Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I've been following two anime this season based on manga which I've seen, Gantz and Midori no Hibi. Gantz was a violent, amoral, merciless manga about teenagers, punks, and random victims getting naked and splattering guts and brains all over the landscape. Midori no Hibi is a light high-school comedy. Both had a lot of potential, but their track records have been distinctly variable.

Gantz ran up against standards-and-practices in a big way. Wait, you say, the Japanese don't have standards-and-practice departments! Well, in the past that might be so, but there's something like that these days. The Old Wild West of Tokyo television is a thing of the past. The Gantz producers, instead of trying for another venue, or going OAV, tried to suck it up, and edit for the timeslot. Word is that they tried to run the show in prime time, which is a major no-no for the sort of salacious nudity and concentrated viscera that the story demanded.

So, Gantz is edited with a cleaver, chopped into incoherent mush, just barely keeping the exploding heads and bouncing tits off screen, or literally blacked out with digital footwork. The original story isn't particularly complex, intellectual, or elaborate. Still, the show as broadcast is a horrible mess. Footage is missing all over the place, and the extra seconds filled with repetitive dialog and stupid melodramatic foot-dragging. The excisions make hash of the visual flow, and the action is impossible to follow. The original manga was somewhat poky and slow to begin with, but the filmed version exacerbates the problem.

Now, I'm not saying that the problems with Gantz is entirely with the censorship angle. Some of the melodrama and softening can be blamed on the censors, but not all. The Nishi character is a prime example. [Spoiler Warning]< He was a quiet, amoral, vicious predator in the manga. A survivor. Little things here and there in the anime have been tweaked to make him more sympathetic. When he blows the head off of a motorcycle gang punk, it's because the punk intentionally tried to shoot him with one of the toys they were given. In the manga version, the punk accidentally discharges the weapon in his direction. It's *justified* in the anime. Likewise, when he's killed, he's given a flashback for backstory melodrama, to heighten the sympathies of the moment. The point of his death in the manga wasn't that anybody should cry for him - they shouldn't, he was a nasty little bastard - but rather: this is the ultimate survivor. He died just like that, horribly. Experience alone won't save you. You're next, asshole. Get ready to die.[Spoiler Warning]

The character designs and animation also seems to have gone down hill. There are sections of the nineth episode where I was horribly distracted by the bizarre ears on various characters. I started playing "where are they going to be now" with scenes, trying to spot the worst ear-line for each character. I *think* that might be new animation filling in the editing-gaps, but I could be wrong. Anyways, the broadcast version of Gantz is essentially unwatchable, and I'm not at all sure that the unedited version would be any better. Hard to tell, with all this censorship in the way.

Midori no Hibi is a different story. There just wasn't that much to edit in the first place. There's a lot of tits and ass in the show, but the violence is of the cutsey cartoon variety, where all anyone ever gets is a collection of bandages and bruises. The version I saw had the nudity intact, and there's another broadcast version with the nipples painted out, but frankly I can't imagine the show losing much with the edited version. It's fanservice, not meat.

I was really enjoying the show, and I still am. The animated adaptation builds on the manga, and extends the jokes and situations in a way that stays true to the spirit of the story. It's consistently fun, amusing, and honest. It also appears to be accelerating the manga-story in a fashion which seems to point to a foreshortened, thirteen-episode run, instead of the comfortable twenty-six-episode run it could sustain, and deserves. The manga had a third-volume fakeout which looked like it was going to end the story earlier. They're taking that fakeout, and piling a lot of extra revelations and character drama that makes it look like they're going actually end it with that false ending. That's a shame, because it's going to cut out some fun sequences. I rarely say this, but Midori no Hibi deserves a longer run.

No comments: