Gonzo: Style over substance and messed up manga adaptations
When we think of Studio Gonzo, what comes to mind? Inevitably it seems to be CG bullet time, ugly and unnecessary mecha, inconsistent production values and a complete and utter inability to properly adapt a manga series without losing what made it appealing in the first place. Is the studio properly deserving of this reputation, or is it an impression built up by a few failures? The only way to find out is to take a closer look at their work.
It should be no secret that I love Last Exile. I’ll admit it wasn’t perfect- the ending left a little to be desired and I desperately wanted to spend more time in the series’ world, but what it did offer us is generally nothing short of excellent. With its likable characters, interesting story, high speed vanship sequences and incredible attention to detail, Last Exile stands head and shoulders above the rest. tj han claims that Last Exile is the bible, and I am inclined to agree.
Memorable moments: The visit to the Guild, any aerial battle.
Although it took many liberties with the original material, Gankutsuou’s unique art style and absorbing art style ensured that it was still able to emerge as a rare and powerful success for Gonzo. Despite all their other failures at marrying visuals and story, this was the one time when the studio proved that they could combine an aesthetically pleasing setting with a sound plot to create an engaging tale of intrigue and revenge.
Memorable moments: “Mesdames, Messieurs, bon soir…”
Saikano has long been the subject of mixed opinions- for some viewers the lack of detail given to the back story and the amount of tears shed was simply too much, but for those of us who enjoyed it, it was a powerful and moving series. Less a tale of war than that of a love story set against the backdrop of war and various related circumstances, Saikano is able to expertly wring emotion from any viewer who lets themselves be caught up in its world.
Memorable moments: too many to list.
Aside from the novelty of centring on a circus, Kaleido Star can easily be accused of following standard story conventions a little too closely, but even so, that does not prevent it from being an enjoyable experience. Much like Love GetChu (albeit a superior version of that series), it may be predictable, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Memorable moments: realising that the trapeze looks pretty terrifying.
Full Metal Panic
Since ADV managed to create the impression that Full Metal Panic was a series you absolutely had to watch, I went into it expecting something in the way of quality, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t really get into it. There were moments when it was entertaining, but with its lack of attention to the more mysterious elements such as the Whispered, and the inclusion of the world’s most boring mecha and combat scenes ensured that FMP would not prosper until it got into KyoAni’s hands. Gauron’s continual appearances were also cause for annoyance.
Memorable moments: Tessa learning to pilot a mecha.
Brightly coloured character designs and nuns with guns- it seemed like a recipe for success, but unfortunately the result was far more hit and miss. For every episode that was actually worthwhile, there seemed to be an equal number of utterly pointless instalments where nothing really happened, or what did happen was never developed well enough to engage the viewer. A failed opportunity that ultimately gave us some nice visuals, but little else.
Memorable moments: Young Rosette and Joshua finding Chrono.
I was initially going to class Samurai 7 as a miss, but since there were stretches of the story when it was actually quite enjoyable, I decided to upgrade it. Despite the dubious decision to transform content intended for a two hour film into a twenty-six episode series (not to mention adding mecha in the process), Samurai 7 does manage to hit the mark on occasion, even if every good scene is matched by either a dull or a laughably bad one (just think of “oh, and by the way, my previously unmentioned wife was captured by the Nobuseri”).
Memorable moments: The mecha bandits getting cut to pieces, Kanbe’s aerial rescue of Kirara.
Although it cannot be said to particularly good, Peacemaker slides into the neutral category by virtue of its sheer inoffensive mediocrity. There’s very little about it that marks it as good, but neither is there any reason to point it out as an example of awfulness- it is simply something you watch to pass the time and then promptly forget about. Perhaps in that way it perfect defines the concept of neutral, since it leaves no long-lasting impressions.
Memorable moments: There are one or two, actually, with the most notable one being the torture of poor Ayu.
Unlike practically everyone else, I’m not too enthused with the Hellsing franchise as a whole, and so Gonzo’s lacklustre adaptation could only make it seem even worse. After a solid enough start, the series quickly trudged downhill into the realms of sheer boredom, proving a struggle to watch as various insipid evils showed up and were easily dispatched by God Mode Alucard.
Despite the potential exuded by the trailer, Kiddy Grade proved to be one of these series that was little more than a sheer disappointment from start to finish, After a slow start filled with lacklustre standalone episodes, Kiddy Grade tried to pick up the pace with the unfolding mystery we’d all been waiting for, but promptly blew it by failing to explain anything satisfactorily, sidelining the more interesting supporting characters and ending with an utterly pointless final arc that brought into question the purpose of the entire series. I tried my utmost to like it, but in the end I was clinging more to my vision of what I wanted the series to be than what it actually was.
With my reason for watching Gad Guard being as flimsy as the fact that I enjoyed Dai-Guard and the title sounded similar, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much from it- and indeed, it had very little to deliver. With its bland characters, childish character designs, and unimaginative location names like “Night Town” and “Gold Town”, Gad Guard was never destined to amount to much, with even its attempts at a more meaningful plot ultimately going nowhere.
Despite its notoriety, Gantz was never a series I could get on with- in fact, in due course I will be writing a full rant for it. Although the gratuitous violence and sexual overtones have won over a certain breed of fan, for the rest of us it plays out more like an adolescent boy’s wet dream- big guns, big breasts and a story that ultimately doesn’t seem to have much point. Worse yet, the series is hideously slow paced, to the point where you can only wince in pain as our heroes discover yet another incredibly ugly and hideous alien that has to be defeated before their time limit is up.
I approached Burst Angel with the lowest of expectations, but still it managed to somehow produce something worse than anticipated. Even judged by the standards of light entertainment, Burst Angel is throwaway fluff of the highest order, with horribly bland and one-dimensional characters and a plot that fails to go anywhere until it ultimately boils down to a battle against the world’s most generic final boss (I defy even fans of the show to tell me what his name is off the top of their heads). Many people claim it is worthy for the presence of Jo alone, but I’m afraid even she isn’t enough to save Burst Angel from the ‘Miss’ category.
Although I watched only a single episode of the Black Cat anime, those twenty-five minutes were enough to persuade me not to pursue any more. Featuring a dull plot about a politician named Lib Tyrant (it still amuses me to wonder why anyone would vote for someone with such a name), Black Cat proved to be a turn-off from the start.
Welcome to the NHK
Even in the days when I was enjoying the NHK manga, I was wary about how Gonzo would handle this once darkly amusing series, and it turned out I was right to take that attitude. In the studio’s hands, the series turned into a mixture of tediously drawn out monotony and dango-fed insanity, neither of which proved much of a substitute for actual entertainment. And although I have mentioned this at least twice before, the fact that they messed up the ‘ultimate moe’ scene can never be forgiven, since that was pure hilarity in manga form.
Another ‘miss’ choice sure to inflame the fanboys, Red Garden may have caught the attention of some, but for me it was a procession of sheer boredom. With its ridiculously convoluted storyline and numerous angst-drenched scenes, Red Garden never lived up to its potential, ultimately proving to be an unsatisfying experience.
Another mixture of the generic and the laughably bad, Pumpkin Scissors may have just about made the grade for low impact entertainment, but only for those with extremely forgiving standards. The rest would have to make do with the parody version.
TOO EARLY TO TELL
Bokurano is one of my favourite manga series, and so it was with trepidation that I learned that Gonzo would be handling the anime adaptation- would they turn out a product so poor that it would make me come to dislike even the source material? Fortunately, despite the pacing being a bit on the slow side, the series has been a solid effort that retains the tension of the story’s dramatic reveals. With the manga as yet unfinished, it is clear that the anime will have to come up with its own ending later on, but so far all signs are pointing towards ‘hopeful’.
Romeo X Juliet
It may have impossible hair, flying horses and a complete lack of adherence to the original material, but so far Romeo X Juliet has at least been entertaining. It remains to be seen how it will fare as the series progresses and the inevitable angst builds up, but for now it remains on the watch list.
Be it coming up with their own ideas or adapting the work of others, it cannot be denied that for all their flashy CG tricks and added mecha, Gonzo can’t seem to overcome the key problems of telling a coherent and well paced story. Nonetheless, they have been able to hit the mark on a few occasions, and it is for that very reason that I must keep watching their work- after all, you never know when they might come up with the next Last Exile.