickier, because we see all the person’s internal organs as it happens. The last person is, well, a naked girl. She attempted suicide in a bathtub, hence the nakedness. As will become a theme in this comic, she has a thin waist and oversized breasts. Of course, Kei immediately starts having naughty thoughts about her. The girl’s name, we learn a bit later, is Kishimoto Kei, and she forms an odd love triangle with Kei and Kato – Kei lusts after her, she thinks Kato is dreamy, and Kato seems oblivious.
None of them know what’s going on, but one of the other people in the room fills them in a bit: the sphere is called Gantz, it dispenses strange futuristic weapons and leather suits to them, it transports them outside the room to fight what it calls “aliens” – strange creatures who look somewhat human but are, apparently, mean and nasty buggers. The rest of it they have to figure out on the fly – Gantz doesn’t tell them much.
As the series moves along, they discover that the suits enhance their strength, that the fights against the “aliens” become harder and harder, that they can be horribly wounded in the fights but as long as they don’t die, Gantz will take them back to the room and fix them up, and that no one can see them. In between fights, they are returned to their normal lives. They are also scored based on how they do in the fights, and according to one of the veterans, once they reach 100 points, they’re free. If this sounds like a video game … well, it’s probably why I described it as such!
As I mentioned, the violence is horrific. Heads explode, limbs are severed, blood shoots from wounds – it’s just good gory fun! The reason this isn’t quite as good as the other series I read, though, is because there’s too much of it. The stories of the characters are fairly interesting, but we don’t see enough of them. Kei, for instance, is a high-schooler who lives on his own, and at school, he’s not a real tough guy. “Playing” Gantz’s game gives him some courage that translates into his “exterior” life, and it’s an interesting comparison. Kato tells him that when they were kids, he always admired Kei because he was so fearless, and fighting aliens seems to bring that out of him once again. He’s kind of a jerk, too, but in a horny 15-year-old way, so it’s hard to hate him. As the series moves along, he seems to grow up a bit, but it’s still early – maybe he will grow more, maybe he won’t. Kato, meanwhile, is taking care of his younger brother and living with relatives, and he’s the most mature person we see in the series. He always tries to make sure everyone works together and tries to get them all back alive, even though he can’t. The boy who tells them all about Gantz early on tells them they have to look out for themselves, but Kato rejects this advice and tries to form the people into a team, which doesn’t work too well.
Kishimoto doesn’t get as much development as the other two, but there’s an interesting thread to her story that I don’t want to give away and I hope is explored further in later volumes. The other characters tend to come and go as they get slaughtered. A few of them get a bit more development, but not many. It’s fun when the battles begin, but it still leaves you feeling a bit empty. The latest one, for instance, against a bunch of statues at a Buddhist temple, begins fairly early on in volume 6 and lasts until about midway between volume 8. Yes, a great deal happens during the fight, but dang, it’s long. It would be nice if we could get a better balance between the fights and the lives the characters lead when they’re not fighting (which is why volume 3, in which there are no battles, might be the best volume so far). An interesting bombshell at the end of volume 8 implies that we might get more of that, which is kind of neat.
Oku writes about his artistic process (well, he and his studio) in the first volume, and it’s kind of interesting. It’s a combination of computer process and actual drawing, and it works pretty well. Occasionally the 3-D stuff looks a bit out of place with the drawing, but it also adds some impressive stature to, say, the Buddhist statues. The weapons Gantz dispenses look sleek and futuristic, too, which is fine because they’re supposed to look like nothing that exists. Oku takes a lot of time drawing the naked women, and the characters are very well defined. But it is sometimes jarring.
I don’t love Gantz, but I do like it a lot. Each volume flies by because so much of it is fighting, but that’s okay. It’s definitely a crazy book, and it’s a lot of fun. After the series-shaking volume 8, I’m very curious about where Oku is going with the series. If you’re looking for a book that feels a bit like a superhero comic but goes a bit nuts with the violence, you can’t really go wrong with Gantz!
Next time: That’s for me to know and for you to find out!
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