The years in which the animation studio Manglobe focused on creating titles originally conceived as anime series, such as Samurai Champloo or Michiko and Hatchin, are mostly a thing of the past. With the notable exception of the amazing yet highly polarizing Samurai Flamenco, Manglobe’s output in recent years has been adapting pre-existing source material, such as manga or visual/light novels, to anime. Such is the status quo for the anime industry. Fans of the original source material expect the anime to adhere closely to it with minimal to no deviations, and Gangsta. meets these expectations for better or for worse.
Gangsta. is adapted mostly verbatim from the bestselling ongoing manga series being released in English courtesy of Viz Media. In the vaguely Sicilian-like town of Ergastulum (Latin for “slave prison”), two “Handymen” mercenaries are doing odd jobs for the various mob families or the cops. Despite having one eye, talkative blond-haired Worick’s handy with pistols. Black-haired eagle-eyed Nicolas uses a katana as his weapon of choice and is mostly silent due to the fact that he’s deaf.
What’s more, he’s a “Tag,” since in this world nothing spells trouble and relegates you to second-class citizenship more than wearing dog tags. (“Just take them off and nobody will know”? QUIET, YOU.) Also known as “Twilights” despite their lack of sparkling, Tags result from drug use that grants inhuman strength and agility at the expense of shortened life expectancy. It’s unclear how much shorter, considering both Worick and Nic are in their mid-30s—downright OLD for anime protagonists!—and don’t look any worse off for it what with their rippling muscles, handsome faces and … wait a second, what kind of show is this?
Outgoing blond guy plus an introverted brunette guy who are such good friends that they live together and share a tragic bond forged in their childhoods? Lingering shots of them getting dressed, with extensive focus on their detailed and strangely large hands? Sure enough, the author is a lady known only as “Kohske,” and while Gangsta. is her first ongoing series, she’s got a fair share of amateur-produced BL (“boys love”) under her belt. The world is crafted to encourage fans in this regard, and because the anime follows the manga so closely, now there aren’t word balloons to cover up the fact that these guys wear their underwear real low.
Consider Worick. He’s a formerly rich kid turned mercenary whose “main job” is that he’s a high-end male prostitute employed by rich, attractive married women who swoon for him despite his missing eye and ultra-tacky tribal tattoo that covers his shoulders (it matches Nic’s!). Worick’s been having sex with grown women since he was 13 and continues to do so despite the fact that he gets paid to courier drugs and carry out assassinations. Common logic dictates that there is no need for a guy like this to turn tricks unless he wants to, but the series goes out of its way to convey that Worick does NOT enjoy having sex with all these ladies and is instead constantly thinking about his “good friend” Nicolas, who we quickly learn is the one who killed his parents, took his eye, and literally raids his closet. YOU ARE NOT FOOLING ANYBODY WITH ALL THESE CONSPICIOUS PINUPS OF STRIPPERS IN YOUR HOME, MR. YAOI MITTS.
Despite being a seinen manga, the audience self-insert for Gangsta. is a beautiful dark-skinned woman with colossal boobs and an ample posterior. Alex is a former street prostitute whose new job is to answer the Handymen’s phone and be the vector by which we learn about the oddities of the setting, such as the organized crime families, the nature of Nicolas and the “Tags,” and the drugs that lead to their creation. If you ask me, she’s also there to provide a plausible smokescreen/beard as to what’s obviously going on in that apartment when the cameras aren’t rolling, though most instances in which our heroes express being attracted to her have been removed from the anime. Alex is potentially interesting, as her forlorn eyes betray the very rough life she’s lived and we get glimpses of her struggles with trying to cope with trauma, but she’s not the narrative focus despite featuring prominently in the opening.
The visuals and music of the opening credits sequence grab your attention and make you think you’re in for a stylish action anime. But despite some standout moments, Gangsta.’s shootouts and swordfights lack the consistency of quality as seen in Black Lagoon or Samurai Champloo; the first really great animation cuts aren’t until Episode 5. The real hook of this series isn’t action, but atmosphere: the city streets, the back alleys, and a criminal underworld just barely out of sight.
Care is given to the little details. Those detailed hands make it so Nicolas can be animated communicating in accurate Japanese Sign Language. People aren’t wearing the same clothes every day, as is typical for anime. Like many Manglobe titles of the past, the European-style setting, non-Japanese character names, and prevalence of English-language text make this more easily accessible to newer anime fans; you don’t need to know anything about Japanese cultural norms to understand this world.
That’s actually somewhat risky, though. Strong art design may bring potentially new fans in, but if the characters and plot fail to deliver then you’ve done more damage to the image of “anime” than if you’d made something off-putting at a glance. Director Shuko Murase’s previous works such as Witch Hunter Robin or Ergo Proxy had artwork and environments more compelling than the characters inhabiting them or the plotlines that emerged.
There’s potential in Gangsta.—you want to see more, to find out more—but with the manga still ongoing and only 12 episodes currently planned for the anime, it’s unknown whether we’ll see that potential fully realized. That’s just how it goes with
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