One of the most memorable features of the original Gangsta manga is the unique art style of writer/artist Kohske, which often feels like a mashup of the quirky designs of Natsume Ono (House of Five Leaves) and the gritty action of Kouta Hirano (Hellsing).
And yet, Gangsta: Cursed is a prequel side-story drawn by a completely different artist! Kamo Syuhei, a first-time solo artist who worked as an assistant under Kohske, is credited as “artist” while Kohske retains her writing credit, but as is common in manga, it’s possible that Kohske’s credit is merely a formality.
Despite Syuhei’s taking the wheel this time around, however, Cursed is remarkably similar to Gangsta proper both in storytelling and art style. Clearly his experience as an assistant helped him learn Kohske’s style, because I’d be hard pressed to tell you the difference between two pages drawn by both artists.
Cursed takes the spotlight off of Gangsta’s main heroes, the “handymen” Nick and Worick, to focus on the origin story of side character Marco, a scarred bodyguard who began his time in the crime-ridden city of Ergastulum as a member of a group called the Second Destroyers. His task: exterminate every genetically modified human (known as Tags) in the city. These events serve as important historical context for the main series, in which conflicts over the rights of Tags comprise a major theme.
What gives this series its initial moral weight is that Marco, who goes by “Spas” in Cursed, doesn’t start as a good guy and, deep down, he knows it. While the action scenes are flashy and full of cool weapons (including monofilament wire and a metal arm), the main characters are committing genocide, not fighting for any kind of justice. Spas’s inner conflict over this fact, along with the images of the city mobilizing to protect Tags from the Hunters, clearly parallels real world campaigns of racial cleansing, but how well this story turns out will hinge on how Syuhei resolves the tension in future volumes. For now, this is a great start and is absolutely on par with some of Gangsta’s most tense and challenging moments.
Unfortunately, Cursed isn’t a great starting point for anybody new to Gangsta, but even if you’re not 100% caught up with the main series
(I know I’m not), it’s pretty easy to pick up. And if you haven’t read Gangsta yet, get on it! It’s a great hardboiled action-drama, full of memorable characters and some heavy themes.
art: Kamo Syuhei