Gangsta – 02

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Gangsta as a series is a whole lot like Nicolas Brown’s voice.

I really like Gangsta, for a whole myriad of reasons.  It’s yet another throwback series, very much a relic of what anime was like 15 years ago (and I’m old enough to remember).  I’ve said this is a perfect fit for Manglobe’s rough-edged poetical style and it is, but if I had to pick another studio with which it wouldn’t feel remotely out of place it would definitely be Bones.  They’d execute it a little differently, but the overall philosophy of the show would be right at-home with that studio, especially in the era when series like this were a lot more mainstream.

On the whole, I think Gangsta is pretty straightforward about what it is.  This is a hard and brutal portrait of hard and brutal people living in a hard and brutal place.  It isn’t swimming in allegory or symbolism.  It’s a show meant to entertain, and it does so rather splendidly so far.  But somehow it reminds me a great deal of Nic (the true main character it’s now clear, with apologies to Worick).  There’s more here than what we see on the surface, the proverbial hidden depths.  There’s kindness and tragedy beneath the savage and rough exterior.  And that makes both it and he infinitely more interesting to watch.

There are still a lot of mysteries to Gangsta and to Nic, and Alex (“Allie-chan-san” as Worick has come to call her) acts as a sort of wide-eyed audience proxy as they’re slowly unraveled.  Why does Nic take those pills – at far, far above the recommended dose?  Just what is a dogtag, and why is Nic feared so much more than a simple mercenary would be?  Worick gives Allie (and us) some but not all of the answers, and it’s clear there’s something rotten at the highest levels here.  These men (assuming they’re all male) were either created or altered very young to be living weapons, and those tags they wear are meant to warn people just how dangerous those weapons are.

Entering the fray this week are two more important players, the badass Doctor Theo (Mikami Satoshi) and his child nurse Nina (a very well-disguised Yuuki Aoi).  Theo is clearly another denizen of Ergastulum’s grey area (which seems to encompass most of the social strata), a shady operator who runs a ramshackle clinic on the mean streets.  The Benri-ya are called in when he’s being threatened by another dogtag – someone Captain Chad and the cops are clearly unable to handle.  They’ve been trying to bully him into working for them, something he’s quite unwilling to do, and their plan is to use Nina to blackmail him into doing so.

This is a pretty classic “mean streets” sort of premise, no doubt.  But I really like the way it’s executed here, from the matter-of-fact way Worick blows the brains of the three thugs sent to kidnap Nina onwards.  Allie reveals she still has a shred of humanity left in the way she reacts to the shocking violence around her, but also that she’s made of tough stuff.  And Nina’s behavior around Nic reveals that from her perspective, he’s a friend – a kind soul who buys her favorite drink for her and teases her, not someone to be feared.  When Allie asks her why, she patiently explains that Alex must be afraid of Nic because she “doesn’t know about the twilights”.  Obvious foreshadowing noted.

In battle, Nic once again shows himself a badass of the highest order.  The dogtag he fights at Theo’s office is a “B-2”, obviously someone very powerful, but not a match for Nic (who’s an “A-O”) – who allows the match to extend for three minutes only because he wants to play.  This is harsh stuff, and reveals that Nic is much to be feared, and every time he finally speaks and Tsuda Kenjirou works his magic is a gripping and powerful one.  And in the aftermath of the battle, Worick reveals that the fallen dogtag will be “another of Dr, Theo’s experiments” – further evidence that what goes on at the clinic has a very dark side of its own.  And just why did he hand Alex a seemingly blank square of paper?

We’ve obviously only scratched the surface of the ugliness Ergastulum has to offer – the man who was holding B-2’s leash has the makings of a mid-boss at the very least.  And it seems we’re going to be getting an origin story of the Handymen at some point – well-known seiyuu Murase Ayumu and Hanae Natsuki have been cast as the young versions of Worick and Nic (I look forward to hearing Murase try his hand as Suwabe-san’s trademark “Yo!”), and that likely wouldn’t be the case if the roles weren’t somewhat important.  It’s the human side of Gangsta that elevates it above simple pulp for me, and looking into the protagonists past can only add to that.

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  1. A

    Just wondering if anyone is getting the same Black Lagoon vibe as I am? A uniquely corrupt city with a nasty criminal underground, a small group of do-any-kind-of-job mercs, even the OP.

  2. You're not the first person I've seen suggest that. It didn't strike me immediately, but I can see where one would think so.

  3. s

    gangsta gets points for me because of how it fleshes out it's characters while progressing its story. It's got a certain way of doing it without telling you everything. There's also small stuff that i appreciate from the series like the beginning of this ep when that random guy bumps into nic and knocks his dog tags off. The guy sees the tags and instantly fears nic; then when nic picks his tag off the ground, instead of putting them back over his neck, he puts them in his back pocket where they cant be seen. Sorta makes you wonder if Nic feels some type of way about how people view the tagged ones.

  4. K

    I like this anime too much

  5. g

    BTW, Enzo did you watch Gakkou Gurashi? Now that was a sleeper for me! Well, I've known manga has a good reputation but nothing much more. I don't know if this would be easy to blog about, maybe not. But it's interesting.

  6. I did, but… Honestly, not super impressed. I don't want to spoil so it's hard to discuss it, but it just felt like very so-so execution, with a huge amount riding on a gimmick. Honestly – was the first 18 minutes of the episode particularly well-done? I didn't think so. We'll see if it can sustain anything now that it doesn't have "it" to rely on…

  7. T

    It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on Gakkou Gurashi in greater detail, given that your opinion is quite different from many other bloggers, and forumnites.

  8. That's as much detail as I can go into without spoiling, I think. It's not too complicated anyway – I thought it was OK. People love a shock reveal. I get that, but what about the whole 22 minutes? It makes me want to ask "What else you got?" Because as is, I think the appeal here is basically as a change-of-pace for folks who are fans of what the show was pretending to be for 18 minutes.

  9. g

    Well, of course, now everything depends for me, how will look like next episodes. Because using a similar action again and again will be boring and it'll change itself into gimmick. But if I understand correctly it's moe, moe, moe–> something goes south–> mindfuck, right? Hmm, I was enthusiastic but I thought about it some more and now I don't know if this concept can carry the anime for whole 12 episode or more.
    Ok, I won't pollute Gangsta review any more.

  10. K

    I've read the Gakkou Gurashi manga recently and, as I recall, it was not nearly as over-the-top cute and it didn't waste as much time before the "big twist" was revealed. While I enjoyed the manga, I found the anime painful since cute-girls-doing-cute-things doesn't hold my interest and the anime reveled in that far too deeply and for far too long IMO.

    If the tone of the anime aligns itself with the manga from here on out, it may be worth watching as there are some interesting themes explored. I found it to be a bit of an allegory for real life with the message being "Even though the world sucks, if you find some good friends, keep moving forward and find ways to keep your spirits up, life can still be worth living."

  11. B

    Look at their arrest photo it's kinda of telling what Worwick's first arrest offense was (prostitution). So when Nina first saw Alex in the Handymen's apartment, and Alex admonish Worwick to put some clothing on, she naturally figure Alex is another of Worwick's client.

  12. P

    "It's yet another throwback series, very much a relic of what anime was like 15 years ago (and I'm old enough to remember)."

    I used to roll my eyes whenever an anime blogger said this, because even though I'm older anime fan as well I thought it was just nostalgia tinted glasses. I guess sometimes you really don't notice how huge the shift really is till you're watching an anime like this and it sticks out like a sore thumb among the others.
    Not to say, I'm wishing for more anime with grim violence but you get my gist.

    Also, interesting to note that this is one of the hottest shows this season and some of the fansubs are interesting to say the least, like one of them that seems to "flavour" the dialogue a bit much. I guess it's because the legal streams are behind?

  13. Unfortunately it's not one of the hottest when it comes to projected disc sales…

  14. e

    '(…) but also that she's made of touch stuff.' Interesting slip of the pen here.

    In this episode they've shuffled some content around. It works pretty well – and in case of the two creepy shadowy figures at the end it could even be an improvement on the source – but I do hope some of the personal details about the two Handymen's current life we skipped will pop out later on… they're quite funny and telling among other things.
    Funny you mentioned Bones as the very same 'what if?' had crossed my mind last week. On the visual side of things and direction it's a good adaptation and respectful of the spirit of the work so far but for instance when it comes to action sequence a fluider BONES-y animation would be great. The one complaint I have is the bgm music while perfectly fine per se is a tad too loud for me sometimes. But on this front this week's episode was better than the last ^^.
    Plot speculation-wise my mouth is zipped unfortunately. Aw.
    P.S.: gotta love the moment the doctor revealed his syringes arsenal. That mix of scary/cool/humorous in a single shot.

  15. K

    "…Nic (the true main character it's now clear, with apologies to Worick)."

    It's funny but when I read the manga a while back, I was pretty deep into the story before I realized that the focus was a bit unbalanced in Nic's favor. However, I came to the same conclusion as you after only the second episode of the anime. Seems like Worick was just written into the story to be the talker with personality so that Nic can be the stoic badass which is kind of a shame since, as much as I love Nic's character, I think Worick is a compelling character and capable fighter in his own right.

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