It’s not often you see an anime putting its setting into uncharted territory. They are a welcoming addition to the constant routine of anime studios just churning out shows that present a Japanese setting so that the Japanese audience can be easily engaged. With a unique setting backed by and equally unique title, Gangsta, that will at least be a good first impression going into it. What came through my mind when Gangsta was over was how much of a great thrill ride it was, except for the bumpy journey that was part of it.
Make no mistake, Gangsta‘s setting is not the only thing that makes it unique. The characters and subject matter the writers created and produced had a stark, gritty tone to them that were interesting enough to keep me hooked. This type of direction they chose is honestly one of the stronger feats to Gangsta. Another anime that delved into this similar atmosphere was Black Lagoon, however the way Gangsta and Black Lagoon treated their atmosphere are quite different. Black Lagoon was trying to invoke black comedy in its story and characters, while Gangsta’s felt more serious and focused less on humor. I can appreciate both of these types of atmospheres equally if the writers can add substance to them that make them engaging. It’s just unfortunate that Gangsta can’t seem to figure this point out when trying to make a cohesive narrative to compliment its atmosphere.
In the beginning, I was hooked by the story and how well they introduced the characters. The build up was great by the first half of Gangsta to let us get to know our three main protagonists at first so that they can establish a kinship against various mob groups. All of that was nicely handled; until it introduced even more characters. You can say that Gangsta has the big issue of having a story that is the equivalent of a 24 episode anime length, and squeezing it into 12 episodes. It is obvious by the halfway point since we’re introduced to too many plot points that are not expanded upon very well and make the process of figuring it all out frustrating. Characters that are a part of the Twilights, with the exception of Nicolas, are incredibly forgettable and bland from how little of an impression they make besides of the impressive actions sequences they take part in.
The parts where the plot does work are the flashback sequences of Nicolas and Worwick. They give a nice, depressing picture of our two tortured henchmen that adds a nice layer of depth to make us feel sympathetic to the paths that they, unfortunately, had to take in order to survive. There is not any similar treatment for our main female protagonist, Alex. Nevertheless, a torturous backstory for her was not needed since we get a nicely directed psychological distress from her that let us understand the trauma she was/is going through from her past life as a prostitute. Her growth from being in that abusive world to being on stage singing a tearful song to people was interesting to see. Still, with all the positives for the development of our three main characters, that’s all the plot has going for it. What is left is a bunch of half-baked supporting characters and a plot that does not know where its focus is once it reaches the halfway point. Eventually it leads up to an ending that feels like a cheap cliffhanger that makes us wait for a sequel to happen.
Besides their development, the main cast are in-of-themselves relatively charming and great to see. Nicolas being deaf offers an interesting character arc that adds to the unique nature of Gangsta. His banter with Worwick using his sign language feels natural and humorous in many scenarios that are involved with it. Not only with Worwick, but also Alex who tries her best to form a connection with him despite not knowing sign language. My only major concern was how little they expanded upon Alex trying to learn sign language to deepen her relationship with Nicolas, but that could just be for the sequel’s job to make that a reality. Besides his chemistry, Nicolas comes across as mysterious but likable in how he treats the people who are close to him.
Worwick’s troubled life as a gigolo, a male prostitute, is interesting in one episode where they go to a brothel that makes him a vulnerable person than what most people perceive him to be. Yet, despite this, he often comes across as strong-minded and fair in how he deals with various situations that arise. With his sarcastic tongue and the deafness of our other male hero, they form a fascinating duo that can be described as polar opposites working together as friends from their childhood upbringings. Nevertheless, out of the three main roles, my favorite would have to Alex. Not just from her beautiful looks, but how she tries to deal with her trauma after being saved from that tormented life had me hooked to her from beginning to end. Her fascinating growth from the bottom to the top was both engaging and tragically moving to see. If I can nitpick one thing from her, little to no jokes about her boob size. There was one from the store owner character Constance and god help me I needed more of that.
Gangsta’s character designs bear a resemblance to Michiko no Hatchin, since they are both animated by the same studio, Manglobe. In keeping its tradition of stellar character designs, Gangsta is another winner in how distinct the characters look from most anime. The skin tone and facial features give all the characters their unique look. Animation, while cutting corners here and there, is serviceable to the action sequences and momentary talking scenes. What is breathtaking is the art design of the world itself. It adds to the harsh atmosphere it perpetuates from the colorful red blood to the dark, dank alleyways scattered throughout the city.
Gangsta was only a partial disappointment for me. Of course, most of the problems I have could be amended with a sequel, or, god help me,”read the manga if it does not sell enough BDs.” As it stands on its own, this season did not deliver on its story halfway through as much as its technical and main characters had to offer. Despite my grievances with it, the effects of my positives outweigh my perception of Gangsta. I grew attached to the main characters in more ways than one that saved Gangsta for me. When you still want a sequel to an anime to see more of the characters despite not liking the plot, that at least can be something to admire for it.