Out of the blue a brand new Gantz film (Gantz:O) landed on Netflix. Now, I'm not the world's biggest Gantz fan, but I did watch the two previous live action adaptations and found them to be pretty entertaining. Needless to say, I was eager to give this latest Gantz incarnation a run for its money. The result was surprising, to say the least. Yasushi Kawamura and Keiichi Saito's film not only trumps the previous Gantz efforts, it set a whole new bar for Japanese action cinema.
Gantz is an established franchise by now, with a manga, a two-season anime adaptation, a video game, a novel and two live action films all adding to the lore. Gantz:O is the latest addition to the franchise, taking the manga's Osaka story arc and turning it into a CG-animated feature film. If you're not familiar with the franchise the first half hour may be a little puzzling, but the setup of Gantz is simple enough as long as you don't worry too much about the finer details.
While Gantz:O spends very little time explaining the basics, there are enough pointers to figure out the general idea behind the film. As always, a group of recently deceased is gathered in front of a mysterious black ball. After a short introduction the group is sent off to battle an army of monsters in order to save humanity from extinction. While this all sounds pretty serious, the battles are set up as game-like challenges, where contestants can earn points to buy bigger and meaner weapons, revive fallen team mates or buy their way to freedom. Enter demeaning video game reference here, personally I think it makes for a slick and focused premise.
Masaru Kato is the latest addition to Tokyo's Gantz team, yet when the team is summoned for a new challenge they end up fighting in Osaka, working together with Osaka's all-star team of Gantz warriors to battle a mysterious old fella. Osaku is completely overrun with yokai and Kato needs a little time to get accustomed to this new reality. But when he remembers his younger brother waiting for him in an empty home, it prompts him to fight his hardest and score his way back to freedom. Again, if it's a good plot you're after, you're not going to find it here.
I'm usually not too fond of CG animation, but Gantz:O is quite something else. For one, it makes excellent use of motion capture techniques to gives its characters some much-needed vitality. From composure, body language and facial expressions (the eyes in particular), everything feels incredibly life-like. Characters' faces are still missing some muscles and hair is still a little too overdone in order to make it all-natural, but Gantz:O comes freakishly close. The settings and monsters too look incredibly detailed, though it must be said that during lighter, less action-packed scenes (mostly in the beginning and at the end of the film) things still look a little too polished. Even so, I was blown away by the visual intensity and detail of Gantz:O. This is easily the best CG feature I've ever seen.
Because of the motion capture technique, the character models resembling their actual actors and a proper lip sync job, the Japanese dub is clearly the go-to option here, but people who don't like to read can also change to a more grating American dub. I wouldn't recommend it myself, then again I'm pretty accustomed to hearing Japanese. The soundtrack is decent enough too, but it's mostly the sound effects that make the biggest impression. The guns sound pretty cool and the thumps and growls of the monsters make them even more menacing. The music itself is pretty generic and loud, but decent enough for an action film and it does add the necessary drive during the action sequences.
If you're looking for proper character development or a well-thought out plot, Gantz:O isn't going to do it for you. This is a bare-bones action flick that puts all its money on style, crazy action sequences and out of this world monster designs. In that sense it reminded me a lot of games like Bayonetta and Asura's Wrath, which have its protagonists pitted at increasingly weird, colossal beasts. The boss-man of Osaka is pretty insane (in all its incarnations), but it's the giant woman made out of women's bodies that takes the cake here. A mad, almost inconceivable creature which will remain forever etched in my brain.
Gantz:O is brutal, action-packed and a bit mad in the head. It's everything but subtle and if you don't have any affinity with overdone action sequences and fit people in tight suits battling it out with freakish monsters using crazy scifi weaponry, then no, Gantz:O isn't going to do it for you. Personally I find it refreshing to see a film that doesn't aim wide but gives it its all in order to do what it wants to do as well as possible. It's an awesome action flick, nothing more, nothing less.