When I first started Gangsta, it’s characters and theme’s instantly drew me in and had me invested in what would happen next. Unfortunately it seems the series was bought down towards the end by some real world issues, leaving the show without a satisfying ending and an unlikely chance for a second season (but we can hope).
Gangsta follows the lives of two “Handymen” who take on jobs for both the mob and the police force that no one else either wants to do or can handle. The two, named Worick Arcangelo and Nicolas Brown (Nic), work in the town of Ergastulum, which is packed full of mafia, theives, prostitutes, and corrupt cops. Not too dissimilar from Gotham city, for those familiar with Batman.
This series tackles some very deep themes which are rarely touched on in anime, and probably isn’t safe for younger audiences to watch. Besides the mass violence, which is fairly common in the genre, this series also touches on child abuse and murder, drug addiction, personal disabilities and has a couple of the main cast that are sex workers. And I loved it for doing so, as these themes are normally not touched in many stories.
One big highlight of the show is the great dynamic between the two main characters Worick and Nic. While many series have a cast lead by two main characters, this is the first I’ve seen where one of those characters is deaf. Nic is Worick’s bodyguard and is hearing impaired. He is a “twilight”, a person with superhuman abilities who are often referred to throughout the show as “tags” due to the dog tags they wear that show their rank and power ability. Nic communicates primarily through sign language, but also has incredible eye sight and can read lips well. He has been by Worick’s side since they were both young children as he was a child mercenary hired by Worick’s family to act as a body guard.
Worick on the other hand is a regular human, referred to as “normals”. It is revealed throughout the episodes that he has worked as a gigolo since the age of thirteen, and views it as his side job, after being a handyman. He is the one who took the time to treat Nic like a real person while they grew up and taught him sign language so the two could communicate. While classed as a normal, Worick does have a very interesting perk. He has hyperthymesia which allows him to remember everything he ever looks at, making his memory a vast library of information, which is why the cops of Ergastulum often come to him when they need to identify bodies. Worick only has one good eye and wears an eye patch over his other. It is revealed during the season what happened to the eye and it leads to a powerful moment between Worick and Nic and cements the realisation that all they have in life is each other.
Gangsta when it gets things right, it really gets them right. The characters first and foremost are each well written, designed and have interesting stories to reveal. Those that like their anime dubbed, you’re in luck as Funimation have put out an amazing English track with great performances from the main cast of Ian Sinclair (Worick), Brandon Potter (Nic) and Felecia Angelle (Alex).
The season has a ton of moments that are full of action packed goodness. These fights are well choreographed, animated, stylish and a backed with a fitting sound track that all comes together to make these scenes perfect.
While the overall story of the season is great, it is told in a way that keeps you in the dark at first and will take the time to explain to the viewer down the line, sometimes multiple episodes apart. One of the first instances of this is when the characters start talking about “tags” (the people). They use the term so casually that I almost paused the show to look up what they were talking about, thinking I had missed something important. I hadn’t it was explained what they were later on in the episode. This storytelling mechanic of introducing a concept and explaining it down the line is used multiple times in the series. I don’t mind it’s use sometimes but found myself wishing I wasn’t left in the dark as much here.
The next flaw with Gangsta is that it introduces a massive amount of characters, some that look very similar to each other in a short amount of time. The town has a power struggle lead by 4 different families, each of which have their own crew. I found it difficult at times to keep up with who was who, and “what family or guild are they a part of again?”. This got easier to understand the longer you watched, but in the moment of things happening, I did feel like I needed a big chart of characters at times. This is a small flaw which I felt wouldn’t have been an issue if there were more episodes. But I don’t think we’re going to be lucky enough to get more.
Overwhelmingly, Gangsta’s biggest flaw is that the ending of the season doesn’t feel like an ending at all. All the plot threads are still unresolved, and there was no closure for any of the characters. Kind of like if a roller coaster broke down right at it’s peak. The reason for this isn’t because they wanted to make people upset or make them wait out for more episodes. Unfortunately during the production of the show the studio working on Gangsta, Manglobe filed for bankruptcy and it seems affected the end of the series. Because of that, it will be unlikely we get any more Gangsta anime unless another studio decide to pick it up and finish it off. It felt like the season was ramping up for a big finish in a 13th episode but it never got the chance to be finished resulting in the anime ending at 12 episodes, with the plot still wide open.
The budget restraints of the studio seem to have affected the animation quality at times as well. It is noticeable in quite a few instances in shots that aren’t close ups or key moments that the character detail and drawing quality can get to cringe worthy levels and looks rushed.
At this point the only way to follow the story of Gangsta and see the outcome for the characters will be to pick up a copy of the manga.
Overall I really enjoyed the time I spent watching Gangsta, but I don’t think it’s an absolute ‘must watch’ series. Due to the fact that someone picking up the series won’t get the closure usually expected when you reach the end of a series. Requiring a further purchase of the manga if you want to see how it all wraps up after the events reached in the anime.
Putting that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the well written characters, intense, action packed fight scenes, a well performed Funimation Dub and it taking on darker, more adult themes that don’t normally get touched in many anime.
The Madman release included a number of additional extra’s. Included on the discs are: A Commentary Track for episode 1, Video Commentary for episode 2 featuring Ian Sinclair (Worick), Brandon Potter (Nic) and Felecia Angelle (Alex), Recap Episode 9.5, Clean Opening and Closings, Promo Video’s and trailers for other Madman releases.
A BluRay review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment for the purpose of this review.
All images © Kohske/SHINCHOSHA, GANGSTA. COMMITTEE