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.