The December 2015 issue of Otaku USA magazine, on sale now, includes a feature on the Gangsta anime by Daryl Surat. Daryl wrote the feature, I mean, he didn’t single-handedly create Gangsta from nothing. That honor goes to Kohske, whose manga serves as the basis for a show that, despite its boldly punctuated title and penchant for fleet-footed violence, ended up being one of the most honest and sincere anime series of the season.
I had been resisting Gangsta for a while, despite it looking potentially up my alley. It wasn’t until the new issue was looming that I realized I needed to marathon the series, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. While the initial premise of gang families pitted against one another had me expecting either a boring show about criminal politics or a bunch of nonsense action (which wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing), Gangsta looks past its street-dwelling setup to focus on a tight core cast of characters.
Gangsta. wouldn’t have much trouble playing it completely straight without its hook of physically over-powered Twilights that are all ranked by letters and numbers on their dog tags. Also known as Tags, these characters include the likes of Nicolas Brown, the other half of our dual protagonists alongside the not-superpowered-but-still-ripped Worick Arcangelo. Sure, the powers of Twilights allow for some of the anime’s intermittent action scenes, but what’s important here is the complicated connection between Worick and Nicolas. Unlike some folks, I never got the vibe of anything romantic between them other than Kohske having designed them to be generally attractive.
This duo turns into a trio in the first episode when a soon-to-be-recovering prostitute named Alex Benedetto ends up joining Worick and Nicolas. Like the other two, the various hardships of Alex’s past are gradually revealed as the series progresses, and there’s a melancholy to it all that resounds more loudly than any of the shoot-outs or sword fights that take place around it. That could be partially due to the fact that Manglobe’s animation rarely rises to the kind of heights that would make the action sequences memorable or reel-worthy down the line, but there’s more to the character moments than that. This is a rare type of show that co-stars a deaf character and treats him just like anyone else, only drawing attention to the fact that subtitles are required for Japanese audiences to understand the occasional line Nicolas delivers. As Daryl mentions in his feature, the rest of his communication is done through accurate Japanese sign language. As a result of this and many other little details there’s a real sense of history between Nicolas and Worick that doesn’t seem forced or phony.
In the last few episodes the focus shifts toward the various mob families and a group of anti-Twilight hunters who are taking out Tags in rapid succession. A small-scale war is being waged at this point, so things get more violent as we barrel toward a premature climax. I don’t really care too much about most of that, though. I enjoy Gangsta more for its quiet micro-tragedies—accented with excellent music by Tsutchie, who also worked on some of the music for Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo—and the gloomy European back-alley atmosphere of the city known as Ergastulum.
My only major complaint about Gangsta. is a more immediate problem I’m still dealing with as of this writing. I actually had to hop on wikipedia to double check that the adaptation was listed for 12 episodes. Well, all 12 have come and gone, and I’m having a hard time believing that it’s really going to end on that note. Of course, Kohske’s manga is still ongoing, with seven volumes out at the moment, so I guess it might be time to start digging into that. Even if there’s no more anime on the way, this is something I could see doing well in dubbed form on Toonami, and if you haven’t given it a chance yet, do yourself a favor and start streaming the subbed simulcast now.
Gangsta. is available streaming now from FUNimation.