4th December 2017 (DVD Due out on 8th January 2018)
Studio / Publisher
Manglobe / All the Anime
Language / Subtitles
English, Japanese / English
As far as crime dramas go, Gangsta. (Manglobe, dir. Shūkō Murase) is not the best. It has a good premise: a corrupt European city, policed by freelance ‘Handymen’, erupting into gang warfare. It has interesting protagonists: a deaf, steroid-addicted super soldier; a cocky, one-eyed part-time gigolo; and a damaged former prostitute rescued from the streets. Sadly, the anime fails to stretch its setting and characters to their fullest potential, resulting in an uneven experience, punctuated by moments of great promise.
The fictional city of Ergastulum (taken from the name of a Roman building used to house dangerous or disobedient slaves) is populated with crooks, gangs and dirty cops. It is also inhabited by people known as Twilights. With superhuman strength and speed, and skills enhanced by drugs, they suffer not only with shorter lives and disabilities, but also the stigma attached to such an existence. When gang warfare breaks out, and Twilights are hunted and slaughtered, Handymen Nicolas and Worick are called in to help.
Firstly, I must admit that I really like the protagonists. Nicolas Brown (Tsuda Kenjiro) is a Twilight. He is deaf, cold and quiet. He fights with a katana and steals every scene. Despite his cruelty with a blade, he has a wicked sense of humour, and a rather sweet side that rears its head infrequently throughout the series, and offers a welcome reprieve from the violence and bloodshed that seems to follow Nicolas no matter where he goes. His existence is enriched by the symbiotic relationship he shares with his partner in crime-stopping, Worick Arcangelo (Suwabe Junichi). With long blonde hair, an eyepatch, and a life indebted to Nicolas, he adds an air of charisma and an element of danger to the proceedings. He cares deeply for his partner and will stop at nothing to protect him. Their newest affiliate, Alex Benedetto (Noto Mamiko), comes from a life of abuse. She is treated badly as a prostitute, and after the death of her pimp, she comes to work for the Handymen as their secretary, while battling internal trauma and drug addiction.
They make for an interesting trio, but such a short series cannot give them enough time, space, or indeed respect to grow. This is especially true of Alex, who serves initially as a proxy for the audience, though her treatment worsens. Like many anime females, she is drawn with almighty breasts. This is further highlighted by her ubiquitous skimpy outfits. In one episode, a woman grabs Alex’s breast just to see what it feels like. For a series that prides itself so clearly on its mature themes and adult content, and for the most part succeeds in imparting a serious tone, it seems strange to undercut it with childish scenes such as this one. To make matters worse, we know that Alex has suffered sexual abuse in the past, so it seems more than a little disingenuous to further sexualise her for a joke. To Gangsta.’s credit, this is the only moment that stands out to me as truly bizarre, but it’s not easily forgiven.
Beyond the protagonists, we are introduced to a glut of supporting characters. They are incorporated rather well, and they look and act differently enough to be distinct, but in such a short space of time, no one beyond the main three characters has time to develop, and while these secondary characters are nominally interesting, none is notably well-written. On top of this, there is no consistency in the quality of writing. The first episode is a great opener and introduces the characters and themes at a breakneck pace. I would argue that this is the series’ peak; there are some great moments later on, but no full episode is as good as this one.
In terms of aesthetics, the character designs are cool and memorable, and the backgrounds serve their purpose. Quite often, though, characters appear off-model, and the perspective of certain scenes feels a little warped. Every now and again, however, we are treated to a thrilling fight or an otherwise intense scene that is animated brilliantly. The background music, composed by Tsutchie (Samurai Champloo) is nothing special, but I love the opening song, ‘Renegade’ by STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION. In fact, I’d happily admit that this credits sequence is one of my all-time favourites.
Overall, I like Gangsta. quite a bit. I watched it as it aired, and I’m currently reading the manga. Unfortunately, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend the anime. Even if you are able to look beyond some of the more contrived plot developments and lacklustre supporting characters, you may not be able to accept the fact that the anime might never be finished. It ends on a cliff-hanger, and the studio went bankrupt. On top of that, the original manga by Kohske went on hiatus until May 2017. Gangsta. is enjoyable for what it is – an action-heavy drama with interesting themes and characters – but it’s not a good show.