Gangsta – 04

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This is grown-up anime, in every sense of the word.

At this stage I’m about ready to call Gangsta the best new show of the summer, though Ushio to Tora and Akagami no Shirayukihime aren’t too far back.  There’s just a maturity to this series that sets it apart.  In the obvious sense, it’s a series with an almost entirely adult cast, rough-hewn and focused on the cold, dark corners of the soul.  But just as much, it’s the maturity of the storytelling itself that impresses me.  This is a series helmed by experienced and seasoned people, and it’s really reflected in what’s on our screens.

One thing that really impresses me with Gangsta is that it doesn’t feel the need to try too hard to impress or educate the audience.  When you have a director like Murase Shukou and a writer like Inotsume Shinich (Akatsuki no Yona), the confidence borne of experience comes through.  So much of Gangsta is left unsaid – so much character development, so much exposition.  Murase and Inotsume trust the audience to pay attention – to watch the faces of the characters, to hear the real meaning behind their words, and to start to put the pieces together in their minds.  Maybe that trust is misplaced, I don’t know, but it’s certainly a refreshing change from what we normally see in anime.

Almost from the start, we’ve been given teasing glimpses into Worick and Nic’s past, both directly and indirectly.  The picture that’s emerged is that of an almost paternal relationship hat’s built up between this fucked-up wasteland of a town and those two.  We see genuine affection in the gruff interactions between the Handymen and people like Captain Chad, Big Mama and Daniel Monroe. These are not saints by any means – a dirty cop, a pimp, a mobster – but then, Nic and Worick themselves are hired killers (and one of them is a gigolo).

I think there’s something symbolic and significant in the way these hard and ruthless people looked after these two outcast youths – it says a lot about the nature of Ergastulum and of Gangsta itself.  The kernels of humanity that exist amongst the despair – that’s what this story is all about.  We still don’t know everything about how all this came to pass, but we know more than we did: Nic came to know Worick (then known as Wallace) when he joined his father Gaston (Oohata Shintarou) as bodyguards to the Arcangelo family – wealthy at least, and probably criminal.  Young Wallace was clearly a problem child, the subject of whispers among the staff and very much a loner.

It was obvious when Murase Ayumu and Hanae Natsuki were cast as the young Wallace and Nic respectively that this was going to be an important story element.  Again, we’re left to infer much from what we see.  It’s clear enough that Wallace was insecure about his role in the family and perhaps genuinely fearful about whether they even valued his life.  It seems likely that both the young Wallace and Nic suffered physical abuse.  Though Wallace was initially imperious towards Nic and considered him defective because of his deafness, it seems likely the two boys formed a bond as outcasts, though just how that connected to the family being massacred is still unclear.

One other thing we find out about Worick is that he has an eidetic memory (or something more mysterious), which is a valuable resource for Captain Chad.  Chad uses Worick to help identify the ruined and dismembered bodies which turned up in a warehouse, which turns out to be the work of another A/O level dogtag (Yoshino Hiroyuki), whose skater-kid appearance belies his ferocity.  He’s been hired as a weapon against Daniel, presumably by a rival gang.  While it’s obvious that Worick and Nic feel personal reasons to answer Monroe’s call for assistance, it’s also obvious that Chad wants Monroe protected too – clearly these are people with a history of working together.

Also scattered throughout the episode are more breadcrumbs – the “East-West War of Unification”, which was the impetus for the creation of the drug Celebrer which made dogtgs like Nic a reality.  A mention of “Veronica”, someone who once lived with Worick and Nic and apparently didn’t make it out in time (might she have been the twilight bedridden at Big Mama’s whorehouse – the one Nic was so concerned over)?  They’re more pieces for us to slot into place – but the bigger picture still has gaps we can only fill in with our imaginations.  And damn, that’s a refreshing way to go about telling a story.

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  1. P

    I really like your treatment of this series in your reviews. I agree with you on liking how they're unfolding the backstories, whatever happens to these characters later down the road is really gonna resonate. Bringing up that Alex is clearly not ok with every that has happened to her was also a nice touch and Boss Munroe is pretty badass…

  2. Thank you Passa – very nice of you to say. It's a fun show to blog because it's so subtle and layered.

  3. E

    I enjoyed the flashbacks most this episode I think. Those were fascinating, with some very nicely delivered exposition. It's interesting that after they grew up there has been a kind of role reversal in that Nic now seems more like the leader of the gang. So far the show hasn't been as dark as what I've heard but I'm sure they'll up the ante soon.

  4. D

    I appreciate this show not just a throwback to what anime looked and felt like but also as something that is not afraid to really challenge the audience. In recent years I've been watching less and less anime in no small part due to the fact that once the end credits for an episode start rolling, the show and it's issues are instantly wiped from my mind. Nothing leaves a lasting impression or tries to make me analyze and think about it. Gangsta – for me at least – feels different and is placed deeply in my mind long after I've finished with any given episode. Not because the show is bogged down with convoluted complexities or anything like that, but rather because it feels like I'm being treated as a thinking adult instead of a starry-eyed otaku desperately waiting for the next blushing face or a carefully measure piece of spoonfed exposition.

    The grand plot doesn't quite spark my interest just yet and the world the show is setting up doesn't seem quite alive so far, but the characters compensate for all of that and then some. Interesting, complex, fun and colorful without becoming cliches or caricatures of themselves. I didn't even realize how much I missed "old" anime untill the first episode of Gangsta game out. And I'm damn glad it did.

  5. e

    Can't really comment on filling the gaps for obvious reasons but I think they've handled the clues about the benriya duo's past pretty well so far. And by God I feel like hugging their kid selves and feed them lots :,>
    That said for all the shades of grey displayed by the cast Mr Monroe as seen in this episode is the one coming off as especially callous – using an agonizing man as a living chair, making those little racist comments about Twilights and the whole 'he's useless but as meat shield he's useful' thing about the very Twilight working for him. Uttered to the the poor Delico Twilight guy's face to boot. It's just as he doesn't care about anyone but himself at all whereas basically everyone else of consequence in the present so far has displayed at least some shreds of humanity. And he supposedly protected Worick and Nic, the latter being a Twilight? Hmmmm -. This old Danny boy stinks in a class of his own…

  6. s

    sigh..gangsta has been delayed till sunday

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