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.