I did a short piece on Manglobe for MAL recently, and it really hammered home for me just how unusual this studio is. I won’t go so far as to say every show they make is a masterpiece by any stretch, but it seems to me that more than any studio I know, they seem to be about art for art’s sake. What’s the business model here, I wonder? How does anyone get by doing nothing but scruffy, difficult and singular series that all seemingly ignore the commercial trends of their era? People talk about the “Manglobe curse” but I’m not so sure that doesn’t miss the point – I don’t think anyone expects these shows to sell in the first place. Which begs an obvious question…
No doubt about it, Gangsta is a series that fits the Manglobe mold as well as any could. It has the “rough around the edges aesthetic” that commenter Passa made reference to in that studio post. It has no hope of selling well on disc, and doesn’t back up a massively popular manga. And it relentlessly challenges the audience by forcing them to find tiny glimmers of light amongst the darkness, and by revealing only small slivers of the complete picture, compelling us to try and fill in the gaps ourselves. I think it’s fucking brilliant, but I sure wouldn’t want to have to try and justify its existence as an anime.
One thing can be said with certainty – the more pieces of the puzzle are revealed, the more the depth of the tragedy that’s playing out here is made clear. Gangsta is the story of the twilights, certainly – of this artificial race, of the indignities they suffer, and of the way they reveal the worst aspects of the human character. Ergastulum is completely defined by the twilights – it’s they and the rift they engender among “normal” humans that drives every aspect of existence in this hellish place.
There are lessons in human history, certainly, if one looks at the twilights as a slave race. We see a sharp divide in Ergatsulum between those who seem driven by the need to take responsibility for what humanity has done and those who want to wipe this chapter away with violence. Dr. Theo is the only doctor in town who synthesizes cheap Celebrer, who treats twilights no questions asked. Monroe and the Cristiano family act as their protectors, and Chad tries to offer some sort of institutional justice from the inside. But it feels now as if they’re fighting a losing battle, slowly being swamped by the forces of hatred who use twilights as weapons against their own kind.
The forces arrayed on both sides are powerful, however. There’s Worick and his hyperthymesia (a real thing), a quality whose full value to whichever side claims him cannot be overestimated. But I think the big card to be played here is “Sir Paulklee” – residing in the “Paulklee Colony” – who I’m assuming is the most powerful twilight ever, and probably by a wide margin. It’s Doug who’s sent to get word to the colony when the anti-twilights brazenly move against the Guild, and he crosses paths with an extremely powerful “Hunter” (of these people we’ve learned only bits and pieces) who disposes of his escorts with horrifying ease.
Some of these Hunters (including Delico’s sister Erica) seem to have been kidnapped from “The Institution” in yet another tragic chapter in Ergastulum history. Was this a research center for twilight exploitation, or an orphanage, or something in-between? We don’t know, but it seems many surviving children after an anti-twilight attack were taken for the express purpose of grooming them as weapons against other twilights.
There’s so much going on here, both in terms of plot and character. and we’re continually only shown a small window into it. There’s the ring that binds Marco and Connie – symbolic of the bonds between humans and dogtags, or something darker? And the book Worick keeps in his desk, capturing every known detail of twilight existence – a reflection of his own obsession with their welfare, or something more sinister? The fact that Guild officers are given names from among the Knights of Arthur’s round table – an affectation, or something more? It’s frustrating never knowing the full story, but it always leaves you wanting more, and it’s that kind of detail that gives color to every corner of this fascinating and troubling picture that Manglobe is painting.