Gigant is the new manga by Hiroya Oku, who is best known for Gantz and Inuyashiki. As a story, it has a pretty unusual premise-- a young filmmaker befriends his favorite porn star, who coincidentally develops the ability to grow to a massive size at will. The concept sounds like it could be played strictly for laughs, but, strangely, Oku takes it completely seriously. The tone of the story is quite solemn and oppressive, in fact, and Oku fills Gigant with hints of a broader sci-fi mythology.
Gigant tells the story of two characters: aspiring teen filmmaker Yoko-Yamada Rei, and adult film actress Chiho Johansson. Rei is something of an otaku, with a bedroom full of action figures, collectibles and DVDs. He spends his days chatting film with his best friend and his nights watching DVDs of his favorite porn actress, the famously busty PaPiCo. PaPiCo, aka Chiho, is a breadwinner, supporting herself, her family and her deadbeat abusive boyfriend. She seems quite proud of the films she makes, even if people tend to judge her for it.
Rei wants to be a filmmaker and even asks a girl he has a crush on to be the female lead in his independent film. When she ultimately bows out because of a jealous boyfriend, Rei is crushed. He soon forgets about that, though, when he learns that PaPiCo is living in his neighborhood. The two wind up striking up a friendship, with Rei hoping for more, but not daring to act on his wishes.
Of course, this is a story about a giant woman, so the story quickly finds a way to turn Chiho into the titular Gigant. Through a chance encounter with a strange old man who may or may not be from the future, Chiho has a bizarre timer bonded to her wrist. When she adds minutes to the timer, she grows to an enormous size. Who the old man is, what his motivations are, we don't know. Suffice to say, by the end of Volume 1 many mysteries are teased, but we'll have to wait for the answers in later volumes.
Gigant is inspired by Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, and it seems to check some similar narrative boxes while doubling down on the sexual themes that were merely suggestive in the original film. Attack is a film that explores fears around female autonomy and sexuality, albeit in a goofy 1950s, William Castle sort of way. Gigant brings its sexual subtext to the forefront.
The various characters within the story are all preoccupied with control over Chiho's body. Chiho's family are happy to have her pay all their bills for them-- but they still call her line of work "disgusting" and say they want her to quit. Her boyfriend is all too happy for Chiho to foot the bill for his room and board, but becomes wildly jealous at the thought of her with other men outside her job. People look at Chiho as a sexual object, rather than a fully formed person, and judge her negatively for it.
Of course, a woman's body is a lot less easy to control when she's 50 feet tall. This is the central anxiety at the heart of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, and this is what Oku is subverting in Gigant. Rather than being frightened at the concept, you want to see Chiho take control of her life and her own body through her new powers-- even as it seems clear that it won't really help her at all, and that these people in her life are incorrigible. If Gigant has one main strength, it's in its sympathetic portrayal of Chiho, and its refusal to see her as only a sex object.
Though it may be too early to say, Gigant seems to have some interesting things to say about the porn industry and its consumers as well. It's uncomfortable seeing an underage kid hanging around a porn performer, desperately hoping that he might get to act out some of his favorite scenes. In many parts of the world, children gain most of their understanding and knowledge of sex through pornography. This isn't a realistic or healthy way to learn about sex, and it seems to be something Oku had on his mind when he created this manga. It will be interesting to see how he continues to approach the subject.
Gigant is a manga with an unusual concept but definitely one that's worth a read. For fans of Gantz or Oku's other works, Gigant will certainly appeal. The story is unpredictable and looks to be going down some truly strange sci-fi channels. For everyone else, the outsize concept is lots of fun, but it's the characters and their dilemmas that will stay with you.
Volume 1 & 2 of Gigant by Hiroya Oku are available in English now from Seven Seas Entertainment.