Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gantz vol. 29

"Oh, it's a review of the latest 'Gantz' volume," you're thinking, "Time for Glick to rant even more about the title's downward spiral."In that regard, you're mostly right.The series doesn't really do a whole lot to make the current alien invasion storyline more interesting and even adds in a new complication that's more annoying than anything else.However, mangaka Hiroya Oku manages to make his series' descent a little less steep by focusing on its one worthwhile relationship. Kei and Tae may have seemed like an unlikely couple when they were first put together so many volumes ago.He was a formerly self-absorbed high school kid caught up in a series of alien deathmatches.She was as average a student as you could get in a series like this.Granted, her primary role in this title has been damsel-in-distress, yet most of the title's few scenes of genuine emotion have come from seeing how Kei cares for her.Either in the way he risks going up against a mass murderer who has taken her hostage, or fighting against the other members of his team for her safety.Their re-connection a few volumes back also suggested what could've been a happy ending for the two had Earth not been suddenly attacked by aliens. Now Kei is thrust into the role of protector again as he has to not only take care of Tae, but the other students of his high school who survived the initial attack.To call those other students "redshirts" would be most appropriate, though even the most barely-written of those characters on "Star Trek" were capable of generating more sympathy than these kids here.Oku has demonstrated a very cynical streak when it comes to depicting Japan's youth as uncaring, cruel, and selfish individuals.That continues here as we see most of them concerned with being able to drink beer or read the latest issue of Shonen Jump when they settle down in a high-class hotel for the night.When they do get mercilessly slaughtered, it's hard not to think "good riddance" regarding the outcome of these students. Tae does avoid their fate, only to wind up wandering the streets of Tokyo after Kei is summoned away as he has been before by the Gantz orb (more on that later).Seeing her wandering like that, shell-shocked, is certainly disconcerting though the girl's reunion with her mother is far too brief to have any real impact.It does lead immediately to the most gripping sequence in the volume as Tae is rounded up with a group of other humans in an alien transport and Kei bravely yet futilely tries to catch up with her while swearing his love and promising that he'll find her.You really feel the boy's passion and frustration in the moment and seeing Tae slip farther out of his grasp is as close as this series gets to heartbreaking.Even if I can't really bring myself to care about the fate of humanity in this alien invasion, caring about what happens to Kei and Tae is easy. It's when the volume moves away from the two that things start to go awry.Kei getting summoned away by a Gantz orb?That's happens because a group of humans, who could not look more like douchebags if they tried, have commandeered a few orbs of their own and are now using them to round up the surviving members of the Gantz teams into a fighting force against the aliens.Though this might sound like a good idea, the Douchebags are running it in a "You do what we say or we'll kill you!" fashion and blow up a few people's heads to show that they mean business. This leads to a pitched battle inside the alien mothership where we find out that there's an actual city inside there where the creatures are carrying on without any worries about what's going on outside.Shades of "Macross" aside, this leads to more well-orchestrated slaughter on both sides.Soulless thought the conflict may be, there's no denying that Oku knows how to stage a compelling action scene.Once they return, the Douchebags further illustrate the appropriateness of their nickname by sending the "recruits" back to random areas instead of where they came from -- which leads to the above-mentioned sequence with Kei and Tae. While the Douchebags are apparently acting out of the best interests of humanity in fighting against the aliens, and even capturing one to interrogate for information, they're doing it in such a way as to come off as villains themselves.You could make the standard "ends justify the means" argument, but when one of their members makes the decision to send the recruits back randomly with an evil glint in his eye that argument ceases to hold any water.Maybe they've got really interesting reasons for doing what they're doing.However, after the last several volumes I sincerely doubt that Oku will give them any and that they've been introduced as simply another obstacle for Kei and the other Gantz teams to deal with.That just begs the question of "WHY!?"Did he not think that a goddamn alien invasion was enough for his protagonists to deal with that he had to add some douchebag humans into the mix as well?It's things like this that continue to illustrate the title's ongoing downward slide in quality. So if you haven't started reading "Gantz" yet after all these years, vol. 29 provides yet another reason to stay away.For those of you like me who are in it for the long haul, then this volume at least gives us reason to hope that the road to the end may not be as painful as initially feared. Jason Glick
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