Gantz, by Hiroya Oku. Grade: B
I'd like to comment on Gantz while I have the chance here. I've seen the manga in the bookstores, and recently a dedicated phone book-sized magazine came out collecting roughly the first 1000 pages. Plus there's the live-action movie - I'd read the reviews (which were positive for the actors, but negative for the writing and storyline). I had a few spare minutes in front of the computer and there was nothing new on Spectrum Nexus so I finally decided to start at the beginning and see how things were laid out.
I'll say up front that the artwork is good for this one, although some of the characters look too similar and are hard to tell apart, making it confusing to follow the story at times. It doesn't help that around volume 26 the main character gets cloned and they always wear the same outfits. Having said that, this is a graphic series that shows lots of gore and some sex. It's not for minors, or for anyone easily offended.
Gantz is still running in Weekly Young Jump. The story initially follows Kei and Masaru, two high school students that start out standing on a train platform. Kei is an absolute jerk - self-absorbed and selfish. A homeless drunk falls onto the tracks and Masaru leaps down to help him, calling to Kei to get involved. Turns out that Masaru and Kei used to play together as kids, and Masaru had actually looked up to Kei for his ability to constantly survive hard situations. The drunk is saved but the two students get hit by a train and are killed. They're transported to a secret apartment somewhere in Tokyo by a large black sphere. The sphere is called "Gantz", and it issues a combat suit and weapons to a number of people that were also killed at roughly the same time. The task is to kill specific aliens within a fixed time period. The aliens are worth points. Failure to complete the task in the allotted time costs you all of the points you currently have. Leaving the designated combat zone causes a bomb planted in your brain to explode and you are corpsed permanently. If you're still breathing at the end of the task, no matter how damaged you are, you're returned to the apartment intact. Complete the assignment and you can return to "normal" life until Gantz calls you again at a random time later. Interestingly, you can take your suit and weapons with you if you like - just make sure you remember to suit up before you're summoned again.
(Kei, the main protagonist, is the one in the center.)
Get 100 points and you can select from Gantz's "specials menu", which includes having your memories erased and being able to escape the game; getting a stronger weapon; or being able to resurrect one person from your memories. While most people don't survive their first battle, of those that do most want out. A few, though choose to remain and to power up. A very rare few try to recover corpsed friends. And this is where we get into the drawbacks of this manga. First, there's always newly dead entering the game that demand to know what's going on or refusing to take the dangers seriously. Most of the people in the story are unlikeable jerks so there's little loss if they're killed off, and some resentment if they survive for some reason. Conversely - while the battles are invisible to people still alive, the weapons and fighting can kill bystanders and destroy buildings. Which makes the second half of the series less credible (BIG SPOILER HERE). Turns out that Gantz is mass-produced and there's one in every major city around the world. Meaning that the warriors that have survived to 100 points many times finally get to meet each other when the game changes. And this comes as a big shock to our heroes. Except that if the aliens are really as strong as they're said to be, the buildings being destroyed all over the place should have been a dead giveaway long in advance that New York and Moscow have their own Gantz systems. My complaint is that when the warriors from around the world do start working together, there's just too many of them to be believable. That plus the fact that the best ones are all from Japan. Not likely, but to be expected given the wish-fulfillment element at work here.
I did read all 330+ chapters all the way through, but I found myself skipping over much of the later battles because the artwork is kind of confusing. It is an interesting story concept, which is perfect for a video game. And if you like sex and violence, this is the title for you. Otherwise, there's always "My Little Pony"...