Over the past couple of decades, the increasing ubiquity of the internet has (among many other things) provided connections between previously separate communities. Manga and anime, in particular, have created a window through which western fanbases have been able to take a peek into Japan’s extensive, distinctive cartoon culture.
The less hardcore western audience, though, may often find themselves shocked or disturbed by the periodic appearance of taboo sexual imagery or graphic violence — particularly in the case of hand-drawn manga comics. In Japan, this is largely seen as a healthy outlet from their high-pressured, conservative society, whereas out West, to many it might generally be just viewed as “insane”.
Perhaps no title embodies this cultural shock factor more than Gantz, the long running series from mangaka Hiroya Oku, which ran for thirteen years as a comic book and spawned a twenty-six episode anime series with multiple spin-offs, two live-action movies, and a video game.
Set in modern day Tokyo, the story follows a revolving cast of protagonists who, after meeting their death in their day-to-day lives (ranging from mundane to the gruesome), find themselves transported to a strange, alternate reality. Upon leaving the earthly realm, they materialise in a mysteriously empty room, occupied only by Gantz, a large, mechanical-looking black sphere who — communicating via text on an 80s-style monochrome screen — informs them they have been selected to take part in a bizarre limbo-based war “game”. As such, each individual is provided with a skintight black leather power suit, a deadly hi-tech weapon and are sent back into the world to fight against evil aliens and other malevolent, extra-dimensional entities who threaten the safety of “real life” earth.
Got it? Ok.
The resultant struggle unfolds as a stark insight into the human character and condition, laced with spectacular violence, gore and sexual imagery. As an added twist, “contestants” are also awarded points for their performance within the game (provided they actually manage to survive the battle against these demonic creatures) and are presented with a choice of three different “prizes” should they accrue at least 100 points. These “rewards” are, essentially: “leave the game, return to the human world and lose all memory that any of this happened”, “continue with the game and receive a new, super kickass weapon”, or “revive a dead teammate”.
This premise leads us to the latest incarnation of the series, “Gantz:0”, Digital Frontier’s fully 3DCG animated movie — released in Japan in late 2016 and delivered to Western audiences by Netflix from February 18th, 2017.
Available, in both “subbed” and “dubbed” English versions, director Yasushi Kawamura’s feature length debut focuses on the “Osaka arc” of the original manga storyline, in which members of Gantz’s Tokyo team are sent to fight in the city of Osaka discovering, not least, that there is more than one group of people involved in the game. This leads the two teams attempting to find a way to defeat an unusually large and powerful cavalcade of enemies.
This segment of the narrative (somewhat tweaked to create a single, standalone storyline) is revealed to us through the eyes of “Masaru Kato”, a teenage high school student who finds himself whisked to this disturbing dimension after being stabbed preventing a robbery in a Tokyo subway station. As he attempts to navigate his way through this terrifying and violent conflict against otherworldly monsters (as well as some nefarious-to-say-the-least members of the Osaka team), we are informed of the rules, inner-workings and general brutality of the crazy world of Gantz along with him.
Kawamura utilises the talent and experience from his previous career, as a CGI director on several high-profile anime and video game titles, to create a fully-realised 3D animated world. Using real actors and live action “performance capture” techniques (an evolution of the more common “motion capture”, whereby actors’ facial expressions are intricately tracked, picking up even the smallest of emotional cues) and the expertise of action director Kensuke Sonoda, the outcome is a visually-stunning, action-packed and emotional extravaganza. From the sweeping live action-style aerial camera shots, down to the minutiae of state-of-the-art “jiggle physics” (otherwise known as “soft-body physics” to non-message board dwellers), Gantz:0 is a cutting edge, CGI spectacle.
As a result, even those less accustomed to the extreme content of the medium will find it hard not to appreciate the beauty and detail with which it is delivered.