Review of Bakemonogatari (Part 1)

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Koyomi Araragi is a guy with a knack for attracting women, specifically those with supernatural problems. Perhaps his magnetism for all things mystic stems from the fact that he is no stranger to paranormal afflictions himself, given how he previously had a brief stint as a vampire. Thankfully for Koyomi he was able to return to the life of a regular high school student after an encounter with Meme Oshino, who used his knowledge of the occult to rid Koyomi of his vampirism. Meme could be described as an exorcist of sorts as he makes a living off curing humans who have been targeted by oddities. Despite his occupation however there’s nothing priestly about the guy. Instead of wearing robes in church he prefers to sport a Hawaiian shirt and hang out in a derelict building.

From that point on Koyomi uses his connections with Meme to aid the women in his life with the unearthly conditions plaguing them. The series follows the format of telling two to three part story arcs focusing on a particular girl who Koyomi does his utmost to assist. This first volume from MVM Entertainment collects the first eight episodes, of a fifteen episode series, across what is the first of two dual DVD sets. Part one, which I am reviewing today, tackles the trials and tribulations of three girls starting off with Hitagi Senjougahara.

Koyomi meets Senjougahara, one day, when she literally falls from the sky after tumbling off a staircase. When Koyomi catches her, thereby saving her from a potentially fatal drop, he notices that she weighs a mere 5kg… that’s unusually light even if her slender frame could be attributed to a steadfast devotion to Weight Watchers. As it turns out Senjougahara is suffering from crabs, or rather from a sole incorporeal crab, which has latched onto the female student robbing her off her mass. Although Senjougahara is initially hostile to the idea of Koyomi helping her out with her problem (threatening to shut his mouth with the stockpile of concealed staplers she always carries around) she does eventually warm up to him resulting in the pair forming an unconventional boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.

The following two tales start off with Koyomi ending up at a park after a spat with his sisters. There he encounters Mayoi Hachikuji, a lost fifth grader who wants to visit her estranged mom on Mother’s Day. Try as they might Koyomi and Mayoi are unable to find the parent’s residence, even when they enlist the aid of Senjougahara to guide them through a district she is familiar with. The group travel round and round in circles as some mysterious force prevents them from reaching their destination.

Part one of Bakemonogatari concludes with a trio of episodes covering Suruga Kanbaru, the high school’s star track athlete who happens to be a former acquaintance of Senjougahara. Suruga’s adventure is a twist on the monkey’s paw legend that normally deals with a severed primate hand that grants the wishes of its owner in unexpected, often twisted ways. Bakemonogatari’s take on this well known yarn is that the monkey paw has grafted itself onto Suruga’s arm and will not come off. Will Koyomi find a way of breaking the monkey paw’s contract or is Suruga cursed to forever have a hairy simian appendage that is slowly siphoning away her soul?

One thing prospective buyers should be aware of is that Bakemonogatari is a dialogue heavy show. In a way the series is reminiscent of Spice & Wolf were episodes often comprise of nothing more than an extended twenty-minute chat between characters. Thankfully the show’s director manages to keep things lively onscreen via his artistic flair. Not only are the visuals above average, but he also uses a lot of neat tricks to keep the potentially static exchanges between characters lively. At regular intervals live action photos get spliced into the animation, title cards appear on screen and even the main character’s hair is creatively used to illustrate his emotional response to stimuli. It’ll take repeated viewings to fully absorb what is being thrown onscreen as the lack of an English dub means that viewers will have to focus on the foot of the screen, hurriedly reading subtitles that at times struggle to keep up with the pace of the narration.

The constant chatter will undoubtedly make Bakemonogatari one of those divisive shows that viewers will either love or hate. If the characters get their hooks into you you’ll love spending time with them, otherwise expect to be bored by the slow pacing and comedy that is overly reliant on puns, which sadly gets lost in translation.

For what it’s worth I am in the camp of people who enjoyed the series. I liked the banter between the cast, such as how Mayoi always manages to get Koyomi riled up by mispronouncing his surname. The Senjougahara/Koyomi romance is interesting to watch, as there is nothing mushy about it. Senjougahara is by her own admission a tsundere (someone who comes off as cold, even though deep down they care about others.) She enjoys teasing Koyomi, threatening him with physical violence and is not beneath using her sexuality to get him all flustered. Koyomi’s most admirable trait is his willingness to help those in need, even though tampering with forces he doesn’t understand often puts him in perilous situations (good thing then that he has retained his superhuman healing factor, from the time he was a vampire.) Don’t class him as a boring do-gooder though. Koyomi isn’t shy about expressing his irritation with others and at one point is even guilty of striking a minor!

I really enjoyed Bakemonogatari as it managed to tackle otherworldly issues with wit rather than resorting to excessive violence. The lack of an English dub is a little disappointing, but if removing the expense of English voice actors means Britain gets to experience more niche shows, which would otherwise be unprofitable, it’s an omission I can live without.

Review of Persona 4: The Animation (Box 1)

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Persona 4: The Animation is a twenty-six-episode anime series based off Atlus’ excellent JRPG. As someone who loved Persona 4 Golden on the Vita I was naturally curious to see if its cartoon adaptation was any good. Coming into the series I expected the answer to that question to be a resounding no as video game animes have a reputation for being notoriously bad. Sonic the Hedgehog’s anime appearances have been sub-par, I thought the Street Fighter animated movie was poor (although heaps better than the Jean Claude Van Damme live action disaster) and I couldn’t believe how badly Disgaea was butchered when Oriental Light and Magic used its evil sorcery to turn it into a dumb cartoon.

Thankfully director Seiji Kishi (whose previous work includes the touching Angel Beats) has managed to buck the usual trend by delivering a product that lives up to the reputation of its source material. Persona 4: The Animation is presently available to buy thanks to French anime distributor Kaze in collaboration with the UK’s own Manga Entertainment. Box one (of three) contains the first nine episodes in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack made up of two DVDs and one Blu-ray disc. Although I normally watch animes on DVD, on this occasion I used my PS3 to play the Blu-ray as Kaze’s choice of packaging is just asking for trouble. The DVDs are stacked atop of each other, inviting scratches, not to mention that I fear snapping them in twain as they are fastened tightly in place via clips on the DVD border. Thank goodness that the Blu-ray is stored using a traditional spindle.

Unlike other video game anime adaptations that go off tangent, Persona 4: The Animation accurately follows the events of the JRPG that spawned it. Things kick off with high school student Yu Narukami relocating from Tokyo to the small town of Inaba, were he is staying with his uncle and cousin whilst his folks spend a year working abroad. Yu doesn’t get much time to settle down before he gets embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer who is tossing victims into an alternate dimension accessible via entry through a television screen (perhaps that’s why my mom always warned me that sitting too close to the TV is bad for you.) As one of the select few able to enter the inhospitable TV world, Yu and his friends take it upon themselves to track down the murderer, save those he kidnaps from harm and battle the other world’s evil shadow creatures with the aid of powerful summons known as Personas.

The anime does a grand job emulating the look and feel of the game by including music from the JRPG’s soundtrack, recreating locations that players will have visited in the software incarnation and featuring a plethora of creatures that console adventurers battled back when the PS2 original came out. There are other neat touches too, that fans of the game should recognize, such as the use of the familiar yellow calendar to denote the passage of time. For the most part the visuals are of a good standard, although I thought the way in which the animators drew the character’s facial features was a little off. Not a big deal though and you do get accustomed to it as time goes by. Besides who am I to criticize the appearance of the characters when I myself haven’t been blessed in the looks department.

Out of the nine opening episodes the filler ones, were Yu joins the school basketball team and the humorous class camping trip, were amongst my favorites as they had me in stitches. That’s not to say that the main story focusing on the paranormal murder mystery is bad, but things start slow on that front as the narrative is forced to introduce the ensemble cast, as well as explain how they all got their powers. This leads to the early episodes falling into the repetitive cycle of Yu entering the TV world, battling the creatures that dwell there and then dealing with how his classmates gain the ability to summon a Persona after confronting a shadow doppelganger of themselves. This wasn’t too bad in the original video game, as it was all interspaced with hours of gameplay, but the show doesn’t have that luxury as it is forced to condense those events within a handful of episodes.

It’s not all bad though as, despite the limited running time, the anime is able to give a different take on some of the game’s story beats. The best example of this is the manner in which it handles Yukiko’s backstory. Via flashbacks it shows how the character is being groomed into following the footsteps of her parents who run a local inn. It’s a path she isn’t sure she wants to follow. The cartoon uses the image of a bird entrapped in a cage as an allegory for the pressure she is feeling, which ties in nicely with the eventual form her Persona takes.

The show’s strongest area would have to be its characters. It’s great spending time with them as the banter they share is always entertaining and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie amongst the group. I especially liked how the writers handled the protagonist Yu. In the game he doesn’t have much of a personality as players are expected to dictate his actions. The anime presents him as a cool and composed character that doesn’t get phased by anything. This could potentially make him into a dullard, but that’s not the case as Johnny Yong Bosch’s vocal performance manages to inject life into the character. The fine job he does in delivering Yu’s lines should come as no surprise given that he is an accomplished actor whose previous work includes Vash (Trigun), Kaneda (Akira) and erm the Black Power Ranger.

Overall I am very pleased with how Persona 4: The Animation has turned out. Like the game that inspired it, the show manages to get the mix of action and comedy just right. The segments in the TV world are filled with exciting battles, mirroring the game’s tense dungeon crawling levels. On the flip side the character interactions, based on the social link cut scenes, are always a hoot. As a fan of the game I am having a blast seeing the game’s story unfold as a cartoon. That’s not to say that the anime doesn’t manage to stand on its own feet. One of my friends who is not acquainted with the game has watched a few episodes and was similarly impressed.

My only gripe with the series is not with the anime itself, but Kaze’s decision to release it across three combo packs. Being the skinflint that I am I would have preferred collecting the series on two three disc DVD sets. Given how domestic anime sales are so low I cannot however blame them for bundling the Blu-ray transfers together with the DVDs. As the series is so good and they managed to secure the original Japanese audio (absent in the American region one version) on this occasion I won’t begrudge them too badly for pillaging my wallet.

Review of Is This A Zombie (Season One)

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Is This A Zombie is a thirteen episode anime series chronicling the exploits of Ayumu Aikawa, who as the title suggests, happens to be a reanimated corpse. Until recently Ayumu was a regular high school student, but all that changed one fateful night when an unknown assailant stabbed him through the chest. Thankfully for Ayumu a nice necromancer named Eu saves him from death by turning him into a zombie, before moving into his place and making him her servant. Just as well then that Ayumu, despite his age, lives by his lonesome free of parents who may object at having a silver haired lass with supernatural powers becoming a lodger at their abode.

Cohabitating with a mute necromancer might seem like a handful, but the situation gets even more complicated when an additional two ladies enter Ayumu’s life. First up is the feisty Magical Garment Girl named Haruna (pretty much Sailormoon brandishing a chainsaw) who invites herself into the Ayumu residence after our undead protagonist manages to drain her powers during a graveyard spat. Rounding off the trio of animated femmes is Seraphim who happens to be a ninja. What’s that? An oriental assassin isn’t weird enough for you? Oh did I forget to mention that she is a VAMPIRE ninja??

As you may have gathered from the above-mentioned synopsis, Is This A Zombie is a harem show at its core. Much like Rosario Vampire, the series however manages to utilize its cast of eccentric characters, with unearthly powers, to stray into the realms of action and comedy, with copious amounts of fan service thrown in for good measure. Many episodes have Ayumu and co squaring off against creatures called Megalos in battles that are surprisingly bloody, although the blood splatter is so excessive that you can never take it too seriously. As you would expect the fan service comes in the form of the heroines posing in revealing outfits, but in the sake of fairness even Ayumu is forced to take off his kit when the situation demands it. In episode one for example a collision with a bus propels him out of his clothing and we also get the “treat” of zoomed in panty shots during the occasions he is forced to cross-dress.

In terms of personality Ayumu is a little more interesting than the average male found in harem shows. A recurring gag sees him fantasize about Eu talking dirty to him. His perverse thoughts don’t go unpunished however as he is often subjected to humiliation. One such example is the manner in which he calls upon the magical power he drained from Haruna. In order to tap into that reserve of mystical energy he has to transform into a magical girl, which means donning a frilly pink dress! On the plus side he isn’t the traditional rotting cadaver you normally associate with zombies (just as well, I don’t think the girls would put up with the smell.) Ayumu looks like a regular teenager, but as a member of the undead he is able to regenerate from injuries that would down most people. This comes in handy as the scraps with the Megalos often end with him being torn to shreds. He’s virtually indestructible, although going out in the sun instantly dehydrates him… hmmm I wonder if I am a zombie too, it would explain why I stay indoors and shun daylight.

From the supporting cast the energetic Haruna would have to be my favorite of the three girls. It’s a little disappointing that she is robbed of her powers early on in the series, as I would have liked to see her take a more active role in the battle sequences. As the show progresses it is revealed that she has a crush on Ayumu, but romance between the pair never goes beyond her pummeling him whenever she gets embarrassed. Physical violence is a sign of affection? Maybe I should call up those girls who pepper sprayed my face after they spotted me hiding in the bushes.

Although Eu is central to the show’s plot she doesn’t get as much screen time as you might think. This is probably due to the fact that she is a silent character who communicates by scribbling on a notepad. Still I am sure she will go down well with geeks who fall head over heels with the likes of Rei (Evangelion) or Angel (Angel Beats.) On the other hand Seraphim is more vocal and has no hesitation in using her tongue to mock Ayumu, who she often refers to as a maggot. In a cast of physically underdeveloped girls Seraphim is clearly filling the role of eye candy courtesy of her toned figure, sexy red eyes and fabulous rack. If you find the other two girls more attractive I won’t judge you, but beware because Chris Hansen might.

Overall I enjoyed Is This A Zombie as the whacky random humor made me laugh. The comedy does get tiresome by the end though, not helped by a weak plot that haphazardly jumps from one thing to the next. The main story, revolving around the hunt for Ayumu’s killer, gets resolved by episode eleven, leaving the series to peter out with filler. Episode thirteen’s collection of funny short stories was all right, but episode twelve was painful to watch. It has the group going to a public pool, as an excuse to show the girls in bikinis, which wouldn’t be so bad had they not resorted to padding out the remainder of the running time with horrible singing in an impromptu idol contest.

If comedic harem shows are your thing I am sure you will like Is This A Zombie on some level. I enjoyed it as mindless fun, but it’s not an anime I envision re-watching anytime soon. Given the less than substantial plot I’m not sure were the series will go in season two. If the final two episodes are any indication I fear the makers will continue to introduce more and more girls who will squabble over their secret crush for Ayumu. That’s not something that interests me as, even with a zombie thrown in the mix, I find that harm cliché to be “dead” boring.

Review of Gantz (Vol 9)

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Volume nine of the Gantz manga chronicles the fourth alien hunt Kei Kurono has been forced to participate in. For the first time in the series, since Kei was mowed down by a train and subsequently resurrected by the sadistic Gantz, Kurono is forced to battle his extra terrestrial prey solo. Kei is out of allies after his companions were brutally butchered in the preceding hunt, which pitted them against the statue like warriors residing at a temple. Our reanimated protagonist has to contend with not only the alien menace in front of him, but also with the mental trauma plaguing his thoughts as he comes to terms with the loss of his friends.

The target of this latest hunt is a group of diminutive creatures, which Gantz has comically christened “Shorty Aliens.” Despite their petite stature the blighters pack a mean punch and move super fast. Kei may be a veteran of these hunts, but with no comrades to aid him (or at the very least act as a disposable distraction) the odds are not looking in his favor. The resourceful Kei does however manage to outwit his adversaries, eventually disposing of most of them. One sole survivor remains however and the remaining being proves to be too cunning to fall for Kei’s trickery. When the two scrap it is clear that Kei is outmatched to the point that he is ultimately forced to flee in terror.

For the first time in the series the human force summoned by Gantz fails to complete their mission. The penalty for failing to eliminate all of the aliens within the one-hour time limit proves to be an interesting one. Until this point I had assumed that failure would equal death, but Kei’s punishment is arguably just as cruel, especially when you consider that the stress of it all is tipping him over the edge. Another consequence of not killing all of his targets is that the surviving Shorty remains at large, roaming the streets seeking vengeance against the human that murdered his brethren. It’s a mistake Kei doesn’t get much time to rue as the alien tracks him down to his school, where it begins to slaughter the students based there.

Out of the nine Gantz comics I have read thus far I would rank this one as my favorite. Having previously watched the Gantz anime I was somewhat bored by the early manga chapters, as they covered events I had already seen. Thankfully, starting with volume eight, things have started to pick up. Anyone in a similar position to myself may consider this book a good jumping on point given how the chapters contained within begin to explore material that goes beyond what we got in the animated version. After reading this installment I have gone from wanting to drop the series to rushing out to read the next book.

As always the artwork is excellent and the large panels make the action very easy to follow. The opening battle on the city rooftops was exciting and I especially liked how the Shorty aliens are telepathic. This gives them the ability to communicate with Kei, unlike many of the other aliens he has faced. The manner in which they goad him make them feel like a genuine enemy as opposed to incomprehensible wild animals that have to be put down. Ironically now that Kei is by himself we are getting a better understanding of his character. As he has no one to talk to the reader is presented with thought bubbles giving some insight on his thoughts.

Needless to say I really enjoyed volume nine of Gantz. The gory action is always entertaining and I am especially curious to see were the story will progress from here. Now that an alien has appeared in a public place and started murdering innocents the status quo of Gantz dealing only with hidden alien hunts has been shattered. What will the long-term ramifications be? Also what is to become of Kei as he slowly creeps towards becoming a psychopath who revels in the bloodlust of wiping out aliens, just like Nishi before him. His memories of childhood friend Kato have kept his humanity in check, but how much more will it take before he snaps? I cannot wait to find out.

Review of Trigun (Vol 1)

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The story of Trigun is set during a time when man has decided to venture forth into outer space with the aims of colonizing the stars. Things haven’t gone as planned however forcing the interplanetary settlers to crash land on a barren desert world. As you can imagine, life on an inhospitable planet is hard and is made all the tougher by the threat of Vash the Stampede, a notorious outlaw who is known for destroying any settlement he comes across. Vash’s reputation has earned him an outrageous sixty billion double dollar bounty for anyone brave or foolish enough to bring him to justice.

What most people aren’t aware of however is that Vash isn’t the menace many portray him as. He’s actually a pacifist who follows the mantra of love and peace. Yes destruction follows him wherever he goes, but it is normally caused by the crazed bounty hunters trying to capture him. Clearly they use weapons a little more powerful that the pepper spray you would associate with Hawaii’s Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Volume one of the Trigun manga starts off with fast paced action that seldom gives the reader a chance to breathe. Things kick off with Vash fending off a group of desperados with nothing more than a toy sucker gun (he explains that using a real pistol is too expensive, as the cost of one bullet could be better spent on a stack of pancakes.) When word gets out that Vash is in the area the entire town decides to join forces to try to capture him. The poor folks are desperate for a piece of the sixty billion reward, as their town’s power plant is in urgent need of maintenance that they can ill afford.

The resultant chase is rather comical with Vash pulling off funny faces and making amusing quips as the populace unsuccessfully tries to nab him. Things get more serious however with the arrival of a giant cyborg that has a rocket punch that would put Mazinger Z to shame. After that battle the story switches to Vash taking a part-time job working as a guard aboard a Sand Steamer (basically a humongous locomotive used to traverse the expansive desert that separates towns.) As you may have gathered, trouble has a way of finding Vash and his hopes for a peaceful trip are dashed when the infamous Badlands Gang hijack the train.

I have a soft spot for Trigun as the anime adaptation was one of the first shows I bought back when I first decided to build up a collection of Japanese cartoons. At the time the series was hugely popular as it was being aired on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. As a fan of the anime I have finally decided to begin reading the written source material, eager to see how the story will differ. I really love the series’ style, which would best be described as a sci-fi western. Trigun takes place on a desert world complete with saloons, gun totting outlaws and ten gallon hats, but mixed with the cowboy setting are remnants of the advanced technology that got the humans there in the first place.

The comic is a good read if you enjoy action with a good dose of comedy. Intermixed with the exciting gunfights is plentiful slapstick courtesy of Vash’s goofy personality. There are also some laughs to be had at the expense of the two ladies who have the unenviable task of following Vash on his adventures. Hired by the Bernardelli Insurance group, their mission is to keep Vash’s rampages in check as the resultant damages are costing their company dear. Good luck with that girls. I don’t fancy your chances of quelling the wrecking potential associated with the book’s protagonist who in certain parts is better known as “the humanoid typhoon.”

Overall I think volume one of the Trigun manga is a decent start to the series. For the most part it follows what I have previously seen in the anime, although the events play out in a slightly different order. Some filler from the cartoon has been excised, although to be honest I miss those episodes as they did a good job of keeping you guessing on whether the main character we are following is the real Vash. One couldn’t help but speculate if the protagonist was an imposter given how he appeared to be a buffoon who’d win via sheer luck as opposed to skill with a gun. One area I would have to penalize the manga on would have to be the quality of the artwork. It’s so sketchy that at times it is hard to tell exactly what is going on. Hopefully things will improve in that regard in the later installments.

Review of Gantz (Vol 4)

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Gantz volume four collects chapters thirty-five to forty six of Hiroya Oku’s ongoing manga comic book. The series follows the exploits of resurrected high schoolers Kei, Kato and Kishimoto who are forced by the spherical entity known as Gantz to hunt down aliens who are secretly residing on Earth. To assist the trio, with their extra terrestrial busting endeavors, Gantz provides them with an assortment of weapons and skintight costumes that augment their physical prowess… as well as flattering the series’ well-endowed ladies. This fourth volume sees the three unwilling participants take part in their second alien hunt joined by the sadistic middle-schooler Nishi, a group of unfriendly bikers, a crybaby youngster and the child’s doting grandmother – not exactly the allies you would want in a life or death struggle.

The book starts right where volume three left off with Kei in a tense face to face showdown with the current hunt’s target known as the Tanaka alien. Kei is at a severe disadvantage given how he left his combat gimp suit at home, but he thankfully manages to escape the encounter unscathed, as the mechanical Tanaka alien doesn’t appear to be hostile. The Tanaka alien’s pacifist ways don’t last long though as Nishi angers it by inadvertently squishing one of the small birds marching behind the automaton. The resulting battle shows that the Tanaka alien is no pushover. Despite being a veteran of Gantz’s hunts, Nishi struggles to cope with the avian loving robot as it can see through his cloaking device as well as being extremely nimble, rendering the time delay blaster Nishi wields ineffective.

Eventually the group is able to subdue the Tanaka alien, but not without first suffering a fatality. Any hopes that the ordeal would end, with the Tanaka alien’s defeat, are short lived when the party discovers that there are several more Tanakas roaming around town, which need to be eradicated within Gantz’s strict one-hour time limit. The subsequent clashes between the aliens and hunters deliver on the gory action that fans of the series have come to expect whilst the cliffhanger finale will have readers clamoring for the next volume eager to see what happens next. It ends pretty much as it started with the poor unarmed Kei finding himself in yet another tight squeeze, after stumbling into a building packed with aliens who are eager to avenge their fallen brethren.

After the slower paced third volume, book four of Gantz reverts back to the format of the first two installments. The pages are packed with visceral action interspaced with fan service shots of Kishimoto in various states of undress. Those seeking dialogue and character development will leave disappointed, but those thirsting for blood and guts will be satisfied by the manner in which the Tanaka aliens emit a high-pitched screech that can burst eyeballs. Although it’s fun while it lasts I much prefer wordier comics as you end up getting more bang for your buck. The artwork does a good job of conveying the action, but with some pages only displaying two picture panels and a scant amount of text it’s possible to read through the entire book in no time at all.

The rapid pace of the narrative can be a hindrance as there is no respite to dwell on what is happening. There’s little impact to the gruesome deaths the humans suffer, as you aren’t given enough time to get to know the characters. Overall I think the anime adaptation handled the subject matter much better. If you are familiar with the cartoon you may want to save your cash and skip ahead to the later volumes which were not animated. By the looks of it you won’t be missing out on much as the anime seems to have covered the events of these early chapters verbatim, with the lack of surprises possibly explaining why the series isn’t wowing me as much as it has other readers.

Review of Gantz (Vol 3)

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Gantz is an ongoing manga comic book, created by artist Hiroya Oku, which has appeared in the pages of Weekly Young Jump magazine since July 2000. The book’s popularity has seen the series get adapted into an excellent twenty-six-episode anime as well as two live action movies. Translated into English by publisher Dark Horse Comics, volume three which I am reviewing today contains chapters twenty three to thirty four of the continuing tale of a mysterious black sphere known as Gantz, that resurrects recently deceased humans and forces them to terminate/capture various aliens dwelling on Earth.

After two action packed editions, chronicling the battle between the revived humans and onion aliens, this volume slows things down by focusing on the three main characters return to their regular daily lives. Kei for example sees himself back in school after the eventful night that saw him get run over by a train and fight against a muscular clawed extraterrestrial. Unfortunately for Gantz’s protagonist violence has a knack for finding him, even within the confines of an educational institution. Kei comes to the attention of a group of bullies who try to extort money from the unlucky high schooler. Unable to cough up the dough, Kei is forced to confront the group’s leader who is infamous for ripping out the teeth of his enemies. The ordeal proves to Kei that humans can be just as scary as the monsters Gantz has previously pitted him against.

Trouble with bullies isn’t a problem exclusive to Kei as shown in the following chapters focusing on Kei’s childhood pal Kato. Here we get a glimpse of his hard life were he attends a rough school. Kato, the gentle giant, is seen as a hero by the nerds he befriends as he protects them from the torments of the delinquents that study there. Frustrated by Kato’s geek body-guarding the bullies plot to ambush him after class. What’s interesting about the story is that it shows, when push comes to shove, that Kato isn’t the pacifist he appeared to be in the first book. This is evidenced by the manner in which he preemptively attacks the group’s ringleader, in a toilet cubicle, after learning of their plan.

Perhaps the most engaging storyline in volume three revolves around Kishimoto, who we learned at the end of book two is a clone Gantz mistakenly created. Gantz normally resurrects deceased humans, but the original Kishimoto survived her suicide attempt meaning that there are now two of them wandering the Earth. The doppelganger we have been following obviously cannot return to her home and is therefore forced to wander the streets before eventually settling in with Kei (who like most manga teens lives home alone… I guess Japan is full of negligent parents.) Kei who is infatuated with the busty lass tries his best to hook up with Kishimoto during their cohabitation, but his awkward romantic advances get spurned when she reveals that she has the hots for Kato! Those upcoming alien hunts are sure to get even more interesting now that a love triangle has been thrown into the mix.

I have to say that I enjoyed this book more that the preceding two volumes as it gave us some badly needed character development that was sorely lacking in the opening twenty-two chapters. Readers who enjoy Gantz for the gory action may be disappointed by this installment, but they shouldn’t have to wait too long for things to pick up as the book ends with Kei and chums getting summoned by Gantz for another alien hunt. Although volume three may be lacking in action it certainly hasn’t done away with the needless nudity that plagued the first two books. Gantz’s artist clearly has a thing for well-endowed ladies as that majority of the chapter covers have Kishimoto posing in her birthday suit. This wouldn’t be too bad, but there’s something off in the way in which Oku draws her face in certain pictures. Evidently when drawing the female form he places more attention on the features below the neck!