#8: GANTZ – The Greatest Manga I’ve Ever Read

I’ve just finished reading the Hiroya Oku’s GANTZ manga today, and what an insane and thrilling ride it was.

If you’ve never heard of GANTZ before, it’s a sci-fi action/horror manga (Japanese comic) that spans 37 books, a 26 episode anime, and two live-action, Japanese-made films. It’s a brilliantly visceral series that tackles a lot of issues with human emotion and hypocrisy, and offers as much intelligent social commentary as hardcore violence. It’s an intense thrill ride from beginning to end, and Oku is a total master of messing with his readers and their expectations. You never know what’s coming next with GANTZ, and it’s by far the most consistently entertaining series of Japanese media I’ve ever come across.

In my opinion, the order in which I was lucky enough to experience all of the various GANTZ media is the perfect way to experience it. My first experience with GANTZ was its anime, and its insane premise and razor-edged vulgarity, sexuality, and violence instantly drew me in and made me want to watch more and find out just what the fuck was going on. Unfortunately the anime ends partway through the seventh book and adds on its own finale, which Oku himself gave the anime’s director permission to come up with since the manga was nowhere near complete when the anime was nearing its end. It has incredible animation and music, and its English voice  cast did such a great job that they won awards for their work on the series. (Fun fact: practically the entire cast of GANTZ is also the cast of Cromartie High School, my favorite comedy anime!) GANTZ‘s anime merely gives you a taste of the story and what’s to come, and it instantly makes you salivate for more when it’s over. It’s a perfect introduction to the series. I give the anime a solid 8/10.

Next I watched the live-action GANTZ films, which essentially cover the same material as the anime (minus its anime-exclusive finale) and incorporate elements from books 14 and 15 as well while also adding in a whole bunch of original, exclusive story material not found in either the anime or manga. The production values on the films are really incredible, and although they skip over or barely touch on a lot of details (and in some cases even entire Gantz missions) and a lot of the strong characterization from the anime is gone (Kei Kurono, the main character, goes from being a perverted and selfish asshole in the anime to being a generic soft-spoken good guy in the films), they’re still very well made films and manage to feel like a completely different beast from the anime. Since they cover much of the same ground as the anime and even go a bit further into the manga while also leaving you with a lot of unanswered questions (yet answering more of your questions than the anime does) they’re the perfect next step after watching the anime. And like the anime, they too come up with their own original finale since once again the manga was nowhere near complete when they were made. The first film feels mostly like a rushed retelling of the anime, but the second film brings a lot of new material to the table and is much better written and paced than the first film is. It’s also much more emotional and tense, and some of its action scenes are truly spectacles to behold. The films also get a solid 8/10.

Then I read the manga, which is the perfect final step in experiencing the GANTZ story. I tried starting with its scanlations (scanned pages with fan translations), which start off very well done by the team that was originally doing it, but as soon as they stop their work on it and other translators take over, it becomes an absolute wreck: literal, robotic translations without emotion, typos left and right, inconsistent translations of names, and no localization to speak of. It completely takes you out of the story and atmosphere and ruins the experience. The only way to experience GANTZ as a manga is to buy the books from Dark Horse. I bought mine on Amazon, where they range from a few cents to $12 a piece, even brand new, and it’s absolutely worth it. The official translation is phenomenally done.

The manga is the best way to finish out your journey through the various GANTZ media, as it answers virtually every unanswered question the anime and films left you with, sometimes even within scenes the anime and films covered. For example, the anime and films never tell you why characters’ heads explode when they leave the allotted mission areas, and the manga answers that question very early on. Thus, reading the manga last, after watching the anime and then the films, is highly satisfying as you learn so many more things about the story, the characters, and how the world works, and why things are happening. The manga is absolutely top notch and by far the most amazing work of fiction I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. The artwork is just unbelievably and STUNNINGLY detailed, the writing is legitimately perfect in both pacing and tone, the action scenes are thrilling and easy to follow, and even the sound effect onomatopoeias employed are amazingly realistic if you actually sound them out, especially if you use a hushed or whispered delivery while sounding them out. A story should only be as long as it’s able to continue introducing intriguing and exciting new developments and twists, and suffice to say, GANTZ never overstays its welcome. In fact, it’s such an addicting manga that you never want to put it down. There were instances where I had to put it down even though I didn’t want to simply because it’s such an emotionally exhausting work at times, but I enjoyed every single moment it took me to read it. My only complaint is that I would have liked a chapter after its finale to see how the characters go about living their lives after the events they just went through, but I fully understand why Oku ends it the way he does and appreciate his decision, especially when supplemented with the interview included at the end of the final book that explains what the final chapter was so heavily influenced by. The manga gets a stellar 10/10 and deserves it beyond any shadow of a doubt. I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes over some of the amazing artwork on display, and it still blows my mind that Oku was able to pull off some of the things he did, not because of fear of criticism or backlash, but because I’ve never seen such mindblowing detail in serialized illustration before.

I can’t possibly recommend GANTZ strongly enough, as long as you can handle raw and honest depictions of extreme violence, vulgarity, and sexuality. Hiroya Oku’s sheer imagination is unparalleled, and I’ve never seen such amazing creativity in monster or alien designs in my life. His writing is completely superb and is able to take his readers on intense roller coasters of emotion, from deep, sober solemnity, to high octane excitement and fear, to heartrending emotion, both sorrowful and joyous. He defies all expectation and delivers an experience unlike anything else out there. He’ll make you question your humanity, your understanding of how the universe works, and even your personal morality. All I ask is that you please, whatever you do, not read the fan translations online and instead buy the books for the official translation.

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