If this week’s episode of Gangsta wasn’t quite as transcendent as its very best have been, it was still awfully good. There are so many layers to this story that it’s hard not to be acutely aware of just how little time we have left – just four episodes. This is the frustration of being an anime fan who loves manga adaptations, and while it’s not a new thing by any means (Kare Kano on line two) it has gotten even worse with the predominance of the one-cour series in recent years. C’est la vie – it’s not as if the manga is finished in any case.
One of the many rare abilities this series possesses is that it can make the scope of the story bigger even as it’s getting more intimate, and that’s very much the case here. Even as we dig deeper into Alex’ past than we ever have before, what we see reveals the nature of the larger story from a new perspective. Alex has been the most passive among the main cast so far, very much a passenger on this ride, but she has a crucial role to play – not just as a catalyst for Nic and Worick’s character arcs, but as an outsider’s perspective on the brutal reality that is Ergastulum.
With Worick and Nic, the duality of perception is between the past and the present, which (especially with the way they’re presented in the anime) exist side-by-side. For Alex, it’s a question of fantasy and reality – though her hallucinations are a product of her past to be sure. And that past is encroaching on her now, as she weans herself off the drugs her pimp gave her and her memories start to trickle back. Everything before Barry might be “a blur”, but her hindsight is startling to clear – and what it most crucially reveals seems to be a younger brother left behind at East Gate.
Is this man that long-lost brother? It seems very likely, though it’s too early to say if that’s why he’s come to Ergastulum (for the first time, if his own words are any judge). What can be said for sure is that anti-twilight terrorism is taking hold in Ergastulum, and that no tag is safe – which is why the local twilight population has been invited to a “soiree” at Bastard, the club apparently owned by the Cristiano family. Nic and Worick are seemingly there to deal with the vigilante attacks they assume will be coming – though Worick has his own reasons for inviting Ally to the party.
This is a complicated situation, but then pretty much everything in Gangsta is complicated. The Cristianos are seemingly the poorest of the four families, their area of control being the flow of Celebrer and their leader a little girl, and they rely on those like Monroe and the Paulklee Guild (and the Benri-ya) to protect them. There’s a slightly surreal feeling to the party scenes, an uncomfortable mix of broad ecchi humor and creeping unease, and it culminates with Alex singing a torch song with full jazz trio backup. Noto Mamiko is certainly a respectable singer, but for me this sequence falls a bit flat until the scenes of Alex’ brother start to flash across the screen, reminding us of just what a lost traveler Ally is.
Again, for me the concept of family is crucial to all this. The literal families we see here are all dysfunctional and broken, while Ergastulum as a whole maintains a fragile peace thanks to the iron fists of a very different sort of families. And what maintains the characters’ sanity and human dignity is the surrogate family relationships they’ve built to replace the families they’re missing – Nic and Worick’s is obvious, and they’re certainly trying to provide that to Alex. But it extends to the likes of Nina and Constance, and we’ve already seen how people like Daniel Monroe, Captain Chad and even Big Mama (ironically named) Georgina developed a sort of parental relationship with the young Handymen.
Surrogate families are no easier – or less complicated – than “real” ones. And what I’m seeing now is that the larger story of Gangsta is really that of the Twilights themselves. Call them humanity’s child, or black-sheep cousin, or younger sibling – they’re our responsibility. And the fate of their race is at the heart of what’s happening here – there are those in Ergastulum trying to take responsibility for what we’ve done and offer them a chance to live their short lives with some dignity, while others view them purely with hatred and wish to wipe them out. It would be too simple to say that Worick and Nic’s complex bond is symbolic of that between humans and twilights in its entirety, but there’s a measure of resonance in the idea – the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And in a family, love and hate can very often exist uncomfortably side by side.