Gantz is a hyper-violent anime, adapted from an even more outrageous manga, that posits a very unusual interpretation of the afterlife. Imagine if you didn't actually die at the exact moment your body dies. Instead of being done with the mortal life, your spirit is transported into an artificial copy of your body. You wake up, pixel by pixel, inside a strange room with a large glowing orb. When the room is filled, you're instructed that you have one hour to kill an alien with bizarre weaponry and black skin-tight suits or you lose. Instead of passing on, you've been temporarily delayed in a cryptic game show with real life or death stakes. If you lose, your spirit goes back with your actual body at the moment of death and your life is over; if you win, you get to walk away in your new, blemish-free body and keep on living until the next session of the game. Win enough times and you can earn your own life back without any more violent games. Lose once and your finished.
Gantz is best known for the violence and overt sexuality of the series. It's a seinen manga, targeted at men ages 18-30, and it's filled with perverted sexual encounters and even sexual assault. The images, animated in all too loving detail for the anime, are intentionally over the top and offensive. For me, they're a huge blemish on a very well-conceived dark sci-fi universe exploring the mysteries of life and death.
Because of the graphic content, Gantz is often dismissed as just that series with x, y, or z. There is a lot more to dig into, though, because of the direction of the anime.
Hiroya Oku's now 380 chapter and growing manga is not a hopeful piece of literature. The philosophy of the ball's twisted game is almost nihilistic. The ball radically changes the rules if a contestant is doing too well and attempts to drive the player insane.
By the time they earn 100 points and can free themselves, they're offered three prizes. The first is freedom, including the elimination of all memories of ever participating in the game. This is, more often than not, the goal of the player.
The second is the total wild card. The player will be gifted a super powerful weapon that will make their time in the game much easier. The ball is counting on the player developing a combination of bloodlust and Stockholm syndrome. Whoever or whatever is watching just wants the body count and they will manipulate the game to get those results.
The third is what Oku hinged his interpretation of the story on. If you get 100 points, you can resurrect a dead competitor. Kei Kurono, one of the protagonists in the series, becomes obsessed with this option. He makes it his life goal to bring back everyone he can no matter how many times he has to reenter the game. This pushes the manga into a fight for redemption, resurrection, and teamwork against insurmountable odds. Much like the game pushes the players to go for more blood, the game punishes the players for trying to play hero and save everyone.
The anime adaptation by Gonzo pushes the story in a completely different direction. The first season is as faithful as it can be with TV censorship standards. The second season is a different situation entirely.
One of the more upsetting missions in the early chapters of the manga is the battle against the temple statues. The competitors have 90 minutes to destroy all the living statues in a sprawling Buddhist temple. It doesn't end well for anyone.
Both the anime and the manga have a Buddhist priest has entered the game and is convinced prayer is the only way to survive the ordeal. When he begins to chant in front of an altar, the giant statues stop moving and just stare at him. They no longer attack the competitors. The priest stops praying long enough to admonish his fellow competitors for resorting to violence. Unfortunately in the anime, before he can pray again, a large living statue crushes him.
In the manga, the outcome is the same but the timing is different. There are panels that clearly show the priest fully chanting again and the statues disregard his efforts. They kill him in cold blood even as he praises them in his final moments on earth. The manga does not follow or uphold any earthly doctrines.
The shifted timing on this one minor scene sets up the actual voice of the Gantz anime. It is a meditation on life and death with slight Buddhist themes masked by graphic violent and sexual content.
When characters cooperate with each other as one big community (akin to Sangha, 1/3 of the triple gem of Buddhism), they succeed in their challenges. If they split up, they perish. When the characters selfishly focus on their own lives and refuse to help their fellow competitors, they also perish. The perpetrators of graphic activity before each mission are punished in the game with more challenges or even inescapable death for violating their fellow competitors. There is at least an attempt in the anime to subvert to over the top sexual content with some spectrum of punishment and redemption.
In the anime, Kei Kurono rebels after the statue mission is a total failure. He selfishly chooses the game over all other aspects of life and looks forward to his next round of competition. For this, he is punished by the game himself. At the briefing, the players are informed that Kei Kurono is the alien they must kill to survive. This is a totally fabricated mission for the anime that allowed the series to wind down to its own uniquely cinematic conclusion.
The anime makes Gantz a meditation on life, death, and accepting mortality. There is a beautiful symmetry to how the story unfolds between the first and second season. All of the anger, angst, and frustration ebbs and flows like waves during the game. The only players who truly succeed are the ones who accept that death is a natural part of life.
There is a lot of depth to the universe of Gantz that can be explored despite the over the top pandering to a young male demographic. Hiroya Oku developed a rich and fascinating world that can hold up to many different interpretations. The two feature films take on a complete different approach and are just as faithful to the initial concept as the anime and manga. The true test of quality science fiction is how much room there is for debate and exploration. Gantz is one of the more compelling original worlds in recent memory.
Thoughts on Gantz? Share them below.