Category Archives: Anime

#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.

#1: A Short Analysis of Dragon Ball GT

Hello there, and welcome to Opinionerded! This is my first blog entry, which will be followed by what I hope to be many more to come.

Today we’re going to take a look at the much-despised, yet undeniably iconic Dragon Ball GT. For the sake of full disclosure, at the time of this writing I’ve not yet seen anything from Dragon Ball Super because I’m avoiding spoilers until it’s given a US release in English.

I won’t bore you with too much history because the information is out there on wikis if you want to know more than what I discuss here, but the short version is that Toei Animation wanted to continue making Dragon Ball after Toriyama was done with it because its popularity was booming and they had a giant cash cow on their hands. The story was clearly left unresolved, so it made sense for Toei to want to continue the story. After all, even fans were wanting more Dragon Ball adventures after the end of Z. They weren’t satisfied with its abrupt ending with so much potential to move forward after the last segment introduced two interesting new members to the cast: Pan, the first female fighting Saiyan we’d seen outside of the Bardock TV special (I specify “fighting” because Bra/Bulla was introduced as well but isn’t a fighter so her character introduction is far less interesting), and Uub, the human born with the power of Majin Buu as his reincarnation.

Pan, as the daughter of Gohan and Videl, the strongest man and woman on the planet (at the time anyway), and being the first female Saiyan we’ve really gotten any kind of focus on, has so much story potential. Fans want to see the first female Super Saiyan. They want to see a female lead character kick some ass in the limelight for once, after virtually all the other main female characters throughout Dragon Ball history have largely been inept, irritating, or hardly present. Bulma may be the only example of a female lead in the series who isn’t any of these at all times, but she certainly goes through a lot of phases of being nigh-intolerable due to her attitude or simply not being very present in the story.

Uub is a highly interesting character because he’d effectively be the first hero character ever to be able to seriously contend with Goku and keep up with his abilities, and he’s not even alien. He’s just a human kid born to a poor, humble village. This means that unlike all our other lead fighters up to this point, we’d finally have an incredibly tough fighter who loves to fight, isn’t ruled by his ego, and isn’t a Saiyan. Plus, let’s be honest, it would be a lot of fun to finally see a dark-skinned character involved in all the main action for once, and especially so because this character has such a vastly different personality from any other seriously powerful fighter we’ve ever seen.

Dragon Ball GT makes a lot of mistakes and wastes a lot of potential, but I understand what it was going for and what they were trying to do with it. The first season is very unpopular because it’s slower than the action we’d gotten used to in Z, and the second season fares much better with its criticisms as it started taking things back to the focus of action. With the first half of the first season it’s clear they were trying to take the series back to its lighthearted roots and make something much more akin to Dragon Ball than Dragon Ball Z. After all, we’d gone through a whopping nine seasons of that kind of action while the original series only had five seasons, and the first two seasons of the original series weren’t even very action-heavy. It made sense for Toei to want to mix it up so things wouldn’t get stale. Unfortunately it didn’t rate well because, while it tried to reignite the old Dragon Ball adventure and whimsy, it fell flat because it lacked Toriyama’s signature charm and wit, so they made the second half of the first season as well as the whole second season much closer to the vibe of Z, and we ended up with essentially 1/4 of a series in one style and 3/4 of a series in another.

GTs first mistake was returning Goku to child form and having him be the central character all over again. By this point, so many other interesting characters have been introduced that the audience wants to get to know more and see more action with, that returning to Goku as the main character comes across as contrived, especially turning him into a kid just so they’d have the excuse of being able to keep him around forever, as long as they wanted to run the series for, instead of letting him move on like his character has kept trying to do since the Cell Games.

It then begins with very bizarre villains like the ineffectual Don Kee, the unbearably annoying and cringe-worthy Para Para Brothers, and the incredibly creepy Dolltaki that are all frankly uninteresting and/or uncomfortable to watch. Dolltaki is not creepy in the intimidating way a good villain is creepy, but creepy in the way a gross, peeping-tom neighbor is creepy. They’re not fun, they’re not cool or intimidating, they’re just awfully designed and written. Baby comes in and is fairly compelling, but quickly overstays his welcome as the fight against him drags on far too long with unnecessary padding. There are also plotholes with his various appearances in numerous parts of the galaxy seemingly at the same time without explanation. Then we have the absolutely dreadful Super 17 arc, full of bad animation, bad writing, and bad fights, but luckily it only lasts for six episodes. We finish off with the Shadow Dragon arc, which starts off promising but quickly devolves into Villain Of The Week shenanigans that feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a legitimate anime, gets better when Nova and Syn Shenrons are introduced, the fight against Syn/Omega Shenron has some great highlights but is also padded out longer than it needs to be, and then we finish off with a pretty spectacular final episode.

Throughout the series, Pan does almost nothing of any significance. She doesn’t help out in fights much, and she spends most of her time crying and whining or being an outright bitch to Giru undeservedly. This is not the badass heroine fans had been craving to see Pan grow into after the end of Z, and in fact she’s not even the type of main character anyone wants to watch. Just like the early villains, she comes across as highly annoying, possibly even more so than any of the other annoying female lead characters that preceded her in the first two series. What a waste of character potential. She never even goes Super Saiyan, while every fan’s first thought when they saw Pan at the end of Z was “I can’t wait to see her go Super Saiyan! Finally a female Super Saiyan!” How do you blow that opportunity? Awful writing would be the answer to that question.

Uub completely falls to the wayside and becomes no more relevant than Piccolo or Tien or any of the other side characters in the series, even though the end of Z was setting him up to become a new, important lead hero. Like Pan, he too barely does anything in this series, but while he gets significantly less screen time than Pan does, they at least try to do something cool with him at one point, only for it to fall flat and turn out to be pointless. Once again, what a tragic waste of character potential. Furthemore, now that Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’ have come out, we know that in the tournament at the end of Z, Goku had already at that point attained the power of the Super Saiyan God, which means Uub is even stronger than we ever realized before, by a HUGE margin. I can’t hold that against GT because that hadn’t yet been established of course, but it certainly sheds new light on how great Uub’s abilities truly are and therefore makes his lack of importance in GT stick out that much worse.

Then you have the black star dragon balls, all the different Shenrons with dragon balls embedded within them, you’ve got the golden ape and “Super Saiyan 4” (I use quotes because if the golden ape is technically supposed to be the Legendary Super Saiyan form of old then that would make the red-furred transformation Legendary Super Saiyan 2 since it’s on a completely different evolutionary line from the normal Super Saiyan forms), you’ve got plot holes that contradict the established canon from the first two series, yet more over-reliance on Goku, recycled villains (the entire Android 17 saga) as well as recycled villain designs and personalities (Dr. Myuu, who looks and acts so much like Dr. Gero that he may as well be a blue-skinned, orange-haired robot copy of the same man), a villain with an even more embarrassing and stupid name than Buu (Baby), a severe lack of real emotions and drama (save for an occasional rare scene sprinkled in very late in the series), and a whole slew of other problems like poor pacing and poor writing. I also never liked the art direction of the fashion in the series, as I find most of the outfits the characters wear to be just absolutely terrible. The whole thing is a jumbled mess that screams, “Trying too hard to call back to the series you love and not trying hard enough to create something new and engaging.”

However, one of the biggest sins of GT is how wasted the entire supporting cast is. The series starts off with Goku, Pan, and Trunks leading the show, then Trunks falls off and the entire series becomes centered 100% around Goku and Pan…two child characters amidst a fantastic cast we’ve been building up for a decade throughout DB and Z. Piccolo shows up once to kill himself. Krillin shows up once to die. 18 shows up once to get angry at 17. Tien and Chiaotzu aren’t present at all. Trunks and Goten never once fuse, which leaves you upset and wanting to see how badass an adult Gotenks could be. Yamcha does nothing (which was unfortunately the norm at this point already after the introduction of the androids back in Z. Gohan does nothing. Even Vegeta gets screwed by being taken out of the plot entirely during the Baby arc and then never doing anything else at all until the very end of the series against Omega Shenron. It’s such a horridly sad waste of a great cast to only have two characters do literally everything while everyone else sits around and fucks off while these two children are out risking their lives trying to save the world. And for some reason in this series, nobody hardly ever goes Super Saiyan, and when they do, they’re knocked out of it after getting attacked once. Goku takes out more enemies in his base child form than he does in any transformed state, and it makes absolutely no sense. Even the supposedly incredible “Super Saiyan 4” form gets dunked on by villain after villain, making it seem awfully pathetic. The power scaling in the series is a total mess.

Overall, while I don’t hate Dragon Ball GT as much as most fans do, it’s certainly an incredibly flawed series. The background art is really quite phenomenal in its gorgeous color and detail, the music is fantastic, and I forgive some of its flaws in an understanding of what they were trying to go for (such as its slow first half of its first season), but all the other inexcusable flaws do outweigh the excusable ones and the few positives. Ironically, however, as much as most fans hate GT, they also seem to love and cling to the “Super Saiyan 4” form, which I’ve personally never liked. I’m not a fan of its look, the way the form is attained, or its properties (the way it temporarily ages its child host body Yu-Gi-Oh! style while it’s activated), so it’s worth watching at least to be on the same page as everyone else and find out where the form comes from.

At this point with the releases of the new Toriyama-written films Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’GT has officially been written out of the canon, allowing Dragon Ball fans everywhere to breathe a sigh of relief. However, let’s not look back on this Toei-original series with total scorn, and let’s at least try to give it credit for what it tried to accomplish, and to also have the awareness to admit and recognize why it was so flawed. I own the complete series and its lone film, and while I won’t watch it as often as I’ll watch Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z, I do believe it’s a worthy part of any fan’s collection simply for the interesting and unique project it was, flaws and all. Besides, if you don’t watch it then you won’t have context for where a lot of characters and transformations in the video games come from! You don’t want to be an uninformed fan or your friends will all point and laugh at you.

I give Dragon Ball GT a 4/10. Its quality is certainly far below par, but it’s not a total and complete waste of time. It’s an interesting watch just to see Toei’s own idea of where the story would have gone after the end of Z as a “what if” sort of scenario, and it’s an important piece of Dragon Ball history. However, I’m also glad it’s been antiquated and officially written out of the canon by Toriyama himself.