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The ‘Gantz’ Movie: How to Water Down A Manga Until It Drowns [Review]

Like Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit, the main appeal of Hiroya Oku’s Gantz may well be its repulsiveness. The story of two boys who die and then reawaken as part of a strange, brutal game that forces them to hunt aliens, Gantz is horrifically violent, filled to bursting with T&A, cluttered with astonishingly unlikeable characters, dotted with brief instances of astounding racism, and above all, gross, which is what makes it so interesting and compelling. You just have to see what depravity Oku is going to put into the series next, even as you’re completely repulsed by it. A big budget live action version of the manga recently saw limited release here in the US before hitting wide release Japan. It it any good? Does it live up to the manga?

The short answer is “No, it isn’t, and no, it really does not.”Gantz is about a dangerous game played by dead people, who are teleported to a nearly empty room at the moment of their death, none the worse for wear, and ordered to go out and kill an alien or two. To help with their mission, they’re given sexy skintight black suits and high-tech weapons with unlimited ammunition by a flat black ball that sits in the middle of the room. This ball is known as “Gantz,” and also displays their scores after the end of a mission.

Gantz is all about sex and violence, with a cast mostly composed of high schoolers and twenty-somethings killing, being killed, posing, and being stripped naked. It’s a good hook for a series, and Oku’s (more or less) realistic and heavily 3D-rendered style makes for some entertaining action scenes in the manga, published in America by Dark Horse Comics.

Gantz, the film, is part one of a two-part film series, with Gantz: Perfect Answer to follow in the Spring. While this kind of serial filmmaking usually results in individual movies that are deeply unsatisfying when viewed singly, Gantz is actually pretty okay in and of itself. Granted, there are a ton of questions left unanswered, but the first movie largely concerns itself with the emotional arc of protagonist Kei Kurono, played by Kazunari Ninomiya, as he goes from shiftless and disaffected college student to something approaching a hero. In those terms, the movie is mostly a success.

I say mostly because Kei’s arc is believable, but unimpressive. He isn’t as brave as Kato, the gentle but tough fellow played by Kenichi Matsuyama, but he isn’t that bad a guy for all but maybe ten minutes of the movie, which makes his supposed heel turn later on about as believable as Evil Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 – it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really make sense. It feels more like a bad mood rather than a personality failure.

Visually, though, Gantz looks dead-on. Translating comics to the screen can be tough, particularly in terms of visuals, but Gantz nails it. The room where they all appear after death is perfectly empty, and slightly unsettling because of that. It’s fortunate that Oku’s T&A excesses were toned down, though, otherwise the costumes would have looked completely ridiculous. Instead, the outfits look goofy, but perfect at the same time.

The problem is everything else. The English dub was pretty poor, though nowhere near as bad as dubs used to be. The voice choices are appropriate, but the acting just feels listless and bland, not to mention the fact that it never picked between trying to match lip movements (and therefore suffering from wooden delivery) or being a little more open (which would result in visual incongruity). It splits the difference and ends up being annoying. I imagine that it will be better subtitled, but that wouldn’t solve the biggest problem with Gantz, which is that the whole thing is just plain old watered down.

The manga is enthralling because it becomes so unbelievably offensive: The women are stupid, sex objects, or both. The cast is filled with cannon fodder. The deaths are straight out of exploitation movies. Kurono is a nigh-unrepentant douchebag and almost impossible to like or relate to. His girlfriend is drawn like a child and constantly infantilized. Kurono actually has sex with a not-very-disguised Lara Croft shortly after she appears in the series, just because, and of course that results in her falling in love with him.

Gantz is a mean, vile, and ugly little book that manages to be occasionally entertaining in spite of itself, and Gantz the film is a version of it created for mass audiences. All of the thorniness and ugliness has been stripped out and sanitized so that more people will like the characters, and the result is a relentlessly bland movie that plays it safe when it desperately needs to go wild. It’s violent, sure, but never manages to actually make it to the superviolent level that Gantz needs to operate on.

As a side note, the women in the movie are leagues better than they are in the comic, but still basically suck. They do a lot of pointless pining and cracking under pressure. It’s a step up from being constantly naked and quivering, but wow, it is still off-putting.

Without the ugliness, without the inexplicably enthralling grossness, Gantz is just another post-Matrix movie where people wear skintight suits and fight a hidden menace. It feels like a Power Rangers movie with the violence turned up to a hard PG-13 level and some very carefully obscured nudity slipped in. It’s bland, and for a book like Gantz, bland is the worst kind of adaptation to have.

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