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.

HITS

Last Exile

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.

Gankutsuou
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

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.

Kaleido Star
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.

NEUTRALS

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.

Chrono Crusade
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.

Samurai 7

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.

Peacemaker Kurogane
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.

MISSES

Hellsing
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.

Kiddy Grade
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.

Gad Guard
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.

Gantz
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.

Burst Angel
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.

Black Cat
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.

Red Garden
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.

Pumpkin Scissors
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
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.

Final Thoughts
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.

15 thoughts on “Gonzo: Style over substance and messed up manga adaptations

  1. No VanDread (among others not mentioned)? 😉

    I wrote a mini rant on SaiKano but deleted by accident… all that matters is that you liked it. :p

  2. also missong:

    TOP
    Basilisk…really good show and a manga adaption O.O

    NEUTRAL
    Solty Rei
    Speed Grapher

    otherwise nice list!

    (I haven’t read the N.H.K. manga but the anime is one of my favourites!)

  3. I couldn’t add the ones I haven’t watched…I was warned off Trinity Blood, Speed Grapher and Solty Rei before I even bothered to start them but I’ll probably try Vandread and Basilisk at some point.

  4. Oh GONZO was excellent 7 years ago. Now Bones is far better. Btw, GANTZ is fucking awesome, the manga at least. Wouldn’t say that GONZO did a good job on it though.

    Can’t believe you missed out the godly Gatekeepers and GK 21. Basilisk.. Pumpkin Scissors’s 2nd season (13 onwards) is as good as any anime you’re gonna get.

    Considering how Bokurano is now the best spring anime, thanks to the powerful source material, it’s hard not to appreciate GONZO’s material scouting department.

  5. My wife and I believe Solty Rei to be the best hit made by Gonzo. There are elements only a parent of a child can understand in that series.

    I believe YukiKaze ( OVA series ) to be neutral

  6. Last Exile was nothing short of terrible from the midpoint onwards, SaiKano was drivel from start to end, all of your neutrals are crap, Red Garden was fine up to the point where they needed to invent the ending (end of episode 16), and Pumpkin Scissors was fine (if you want to say that it falls short of the manga, whatever, but screw you and your ‘laughably bad’ when you have SaiKano up in the hits).

    Ragging on Gonzo is old hat. We all know they suck by this point.

  7. vandread 1/2 is extremely bad as well as Gatekeepers and yukikaze is typical style over substance. I think i’ve seen every anime by gonzo and i don’t dislike them! Some shows are really good…(Gankutsuou!!!)
    oh yeah and Last Exile and Saikano really suck! and Kaleido Star is a nice kids show…

  8. I thought Black Cat was enjoyable–a lot of fun if not necessarily “quality”–until the last episode, where Gonzo totally blew it with one of the crappiest, most nonsensical endings ever. After seeing it, my friend and I just sort of looked at each other and wondered if the final episode even belonged to the same series we had been watching. I really hope Bokurano doesn’t meet the same fate; Gonzo seems to struggle with endings (as Last Exile also illustrates, though on the whole it was a great series).

  9. Hey, Who Cares, Last Exile was fantastic. Obviously you missed all the symbolism. Obviously you bipassed the concept that the entire series was like a complicated game of chess. I think that you have to be mentally retarded to dislike LE, as it’s truly one of the last great Anime to come out in the past couple of years. Shame on you for being such an idiot.

    Anyways, your reviews for Gonzo’s anime aren’t half bad. Most of them are dead on, except I think you failed miserably at Red Garden and Gantz.

    A question for you:
    What is your favorite anime of all time?

    Favorites tell a lot about a person and their views on artwork and literature.

  10. I actually found Black Cat to be an excellent genre piece, using all its clichés knowingly and lovingly. Very much like Sousei no Aquarion in that aspect, I’d say. The last episode was gloriously nonsensical; once you get down to it, making sense is completely incidental for these kind of stories.

  11. Thanks for all your comments, especially the flames measured and tactful arguments about differences of opinion 😉

    Mya, I’m loath to name a single favourite when there are various anime series that I love for very different reasons. If I whittled it down to a final four, it would probably be Wolf’s Rain, Kurau, Aria and Honey and Clover (season 1).

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