GANGSTA. – A Show That Lives Up To Its Name! (Anime Review)

Seeing as this is my first time out writing for The Chewns, I thought it might stand me in good stead with the site’s fellow constituents if I started off with something relatively new and fresh and manly in all the right ways.. GANGSTA.

This show has been on my radar for ages because of the voice actor Junichi Suwabe. I’m a huge fan of seiyuus and will usually try to find out the shows that they have coming up and release dates. This was one of the shows on that list and it took a lot of patience to not watch it week by week. I’m one of those people that can’t handle the suspense of waiting from week to week so I’ve learned to collect the season and then watch in its entirety. It sounds like it may be a form of “cheating” in a way because I don’t have to endure the torture that everyone else does in having to wait, but I think it balances itself out because I end up having to avoid the otaku water-cooler, as it were, to avoid hearing/seeing any spoilers for 13 weeks! But I digress.. Let’s take a look at the show itself shall we?

Gangsta charactersThe source material

The stats:

This show falls under a traditional seinen category, including plenty of action, drama, crime and even sex. The manga is currently still ongoing (thank goodness!) and is written by Kohske with 7 volumes and counting having already been written. In addition to the anime adaptation, there have also been audio drama episodes as well as a novel that recently came out. The anime was written by Shinichi Inotsume, directed by Shukou Murase, who has worked on “Samurai Champloo”, “Ergo Proxy” and some of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” series, with music provided by that hip-hop/chillout guru, Tsutchie. Manglobe (the same guys that brought us “Samurai Champloo”, “Karneval” and “Deadman Wonderland”) was the studio in charge – and I say “was” because the company has recently filed for bankruptcy. So for those of us yearning for a season 2, we’ve got  ¥350 million worth of debt to clear before that can happen. It’s a tough time for anime fans when we find out studios like that have had to close shop.. But we can always hope that someone else will take up the GANGSTA. banner in the future…

Manglobe studio works

 Previous works of the crew & studio

The concept:

Nicolas Brown (Nic) and Worick Arcangelo (Ric) live in the city known as Ergastulum, which appears to be modelled on European style cities where there are main roads and back streets. It’s in these back streets that Nic and Worick make their living as mercenaries – guns (or samurai swords) for hire. Within the city, there are 4 main families headed by Daniel Monroe, Loretta Christiano Amodio, Sir Gina Paulkle and Uranos Corica. These 4 families serve to keep order in the town, but from time to time problems arise and people go off on their own and hatch plans to make some cash or just cause general havoc. It’s at times like these when Nic and Ric are brought in to take care of the problems and thus keep the city running like clockwork.

Gangsta Four Fathers
The 4 Heads: Sir Gina Paulkle, Daniel Monroe, Loretta Christiano Amodio & Uranos Corsica

The town itself is also rather special in that it is home to ex-military types known as Taggers or Twilights – people with superior fighting abilities as a result of the use of a drug named Celebrer. The drug comes with a cost though and usually leaves the person affected with some kind of disability or “compensation” as they refer to it. In Nic’s case, his compensation is that he is deaf. For others, it could be stunted growth or some other form. In order to keep from falling ill, these taggers need steady doses of Celebrer and this town is the only place that they can get it. And the people that organise that for them and give them work are the 4 families. Taggers can be hired as bodyguards or can be paid a pretty price to do some work and this is how Nic and Worick first came into contact – Worick being the one that holds the contract with Nic, who was/is Worick’s bodyguard. But one look at the relationship between the two and you would swear that they were more like brothers. Brothers in arms.

Gangsta handymen

Brothers in Arms

The show starts off with the boys, affectionately called the Handymen, being assigned a new job, which is delivered to them by a detective on the police force, Chad Atkins. When red tape gets in the way of the police doing their job, this is when the wheels of justice get greased by the Handymen. While out on the job to take out the trash – a man named Barry Abbott and his crew – they come across Barry’s woman, Alex Benedetto. Although instructed to get rid of everyone involved with Barry, Ric claims Alex as part of their “loot” in the raid against Barry and the boys end up “keeping her” – taking her on as a secretary of sorts who answers the phone and lets them know when they have a job to do. And so starts the association of Alex with the boys as events start to unfurl that set off small chain reactions that ultimately culminate in a maelstrom of violence…
Just another day at the office

The review:

For me, this show was everything I had hoped it would be. It’s been a while since a show of this nature has come out, focussing on organised crime, the mafia, corruption, gun/sword violence, prostitution, drugs and all the trappings of the criminal underworld. It doesn’t hide and try to gloss it over too much because that’s the reality of their world: walking the backstreets and taking care of business, even if it means killing a few people here and there. This honest approach to the violence (where people don’t end up falling into water or just getting wounded by gunfire) is refreshing and has a much greater impact on the viewer. I know I sat there going “ooooh… dude got capped!” which was far more enjoyable than the “safe” alternative. That said, this show is obviously not meant for kids because they’re also pretty upfront about the prostitution angle as well – for both the guys and the ladies…

Gangsta Violence, drugs & prostitution

Violence, drugs & prostitution – part and parcel of life in Ergastulum:

Apart from the pure entertainment value of watching a show of this nature, GANGSTA. brings a level of depth to it by blending past and present together to see how everything has come to work out like this. Each of the characters are well-developed and have distinct personalities, shaped by each of their respective pasts. These pasts are usually dark in nature, but are key elements to understanding the motives behind certain characters, e.g. we see that Worick and Nic are close and that Ric feels protective of Nic, but we only get to understand why that is as the past is slowly revealed. The show has an interesting storyline that has you engage in current situations they face but still keeps in mind that the city is like a living thing – constantly changing and that today’s ally can easily become tomorrow’s enemy. They delve into the past slowly which lets us focus on the present while the history behind the military, the drugs and the history between the various characters slowly comes to light. From this standpoint, I’d say that it’s a well-planned and well-executed story where corruption and organised crime goes hand in hand with upholding the law – crazy contrast and heavy irony. The other aspect of the show that deserves special mention is its use of sign language throughout the show. Due to Nic being deaf, he relies on sign language and lip reading to communicate with others and the fact that this wasn’t something they just brushed under the rug but actually dealt with the realities of being deaf was something I thought really added to the credibility of the show.
Gangsta flashbacks
History dictates the future

If we really want to get technical about the show and look at production itself, this show pays attention to the details, which something I always appreciate. The artwork suits the style and feel of the show where it may seem a bit rough around the edges. There is also the use of colour which I noticed – it’s subtle but it’s there – where a contrast between the “main roads” (light) and the “back alleys” (dark) highlights the difference between the 2 worlds. The music should also get special mention because the OST was provided by Tsutchie. If you’re not clued up on your Japanese music, Tsutchie is a DJ that usually sticks to chillout/lounge/house vibes but the beats are top class. If you’ve ever watched “Samurai Champloo” and loved those tight hip-hop/chillout vibes – that was courtesy of Tsutchie teaming up with Fat Jon and Nujabes. The OP theme is another personal favourite of mine that I tend to hit repeat on when I hear it (“Renegade” by Stereo Dive Foundation) and suits the style of the opening credits well. The opening itself reminds me of the 2nd opening for “Psycho-Pass” actually, with its use of vibrant colour – something I’m rather partial to. And lastly, the seiyuus – the ones that bring it all to life – are people that we know well and have heard in countless other roles before and so they lend their talents to really bring the story together.

Gangsta musicMusic brings colour to this underworld:

Parting shot:

After watching this show and enjoying every moment, for me there was a “take home message” if you will.. At the heart of it all, those who live in the town have to band to together to protect their own. Apart from the crime, violence, prostitution, drugs etc. the essence here is the focus on human connection. Different races, different types of people, partners, lovers, family (both real and in the mafia sense), friends, special relationships.. This is what makes the town  – everyone is interlinked and it’s these connections that give the town its lifeblood and keeps everything flowing. This show has heart and soul, kicks ass, takes names, makes no excuses and is a great example of seinen done right..


Thanks for reading, and if you did enjoy this or have suggestions please comment below, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Let us know what you thought about GANGSTA.
Image credits: Manglobe, Funimation
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This show has heart and soul, kicks ass, takes names, makes no excuses and is a great example of seinen done right…


About thedigitalpen

"If you truly want to escape from everyday life, you've no other choice but to keep evolving. No matter whether you're aiming higher or lower." - Orihara Izaya ("Durarara!!") My escape from everyday life is anime, manga, Japanese music (rock, pop, hip-hop etc.), a bit of gaming and writing about those very same things that bring me so much joy... And the cherry on top? Getting to share those interests with like-minded people.. so if you're reading this, then that means you! Want to see my evolution? Then watch this space!