For the last couple of days I have been indulging myself in some manga reading. Anyone skimming through my past reviews can tell that I am a fan of anime, but I must say that it is frustrating to see how many of the shows I enjoy conclude in unsatisfactory finales. This is due to the fact that they are adapted from still ongoing comic books. Curious to see how the plot of those animes continue I have started to track down their printed versions beginning with Gantz, a popular manga created by writer/artist Hiroya Oku that was first published back in July 2000.
The book stars Kei Kurono a typical angsty teenager who has little patience for people, as evidenced early on when he fails to assist an old lady, who is asking for directions, simply because guiding her to her destination would be too much hassle. When the story kicks off Kei is waiting at a train station for his ride back home, anticipating a humdrum evening of television watching, when he spots a drunken hobo stumble off the platform onto the railway tracks. At the insistence of his childhood friend Masaru Kato, Kei jumps onto the tracks and saves the bum from certain doom. Kei instantly regrets the good deed as both he and Kato get struck by an express train seconds after aiding the booze loving tramp.
How has this manga been running for over ten years if the protagonist dies in the first chapter you may be wondering? Well for some unknown reason, after being killed by the locomotive, Kei and Kato find themselves transported to a Tokyo apartment. The pair are completely healed from the fatal injuries they had suffered moments earlier. It's a similar story for the other occupants of the flat that include a politician who appears to have been cured of cancer, an office worker who is doing surprisingly well after crashing his scooter and a nude girl who is suffering no ill effects from her attempts to slit her wrists whilst in the tub moments earlier.
No one is entirely sure what is going on aside from realizing that vacating the apartment or contacting someone for help, using a cell phone, is impossible due to a supernatural force. Just as the group begin to speculate if the flat is a manifestation of the afterlife a black sphere, located in the center of the room, opens up revealing a cache of technologically advanced weapons. It appears that the survivors have been selected to participate in a twisted alien hunt were they must track down an onion loving extra terrestrial within the next hour. Failure to comply with the odd request will spell an end to the group's second lease of life.
Once you start reading Gantz it is hard to put down thanks to the captivating story. As you try to unravel the mystery of what is going on the narrative hooks you in. Are the participants really dead? They could be ghosts, as regular folks don't seem to notice their presence during the ensuing alien hunt. On the other hand, could the whole thing just be some macabre reality show? That's a theory proposed by one of the survivors, although it seems less likely the further we delve into the story. Either way Gantz delivers in terms of gruesome action and like a good zombie tale it does a good job of analyzing the human condition. It's fascinating to see how people of different backgrounds react when thrust into a life or death situation.
Theoretically speaking if you have seen and enjoyed the anime adaptation you should also like this manga. From what I have read thus far it seems like the cartoon accurately recreates the comic. There are no discernable differences between the two, but for whatever reason I found the story worked better as an anime. Perhaps I didn't find Gantz as engrossing this time round, as I knew what was coming, but if you ask me the anime feels better paced. Not much happens in the ten chapters included in volume one leaving me a little unsatisfied once I turned the final page.
Although things start strongly, I was surprised by how quickly I progressed through the later chapters. As many pages only contain two or three panels and minimal text I managed to get through the whole thing in a mere forty minutes. That doesn't feel like good value for money - especially when you consider that, when originally released, the book retailed for nine pounds. That's dearer than your average manga. In terms of price to entertainment value the book is disappointing. You get considerably more bang for your buck playing a lengthy video game or even buying the Gantz anime box sets. Your mileage may however vary depending on your reading speed and how long you dwell on admiring the artwork.
Speaking of artwork, one benefit of having fewer panels per page is that the artist gets ample space to showcase his talents via well-sized images that aren't compressed down to fit onto a tiny page. Although the pictures look hand drawn they were actually made with computer software as explained in the fascinating author notes located at the end of the book. The artwork is of a high standard and if you enjoy ogling the nude female form you are in for a treat. Covers showing the busty Kei Kishimoto, in various states of undress, separate each chapter. It's a little tacky, as the story isn't exactly shy about flaunting her assets in the first place, but if that sort of thing bugs you, you probably shouldn't be reading Gantz in the first place.
Make no mistake, this is a mature title not recommended for kids or the squeamish. In this volume alone there are two decapitations, an attempted rape and gory deaths were body parts explode after being targeted by a time delay ray gun. If all this sounds right up your alley I would recommend Gantz, even if on this occasion I found that the animation was better than the book. It's a fine read and I am interested to see how the story progresses once the manga surpasses the content covered in the cartoon. Hopefully the dialogue gets meatier in the later installments to avoid the problem of skimming through action scenes quickly and then feeling shortchanged when you promptly reach the end.
From doing a quick search on Amazon it appears like volume one may be out of print. The title is only available to buy from third party sellers, some of which are asking exorbitant prices of close to thirty pounds. If you are looking for some visceral manga sci-fi you are best seeking a cheaper used copy. Paying more than a fiver would give me a heart attack and that is something I would like to avoid. Perishing from coronary failure may result in me getting resurrected to battle E.Ts, which judging from this book is not something anyone would want to do.
Gantz is a japanese manga, written and illustrated by Hiroya oku it has now been released in english and is published by Dark horse comics, famous for the likes of 300, Sin city and Hellboy.
Based on this it almost goes without saying that it is a more adult manga, featuring strong langauge as well as graphic scenes of violence and sex which may turn some off from the otherwise interesting story.
Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato are a pair of high school students (16 years old) who die in a horrific collision with a high speed train whilst trying to save the life of a homeless man on the tracks. Strangely though, they then find themeselves in a tokyo apartement and no way of escape, also in this room are several other people, a dog and a big, black sphere.
This sphere is Gantz, opening to reveal a dieing bald man hooked up to a mask, the sphere informs the people that their lives now belong to him and that they must take the weapons and suits provided, and to take down the aliens shown by any means necassary.
There are a few rules which must be followed.
1. They will only be allowed to return to the apartement when the mission is succesful.
2. Every alien killed will earn the person points.
3. Only when 100 points are gained will the person be able to leave the team.
Alongside Kei and Masaru there are several others in the team. 2 members of the Yakuza ( Japanese mafia ), a 14 year old student, a cancer patient, 20 year old addict and a suicidal women. This mismatch of characters, backgrounds and morals make for an interesting set of relationships and quite a few moments of friction between them. Of course in the game they are now playing, team work is key and with decisions being made on the fly and seperations occuring, the dynamic of the group evolves and leads to an almighty cliff-hanger.
The narrative is a little slow in this first volume but is steady enough with the characters being introduced and giving a scope of the situation. Regular moments of action are used to top up your interest throughout the first half of the book, mainly the death of Kei and Masaru, but also the mistreatment of the suicide girl when she arrives at the apartment.
In the second half of the narrative the speed picks up as we see the team chase down their first alien, but the adrenaline didn't rush as much as I expected it too and although there was a chase and lots of explosions it all just felt too standard, however the final scenes did build well and left a good opening for the second volume.
The story does also have a touch of mystery into where they actually are, there are certain things that lead you to beleive it some kind of purgatory, especially with events near the end of the book and the weighing up of points based on actions.
The characters didn't reveal too much of themeselves here, personality wise anyway. All the characters for now are meant to be taken at face value, which may well pay off at a later date but at the time it makes them seem very 2 dimensional and hard to connect with.
Kei kurono is seen as the stereoptypical angry 16 year old, he thinks very little of those around him and is very begrudgingly pulled in to help rescue the man on the tracks. His bad attitude is pretty annoying and his frame of mind is completely based on himself, even when he forms an attraction to the suicide girl, he manages to make it all about him.
Masaru Kato is a lot stronger willed than Kei but shows less raw emotion. As more about their past is revealed we see that Masaru origionally looked up to Kei and now feels a lot of dissapointment as to how he has turned out. He generally ops for the morally correct decision without thinking about the consequences to those around him.
Artistically the book is very detailed due to its computer created design. Whilst this adds more depth and detail into the image , you lose some of the personality and attraction of the book due to this artificial feel. The book can be gory at times, close ups of the flying severed heads of the main characters are meant to shock but don't always hit as hard.
The opening scene could have been a little more urgent and the lack of variety in panel design fails to build a sense of anticipation or true action. Considering an express train is about to hit what seem to be the main protagonists, it feels as though there is a lot of time passing leaving the end result to be less shocking.
At times the books need to shock the reader is a little over the top, the suicide girl seems to be the main outlet for this from the first moment she enters the story. Transported to the apartment completely naked, she is then set upon by one of the yakuza as well as the dog. This is a shame because this will turn many away from the story and with time I think this could build to something interesting.
Available on Amazon for £8.99 this is above the cost of a usual manga, usually about £4. The manga can be finished in an evening and whilst it does have an interesting premise, certain aspects make it a bit of a turn off.