Much like the title suggests, Gangsta deals with the events of a mafia run city called Ergastulum. Mostly we follow Worick and Nicholas, two ‘handymen’ as they take on pretty much any job for a price.
It would be easy to make the case that Gangsta goes for style over substance and without any kind of conclusion to the anime (and pretty much no chance ever of a conclusion) that this is a title to put in the watch if you’re bored list or just move on. Despite one of my pet hates about anime being lack of resolution to so many series, I still found Gangsta a blast to watch and even knowing it doesn’t end it has become one of my go-to rewatch titles when I’m feeling a little bit down.
That doesn’t mean this series is in anyway uplifting. In point of fact, it’s more the kind of thing you watch to remind yourself that maybe you don’t have it that bad. Then again, the series isn’t depressing either because while horrible things happen to the characters at times, none of them seem to really take it too much to heart. And that’s where the argument of style over substance comes in.
There’s a lot of really good ideas in Gangsta and some really interesting characters. The Tags/Twilights/whatever you want to call them are a great concept and as we get to know some of them and see their way of dealing with the cards life dealt them you really get drawn into the struggle that probably would have become a central theme if the show had continued. Gangsta touches on so many ideas and gets into some really serious issues but none of these have the chance to really be developed. It’s almost as though you are standing on clear ice and you can below that there is depth and something really compelling in the lake below but you can’t touch it.
So really, your enjoyment of Gangsta will come entirely from whether you are happy to simply consider the ideas as they are presented and then contemplate them further on your own.
Worick and Nicholas are really entertaining as our main characters. It is nice that we meet these two from an outsiders perspective though (Alex, the prostitute they rescue early on) because their relationship is so established before the time period we’re viewing and without that perspective even the audience would be quite locked out of the nuances that govern their ‘friendship’. It’s difficult to actual say if these two are friends or not given their history and positions. At times it feels like a genuine friendship, at others a partnership of convenience, and others still you feel that there is a massive power imbalance. It’s the back and forth between these states that keeps you watching and wanting to know whether or not they really have found a way beyond the discrimination so inherent in the world they live in. It helps too that both characters are deeply flawed in their own ways and yet equally talented in others. They both bring baggage to the table but they also bring strengths that are necessary for the other to survive. I also like that they don’t try to make these two out to be the knights in shining armour. Sure, comparatively to other characters these two aren’t scum but they certainly don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
Alex is a necessary plot device in the story but as a character she is probably the weakest element in the Gangsta universe. They make some attempts at fleshing her out beyond damsel in distress, hard done by girl who got rolled by the big-bad world, etc. These attempts are okay but mostly she is still just a vehicle for the audience to enter a fairly closed world. Alex wasn’t born in the city and hasn’t been there long so she asks the questions the audience needs answered and gives the other characters a reason to launch into an info-dump. It’s not the most sophisticated way to world build but with limited run-time and a fairly full agenda with the plot it was probably the quickest and least intrusive way to go about it.
Beyond the characters we have the story itself which looks very much at the power balances within the city and plays old mafia families off against new comers, mercenary units against whoever they choose, the police trying to keep up appearances of order, and independents such as the handymen moving through the whole lot and stirring the pot as they pass. While there isn’t a singe, central issue being dealt with in this series and there is no closure, I never really had a problem with that while watching. There was always something happening, some job the characters were dealing with, or some threat that they were gathering information on.
Then we have the action sequences. The fights in this are amazing. The tags being significantly stronger than normal humans (and yet not being supernaturally overpowered) gave us some fantastic clashes. Their individual quirks and disabilities add a unique feel to these fights and the speed and power they bring to bear (not to mention some of the weapons) are just entertaining.
Equally entertaining is the opening theme. It energizes you for each episode and really sets the tone of the world we’re entering. All and all, it is an opening I rarely skip when rewatching the show.
Also, the English dub is really good. I don’t say that very often as normally I either haven’t watched the English dub or I preferred the Japanese, but in this case I’ve watched both and I’d happily watch either one.
Final view: I really enjoy Gangsta but wish it could have been more. If they’d finished the story, explored some of the issues they raised, maybe introduced a few more female characters that didn’t feel like they were tokenistic… But that isn’t what the show is. It’s a great ride for what they give you and a lot of fun while skating across the surface of a lot of the darker sides of human nature. I’d love to know your opinion if you’ve watched Gangsta.