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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Gangsta.


Gangsta.



I only picked up two anime this season, and to be honest, I was not expecting Gangsta. to be one of them - partly because I didn't even know that it existed until it was about four episodes in, and partly because even if I had known, I would have probably said it wasn't my cup of tea. It was the buzz about it on social media that both informed me of it and convinced me to take a look.

Set in the crime-riddled and mob-controlled city of Ergastulum, Gangsta. follows two 'handymen', mercenaries who do odd jobs (some violent, some not) for anyone who can pay, and a local prostitute who they recruit as their secretary. Life in Ergastulum swiftly starts to get more complicated after someone starts targeting and murdering 'Twilights', people with enhanced physical abilities, thus threatening the peace in the city.

Let's start with the big elephant in the room and talk about the ending. I have expressed deep irritation over anime which just stop rather than really end, and Gangsta. might be the worst example of that, with a final episode that doesn't wrap up a single plotline and which lacks any indication that it's even the end of the series - most anime have something, whether it be a shortened opening, a different ending, or even just a card at the end thanking people for watching, but Gangsta.'s final episode had none of those things and, much more importantly, didn't conclude any of its storylines or subplots or even really anything.

I actually had to check multiple times to see that this actually was the ending. It is, and no second series has been announced.

N'aww, so smiley.

So, with that out of the way, let's talk about the series itself. It actually caught my attention surprisingly quickly when I started watching, boasting very smooth and high quality animation, a great soundtrack, and a great voice cast. Perhaps more striking, it has two disabled protagonists whose disabilities aren't magically cured: Nicolas, one of the two handymen, is deaf, and usually communicates through (and is communicated with through) sign language (JSL, to be specific); while Worick, the other handyman, is missing an eye, with all the problems that that suggests.

Which really hammers in how few disabled protagonists there are in television, as they are the only disabled protagonists I've seen in anime in - well, probably several years, and one of only a handful of disabled protagonists I've seen in television this year. So that's nice.

As far as the writing goes, it's all very strong - the large cast of characters (which spans a range of ethnicities and includes a good seven or so strong female characters who are active agents in the plot) are all distinct, engaging, and sympathetic; the plot is intriguing and well thought out; and we're fed exposition about the setting in a way that keeps us informed without dumping twenty minutes of expository monologues onto us.

I like that Ergastulum bank notes just have 'ERGASTULUM COMMON CURRENCY'
written on them.

It falls down, as so many shows do, on the pacing - when it's good, the pacing is sharp and quick, but too often it slows to a leisurely, ambling pace, with important events looming ominously in the distance but taking their sweet time actually arriving. This isn't helped by the inclusion of flashbacks in several episodes: While the flashbacks have some of the best writing of the show, and build on the characters and their backstories in interesting ways, it feels like it would have been better if they'd all been crammed into one episode-long flashback, rather than spread out over several episodes. Flashbacks, after all, are the death of pacing if done wrong, and while they never quite manage to kill the tension of the episodes they're in, they come pretty close a few times.

The large cast of characters (large enough that one episode manages to function perfectly well without either of the handymen in it, although Alex is much in evidence in her role as audience surrogate), while wholly necessary for the plot, doesn't do much for the pacing either, since as the plot progresses they all become more and more integral to it, forcing the writers to split their attentions between more and more disparate groups.

This is less indicative of a romance and more of both of them being in terrible
emotional places at this point.

(I admit, I actually never learned most of the characters' names - I know Worick, Nicolas, Alex, Doug (because of course), and everyone else I would probably just describe with their most prominent characteristics.)

Overall, Gangsta. surprised me with how good it was, and I do hope that a second series of it makes its way to air. Its frankly abysmal ending rules it out from getting Anime of the Year at the next annual Fission Mailure awards, but had it ended on a stronger note, it would definitely have been a contender. I do recommend it, though, and it remains not only the standout anime of this season for me (not that many of the anime this season managed to keep my interest for very long), but one of the standout anime of this year.

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