Imagine, if you will, the afterlife. Guns, nano-suits, a black sphere in a blank room and a mission that makes no sense with a group of strangers you’ve only just met.
Not exactly Old Testament, is it, but it’s not as much of a stretch between theology and this series than you might think. When something of a reluctant selfless deed results in tragedy, Kei and Kato are transported, not to the Pearly Gates, but into a 2DLK apartment and the presence of Gantz, a strange game master controlling a bizarre game. It’s not that hard to see the darkly allegorical elements here. If Kei and Kato survive, they may just get some answers as to why they’re there when they should be dead, but considering the body count before they fax into that waiting room, survival doesn’t seem all that likely, and answers from Gantz are certainly not forthcoming.
And if what’s going on and why is somewhat less than clear to you even a few episodes in, then you know as much as anyone else, and that’s one of the more intriguing things about Gantz; the mystery, knowing only as much as the characters do. It’s a little ‘Why am I here? What’s the meaning of it all?’, which in no subtle way recalls questions either existentialist or religious or both. It’s an effective ploy. It makes you care about what’s happening and what’s going to happen, a strange sensation when most of the characters are the least likeable bunch you’re ever likely to meet.
Maybe that’s a by-product though. Gantz was deemed so violent it was censored for Japanese TV (almost an hour in total), so perhaps it makes sense that the peripheral characters are not the sort of people you want to see survive. But that doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to enjoy seeing them get offed, and that’s the other intriguing thing about this series; no amount of disliking a character should make it okay when they are dismembered in hideous and bloody fashion.
What that’s saying, if you think about it as a message of sorts, is actually quite discomforting. By contrasting the main characters, who are central to the conflicting question of preservation of self versus compassion for others, against a mob mentality where violence has its own unconscionable momentum, Gantz is amplifying and reflecting some brutal generalisations. On a group scale, humanity loses its humanity. People only care about what’s happening if it’s happening to them, and to exist as a unit within a group is to participate, deliberately or not, in the idea that Might equals Right. Gantz seems to be throwing these impersonal concepts back in our faces, using violence in an attempt to wake us up, to sensitise us in a world desensitised to the plight of others.
Whether it manages to get this message across or not is another question entirely. After all, it’s just anime, right? It’s supposed to be violent/entertaining/unrealistic/fantastical. One of my friends thinks I’m overthinking this (which I admit I am prone to doing), and that maybe Gantz is just what it looks like — violence, action, a cool soundtrack and naked chicks. But considering the fact that it almost sets a new bar for gruesome deaths in animation (Madhouse Studio still hold that title in my opinion, but that’s another rant entirely), I’m sticking to my theory that there is a point and it’s not to glorify the ugly, but to try and remind us that art may sometimes imitate life, but life should never imitate art.