This article originally appeared on totalscifi.com before the UK release of the first Gantz movie.
You’re at the train station and a drunk man falls onto the tracks. People shuffle nervously towards the yellow line to peer at the lifeless body. Everyone remains motionless, hoping somebody courageous enough will race forwards to help the guy to safety, but no one comes – until, eventually, one brave soul jumps down from the platform. He struggles to lift the lifeless, overweight body onto the platform’s edge. To your horror, he recognises you as a childhood friend. Something clicks within you and you’re standing next to him on the tracks. The light bearing down on you from the darkness of the tunnel makes you wish you’d remained passive like everyone else…
So begins the very first episode of Hiroya Oku’s manga sensation Gantz, the hyperviolent science fiction epic that’s currently being serialised in Weekly Young Jump magazine. Since its first appearance in October 2000, it has spawned a 26-episode anime series, two live-action movies, two novels, a PS2 game and a horde of merchandise that’s had a surprising cross-cultural and cross-gender appeal. The first 27 volumes of the manga has surpassed 10 million sales in its home territory, and Dark Horse Comics, who publish the English edition, have also had tremendous success (they’re currently up to volume 15).
The concept is simple: at the moment of death, unfortunate souls are transported to a locked room where a black sphere known as “Gantz” prepares them for battle against unusual and deranged non-human combatants. In some respects, it’s like a real life videogame where black-costumed contestants start off learning to use time-delayed explosive pistols and netting guns against spring onion-headed children, giant Buddhist statues and stripy-shirted robots that house angry birds. Rest assured, the situations are both familiar and completely alien. They’re also utterly demented.
Therein lies the appeal of the series: this is not your typical shoot ‘em up. In fact, the relationship that develops between the initially cowardly Kei Kurono, Masuro Kato and Kei Kishimoto is what keeps Gantz relatively grounded and compulsively readable. Its use of violence and sex is no more shocking than, say, Fist of the North Star or Beserk, but the real life setting makes it easier for us here in the West to jump into.
Viz Pictures acquired the rights to screen the first of two Gantz live-action feature films in the US in January, with the second, Gantz: Perfect Answer, due for release in Japan in April. With a $22m budget, it’s a no-holds-barred and thrilling experience, and the awesome, surreal set-pieces ensure it has plenty of appeal for Gantz newbies.
Two of Japan’s hottest young actors are up front and centre as Kato and Kei: Kenichi Matsuyuma and Kazunari Ninomiya. Natsuna Watanabe, a Japanese ‘idol’ (a word often used to describe attractive celebs in the country), plays eye-candy Kei. Director Shinsuki Sato has pulled back on the sexual content in the manga to make it more accessible to a teen audience, but the OTT violence still remains; one particularly explosive scene in a garage, where a group of contestants face their first true test, leaves the walls dripping with blood and limbs.
The climax at the temple (which also features in both the manga and the anime) boasts some truly stunning special effects that lift the movie from being your standard niche-market adaptation into an all-out action spectacular with wide appeal. In brief: for a condensed version of the Gantz experience, it hits the mark exactly.
Gantz the series is still running in Japan in its ‘final phase’, meaning the creator’s vision will soon be fully realised. If you’ve not had an opportunity to check out one of Japan’s hottest sci-fi exports, there’s plenty of time to get in on the act. Just don’t blame us if you find yourself with a new addiction…