“We’re stuck playing an endless survival game”
Netflix’s latest sci-fi addition has caused great controversy among those who have already been exposed to Hiroya Oku’s massive Gantz franchise, featuring manga, two live-action films, an anime series and a video game. The 2016 Japanese production of Gantz: O (O for Osaka – not 0, so no sequels to be expected) introduces the disturbingly epic world of a manga that ran for thirteen years, taking readers by storm both in Japan and abroad.
Young Masaru Kato is on his way back home to his brother. While trying to save an older man, he gets stabbed to death. But his finale proves to be only the beginning. He wakes up in a small milky room in front of a large black sphere called “Gantz”, surrounded by people dressed in tight futuristic uniforms. His ‘team mates’ include a dead idol, an elder man, and a brooding gamer. They explain that he has been chosen to play a survival game, one that requires them to battle the monsters that have besieged Tokyo and Osaka. However, there is a catch; “Gantz” provides them with impressive equipment, yet with a set time frame to kill off all the enemies. Failure means certain death.
The latest iteration of the manga, developed by Digital Frontier under the direction of Kawamura Yasushi and Satou Keiichi, takes CGI to a new level of realism. It brings the manga drawings to life, securing non-stop fight scenes for well over forty minutes, and extending an invitation to more mainstream viewers to discover an unknown, dark sci-fi world.
The film starts off with a doomed fighting sequence, and the characters are swiftly introduced without much background information. Not only does this veil of mystery do little to shroud the predictability of the plot, but it leaves certain questions unanswered. This state of disorientation is made worse by the inconsistencies in the protagonists’ abilities and behaviour.
As the film focuses on one specific arc in the manga series, it has to be judged as an adaptation, or OVA, rather than an original production. Despite the vague feeling of everything being rushed and the complete lack of sympathy for the clichéd, one-dimensional characters, the actions scenes are splendidly orchestrated, with realistically fluid body movements, and exceptional use of lighting.
There are moments when even the characters’ pores and hair follicles seem so detailed that one easily forgets all about the artificial nature of the CGI project. However, the faces appear intolerably stiff when compared to the fantastic work done on the youkai-based aliens ravaging the city. The manga’s characteristically gory scenes are translated to film, but the sex and nudity prevalent in the original work is omitted, except perhaps when the alien boss Nurarihyon mutates into a pile of writhing naked female bodies – an astoundingly well-crafted portrayal of the original drawing.
Regrettably, the background scores fail to rise to the pounding rhythm of the action that unfolds along Osaka’s dark roads and murky alleys. Worse still, no light is ever shed on the intricacies of the world presented to us. Despite the formulaic plot and the overall leanness of its message, Gantz: O offers an animated action ride that jostles and thrills by submerging the audience in splendid CGI work and equally arresting fight scenes. Therefore, the film could prove to be a stepping stone to discovering Hiroya Oku’s extensive artwork – which is certainly more elaborate and explicit than we are led to believe here.
Gantz: O should be seen for what it is – not a representation of the massive opus, but a thrilling ninety-minute plunge into whooshing action and exhilarating graphics. Experiencing the rawness of the film in its native Japanese is also highly recommended, leaving English subtitles to light the way for clarity.