The Cynical and Sinister – Gantz V1 Review
Title: Gantz Volume 1
Art/Story: Oku Hiroya
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Seinen
Rating: Mature (Rated for strong language, graphic violence/imagery, nudity and scenes of a sexual nature)
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Gantz. I knew the artwork would be great – it is digitally rendered, and the backgrounds are all digitally produced. I knew there would probably be guns, violence and nudity – we have to sell it sealed at conventions because of its rating. I was sort of expecting sci-fi thanks to the cover art of people in sleek jumpsuits. Aside from that, I had no other clues.
How to describe it?
It’s like Akira and Battle Royale got high with Cube, and when they woke up the next morning they found Gantz.
Gantz is violent. Not just in its imagery or the physical violence it depicts, but in its whole attitude towards the world it’s portraying. Everything about it is undiluted and adult and visceral. You need to be prepared when you read this, that Gantz is a depiction not of the ‘real’ world, but of a much darker and sinister world.
WARNING: This review may contain spoilers for the first volume of the Gantz manga. It also contains reference to situations of a violent and sexual nature. Please be aware of this before continuing.
The story is told from the point of view of Kei Kurono, a high schooler. He is thoroughly unpleasant, he is introduced reading a skin magazine and contemplating how all the girls in his class are underendowed, then insults an old lady who asks for help. He is shown to be lazy, misogynistic, self-centred and uncaring. When I tell you he is probably the third most sympathetic character in the first volume, you will begin to understand what I mean when I say the attitude of the manga is sinister.
Kei bumps into a guy he knew as a child at the underground station, Masaru Kato, and ends up being dragged into helping rescue a drunken hobo who has fallen onto the tracks. They manage to save the man, with no help from the other people at the station, but get hit by the train themselves. Their heads are shown ripped from their bodies at the impact of the train, and flying to land on the platform, rolling to a stop. One of the bystanders vomits as the hobo wakes up and walks off, grumbling that people are too noisy. And then, their remains disappear as if nothing has happened. Masaru and Kei find themselves in a strange room, filled with other men from all walks of life, gangsters, a politician, an elementary school teacher and, bizarrely, a dog… Though they can see Tokyo from the window of the bare apartment, they cannot physically open the doors or windows. They believe they are dead.
In the centre of the room is a giant sphere. As they watch, two ‘rays’ from the sphere begin to build a person, from the feet up. We are treated to a cross-sectioned view of their internal organs as they are slowly shaped. A young girl is revealed, buxom and naked, and unconscious, immediately before Kei. There is blood on her wrists, but no wound. Kei thinks “That’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. And yet I feel so horny right now!” He grabs her and kisses her until someone shouts out to stop him.
I have described this appearance because I feel what follows characterises the tone of the story. The woman is naked, and attractive. When one of the gangsters snaps, he stands and drags her out of the room. Kei’s reaction is to observe that no-one would be able to fight the gangster even if they’d wanted to. Only Masaru makes the effort to stop the rape. And he succeeds. We are then shown the woman being left alone to fend off the dog who has decided to take an intimate interest in her.
She is the only woman in the room, and pretty much in the entire first volume. I’ve re-read it to try and find her name, but it doesn’t appear to be mentioned, although the internet informs me it is Kei Kishimoto. She has barely any lines, and wears for the rest of the volume Masaru’s coat.
After Kishimoto’s appearance, words start to appear in the sphere giving instructions, saying that their lives as they knew them are over, and now they work for the sphere. And they are given the picture of a man, who we are led to believe is an alien, and they are sent on their way.
The manga then shows the speed at which these previously apparently civilised characters degenerate into killing, viscious and brutal, believing it’s for money, or that it’s faked, either way they show no remorse. This is the Battle Royale aspect of the manga – how quickly are these people able to shed the vestiges of humanity and kill without reason? Kei shows no interest in the proceedings, he just wants to attain Kishimoto’s interest. Masaru is the only character in the manga who ever makes a stand for what is right. He confronts the others on their witch hunt, he shows remorse for the situation.
This is where Gantz is unusual. You would expect, with an attitude like he has, that Masaru would be the main character. He would ground the reader in common values and provide a sympathetic viewpoint. But Hiroya Oku chose Kei. Kei is supposed to be the ‘everyman’ character I think. He is neither outstandingly good, nor more than uncommonly vile. He becomes involved only when he really has to.
The art of the series is amazing. That I will say. And the story shows flair for what it does. But do not go into it expecting your average sci-fi. Gantz is as I have mentioned very violent, its art is visceral and its themes are unsettling. It is, however, beautifully crafted. Split into “phases” which cover story arcs, it is clear that an intense amount of planning has gone into this manga. It shows. The end result is polished. It is flawless for what it is. But you could not honestly accuse it of being straightforwardly enjoyable.
To buy Gantz volumes, go Here.