If the creators of the Saw franchise and some anonymous manga storytellers got together to create an anime series this is what they'd wind up with. The funny thing about this show is that as flawed as it can be Gantz can get really thrilling and intense in the proper moments when it has to be. Though when it displays its more flawed nature, boy does it show.
Gantz has everything any trash-digging horror/ anime hound can ever desire. Gantz has blood, gore, cursing, lewdness, grotesque monsters, and the typical schlock that anyone familiar with early anime OVAs would come to expect. Though along with the territory comes social criticism. It comes as unclear as to why the giant sphere, Gantz just randomly selects anonymous individuals to participate in its life and death arena challenges, but the majority of them are the kinds of people that don't value theirs, or others lives.
The plot of Gantz revolves around Kei Kurono, a hipster who always manages to cleverly evade the most threatening and endangering of situations, but is usually apathetic and hardly acknowledges those around him. He becomes reunited with a childhood friend named Masaru Kato who lives with his younger brother under the authority of his reluctant and abusive aunt. When a drunk, homeless man accidentally falls onto the tracks in the way of an oncoming subway train Kei and Kato try to lend assistance, but wind up dying in the process. Believing that they're dead, Kei and Kato find themselves in a mysterious room with other accomplices from different walks of life and a mysterious, giant, black sphere known as Gantz. The one thing that each of the victims have in common is that they all died somewhere or another. They are then given instrumentalities and are teleported to an artificial realm in between the physical and spiritual worlds. There, they are forced to kill these deadly monsters in a limited amount of time or else they'll be truly dead.
There are some things that this show does get right: first, I do like how intense this show can get once it gets down to what it truly wants to be. Gantz wants to be the kind of dark and gritty survivalist horror anime that really provides a great sense of menace to the viewer and really wants the viewer to feel the sense of panic that its characters convey. If one is familiar with the Saw movies, Blue Gender, or John Carpenter's "The Thing" chances are: one would get the effective gist of feeling the willingness to survive, but always being hindered because of reflexive emotional responses and what might be lingering around the corner. When Gantz gets down to the action and survival elements it can get really good. I love how well the monsters are designed in this series and how every one of them pose an even bigger threat than the last. The menacing nature that this series embodies is very well done and does instill the desire in the viewer to want these creatures to meet their demise.
Second, I did like how well the soundtrack was composed and conducted. Each episode in this series always begins with a fast-paced, rap influenced theme that does provide a sense of looking forward to what will happen and what threats our protagonists will face. The ending theme is rather softer in tone and does provide the alternate illusion of being relieved of having made it through, but also coping with the loses that resulted. That's always the funny, yet creative thing about anime. Given its most popular design, it feels like no matter what kind of music one synchronizes its images to it always manages to match the imaginative images of its recipient. It really does take a creative mind to accurately capture a one-size-fits-all kind of expression.
Third, I did like how the real world outside of the Gantz world did manage to very superbly shape the development of the characters and how the social criticism worked in benefiting their willingness to deal their lot in life. "Akira" had this same form of criticism, but most of what that movie addressed was how man always managed to sow the seeds of their own demise and how their curiosity overcame them because of their willingness to understand that which they can't control. Gantz does use this same form of criticism to develop its characters and to shape them as beings that come to acknowledge the importance of their existence. This is also where the series can show its flaws.
Some of the flaws in this series are that some of its content does feel rather tongue-in-cheek. Much of the camerawork and dialogue do feel very Tarantino-esque in their delivery. This is one of those shows that I've watched in both the original Japanese and English dub. Much to my surprise, the dub wasn't that bad. Granted, the voices of Kei and the sociopathic Muroto are annoying by nature, but given how they are as characters and how their world shapes them I'd say that the actors were well directed. Kei is a very apathetic and whiny rebel who can't stop thinking about fulfilling his natural teenage desires. Kei Kishimoto is a suicidal, albeit insecure young woman who really suffers from a heavy inferiority complex. Masaru Kato is perhaps the most redeemable character of the bunch that always wants to protect the innocent and will not stop to see justice done. Though he isn't without his own problems. Given how these characters are and what they're shaped as the dubbed voice actors are rather well directed and they do manage to come through in conveying their young, flawed natures.
In lieu of what I said about the dialogue feeling very tongue-in-cheek, there is a lot of cursing in the English dub. The overabundance of profanity, in some cases, feels less assertive and more pandering towards the viewer. Though, when it gets to the more menacing parts where the characters acknowledge themselves in a knowledgeable event it does manage to work, but in the cases of it being in otherwise less threatening scenarios it feels rather satirical of itself. One could almost think of it being on par with the level of comedic pandering as those schlock OVAs that existed long before this one. This is one of those instances where Gantz does feel rather unsure of itself. When this style of writing benefits this show, it does do its job, but when it doesn't it really doesn't. Sometimes Gantz feels more like it's trying to go the Evil Dead/Dead Alive route in instilling the gleefully guilty charm into the viewer through its use of such dialogue, but given how the series is set up it really doesn't work overall in this kind of story.
This does bring me to the animation. As I said before, the monster designs do look really good and do their part very well in instilling the fear and panic into the characters. Though I must confess that there are times where the animation can get really spotty. One such example is in the first episode when Kei gets onto the subway tracks and runs to help Kato save a drunk, homeless man. The way this scene is shot feels like a very obvious key frame in how the camera just zooms out while it appears that the animated Kei is just running stationary. Another is the liberal use of still shots of very limited animation and obvious CG. The animation of Gantz isn't as spotty as shows like "Musashi Gundo", or the masterful "Berserk", but given the technical superiority of certain classic anime that Studio Gonzo has made before this one, like "Last Exile", "Full Metal Panic!", or "Chrono Crusade" one would expect their later projects to continue this model. Gantz does feel like a step backwards for the company in this realm.
Despite that, the animation certainly isn't the worst thing in this show. One of the most annoying things in Gantz is how excessive, bloated, and overdone the exposition can get. Anime is no stranger to such storytelling and many of the ones I've seen can do it very well. But when Gantz gets redundant with dialogue and character sentimentalities it doesn't lend the viewer a break. Most of it can get so redundant and so slowly constant to where it feels like the show is overly concerned about accidentally leaving out any form of this delivery to where it goes through every single cliché known to this style. Some examples are when the young leader, Nishi faces death by an alien and the observing characters are constantly bickering about whether they should assist. Afterwards, Nishi reveals his true feelings and utters his dying words to his mother. Another is where two hobo killers: Muroto and Ryuji start their rampage towards the homeless, Kei and his team begin bickering about whether to shoot the killers or their weapons. During these moments, I couldn't help but pound my head on the remote and think to myself," Yes, I get it! Why do you have to brow beat me upside the head with this?!"
Despite what I said, I don't hate nor dislike Gantz. I think it's a show that really hits just as much as it really misses. I did love a decent number of things about this anime and I would like to see it continued since it doesn't follow the manga through to its completion. The manga has reached its conclusion last I heard, so I think that would be a good time to complete what was started. Harsh criticisms aside, I don't think Gantz is a bad anime. The show does have its good moments and it's very clear where both the people who love and hate this anime are coming from. Gantz isn't for everyone, but anyone willing to enjoy it for its good parts should give this one a look. My only words to Studio Gonzo are: if you plan a continuation, balance the characters, much better animation next time, and by all means get rid of the abundant dialogue.