I’m starting to get that giddy feeling with Gangsta – that one that hits somewhere in the middle of one-cour series when you realize they really are potential masterpieces. Death Parade, Kyousougiga, Uchouten Kazoku, the list goes on over the years – shows that just keep getting better and deeper, offering limitless possibility that they don’t always realize (but sometimes do). Of course the difference between this series and those examples is that they were all originals, and this is an adaptation of an ongoing manga – and that’s obviously a difference that’s hugely important as we look ahead to the final six episodes.
The series that most pops into my head this week in thinking about Gangsta is of course Sarai-ya Goyou, the best anime of 2010 and Manglobe’s seminal achievement. That too was an adaptation of an ongoing manga, and while it fared about as well as any series could in that light, it couldn’t deliver the satisfaction of an original series written to conclude in one cour. Gangsta is forcing its way into the conversation with House of Five Leaves in the pantheon of Manglobe series, but whether it will stay there depends on what the second half of its run offers.
The really subtle, complex and brilliant series out there (especially seinen) almost always compel me to think metaphorically in trying to capture them – as I’m sure you’ve noticed, probably to your dismay. Of all the things I love about Gangsta, it’s the exposition that I find especially transcendent – it really is among the most elegant of any anime I remember. The puzzle is the metaphor I’ve been leaning on, but now I almost feel as if the mythology is a landscape covered in shadow with the sun slowly rising over it, illuminating another nook here and and cranny there every week. It’s so beautifully natural and unforced, our eyes adjusting and the picture we see making perfect sense even as much of it is still obscured. It’s exciting to be an anime fan when you see so many master classes in different types of storytelling – Ushio to Tora, Working, Baby Steps, Gangsta – in just a couple of days.
I really feel as I got Gangsta from the very first episode – this is a story not of a terrible place, but of the struggle of decency and human dignity to survive in a terrible place. All of the main cast are a part of it – Daniel Monroe, a gangster who ends up being a savior for the most oppressed and loathed in Ergastulum. Two boys whose backgrounds couldn’t have been more different finding solace in the other’s friendship when those around them abuse and exploit them. A dirty cop with a soft spot for the ones nobody else cares to protect. Prostitutes, madams, underworld doctors, lost children – all of them somehow manage to cling to their humanity through giving a damn about each other. There’s a dark beauty to it, no question about that.
As bad as Ergastulum is, it appears it’s about to get worse, as a full-on gang war is about to begin. It’s the Corsica family – seemingly headed by a shadowy figure (Umezu Hideyuki) who appear to be behind it. They’re targeting the Cristiano family, allied with Monroe, and the hatred for Twilights seems to be at the root of it. Might they have been at the center of the anti-twilight riots that roiled Ergastulum when Nic and Wallace were children – the losing side in a war, executing a long-plotted revenge?
Monroe is apparently seen as the face of the pro-twilight movement and thus the Corsicans’ main target. And while Monroe is a bit of a mystery man still, we can have no doubt that Worick and Nic view him with genuine familial affection (and maybe even love), and his own men worry that he’s too soft-hearted for what Egastulum has become, and what it will become. And he clearly has an emotional bond with the D-rank Delico (Hashizune Tomohisa), who he scolds not to forget that he’s a human being, too. One senses a much deeper story behind why this low-ranked dogtag, apparently not an especially formidable ally in a fight, is always at Monroe’s side.
As for Nic and Worick, their story has been teased out perhaps most elegantly of all. When a little boy says he “falls down” a lot, the heartbreaking truth is never less than obvious – and both boys rely on this same lie to explain their endless string of bruises and scars. It now seems pretty obvious what really went down at the Arcangelo estate, and if indeed that is the truth I can’t find it in me to blame Worick or Nic for doing what they did. It’s clear why these two are so close all these years later, and why the pain of Nic’s seemingly inevitable fate is so gut-wrenching for Worick to deal with.
As for Ally, she was indeed hallucinating and that figure in the alley was indeed Dr. Theo – the reason being “TBs”, the drug pimps gave their women to keep them docile. Perhaps that blank piece of paper Theo gave her was an attempt to see whether she was indeed seeing what wasn’t there – and if so, I love the fact that the story didn’t give that away until events took us their on their own momentum. She’s another victim of this brutal place, and another who’s found a sort of salvation in the kindness of others. That salvation usually takes the form of very tough love, but in this hell, that’s often the only kind of love that can break through. And that, in a nutshell, seems to be what Gangsta is really all about.