GATE – 20

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I often groan at GATE episodes that mostly or wholly omit the core gang of Itami & Co., but that’s a bit unfair, knowing that GATE is about more than just one man or one group’s adventures, but about an entire sprawling world of multiple races, political affiliations, and ideologies.

This week may have felt more like a Sherry & Casel spin-off than the GATE I typically like, but it was nonetheless a strong and surprisingly moving episode that gave the current political troubles and Japan’s involvement (or lack of same) a smaller, human scale.

Under Tyuule’s manipulation, Prince Zolzal has passed extraordinary laws and raised a paramilitary force called “Oprichnina” to oppress all pro-peace actors in the Empire. Among those is Senator Casel, who hoped to find safety with Sherry’s family, but are soon set upon by Orpichnina “Cleaners” led by the sniveling Gimlet.

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Sherry leads Casel out of the house, and her parents proceed to burn it down, presumably dying in the process but covering the escape of both their family’s and country’s futures. Of course, Tyuule is on the scene and aware of Sherry and Casel’s movements, and uses her porcine assistant to get the two to “dance for her.” Not sure why Tyuule is micromanaging things to this extent, but I do know her evil smirking is getting old.

Sherry, despite being only twelve years old, doesn’t show her fear as she finds herself out in the world with people after her and an adult senator to protect. She haggles with a villager for food and secures a room at the inn, but the only way they’ll both be safe is if they can reach and gain asylum at the Jade Palace, a territory that is technically Japanese soil by treaty.

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They get to the boundary of the de facto embassy easily enough, but are met by Princess Pina’s knights, who relay the Japanese diplomats are unwilling to harbor political dissidents at this time, thanks to a hard line from the ministry back home that doesn’t want to look weak or further embolden Zolzal by harboring doves. Even Sugawara, whom Sherry is in love with and truly believes she’ll marry someday, won’t let his personal feelings interfere with his diplomatic duties.

The Japanese refusal to accept Casel means as soon as Gimlet arrives with his Cleaners, they arrest the senator and prepare to take Sherry into custody too. It’s hard to watch her come so far, with so much childish faith in her shining Japanese hero, only to be turned away right before the finish line, and into the jaws of those who have already destroyed her family and likely have nothing good planned for her.

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At the same time, while I despised Sugawara as much as he probably despised himself when he refused to act, I also appreciated his duty to his country. People can’t just disobey orders all the time. I thought this would all come to a heartbreaking end, with Gimlet’s grubby mitts all over an increasingly pathetic Sherry screaming for Sugawara’s help.

Turns out, Sugawara couldn’t abandon Sherry to a horrible fate. He orders her brought over to the Japanese side. This obviously led to the desirable outcome of Sherry being safe (in exchange for Sugawara promising to marry her after all when she comes of age), but GATE doesn’t pretend such an action wouldn’t have messy consequences.

There are knots and kinks in this particular fairy tale: Just as Sherry’s parents gave up their lives to get her out, Sugawara may have sacrificed his career and complicated Japan’s position to a potentially disastrous extent to save her. He did something he didn’t have the authority to do. Zolzal and Tyuule wanted nothing more than to stir the shit with Japan, and Sugawara’s heroism did just that.

The Vice Minister, who previously respected his decision as a diplomat while loathing him as a man, is forced to reverse both positions: condemn his actions as a diplomat, but laud him for being a decent man who couldn’t let the screams of a child go unheard.

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GANGSTA. – 04

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Another day in the life of GANGSTAs reveals new details about Worick (formerly Wallace) Arcangelo and his partner (formerly his bodyguard). Notably, Worick wouldn’t make a bad detective, owing to his preternatural talent for memorization. Chad, who’s known these men since they were 17-year-old boys, periodically brings them in to appease the higher-ups, but makes use of Worick’s skills in identifying some suspiciously cleanly carved-up bodies.

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As far as the present-day goings-on, Ally continues to wring her hands over whether to stay or go (knowing the last girl who lived with the Handymen almost died) and one of their clients, Danny Monroe, and his men end up in a spot of trouble with a kukri enthusiast. Those events are punctuated by flashbacks going back to the day Wallace met Nicolas. Back then, Wally could basically read any book in a minute, and grew bored and restless with his education and stifling living situation.

When he learned Nic was deaf, he felt insulted to have a “defective” guard, but at the same time, Nic gives off an irresistible aura of wildness and freedom (even if Nic is far from free). We also learn more about the “Twilights” and why they’re called that: as the victims (or children of victims) of combat doping gone wrong.

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Whatever the case ends up being, the two seem pretty tight in the present, as both professional partners and brothers of a kind. These scenes also bring up the question: did Nic just snap and kill Wally’s fam and take his eye…or did Wally ask him to blow up his life? There are still key gaps in their backstory, but the show is doling them out at a pretty good clip, and with Nic facing off against a fellow “A/0” ranked Twilight (and a sprightly one at that), I wouldn’t be surprised if Worick will lend a hand next week.

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GANGSTA. – 03

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GANGSTA’s first two episodes were anchored by big confrontations with Bad Guys, or at least people who are darker grey than our lead guys Worick and Nic, but this week is more of a Day-in-the-Life-in-Ergastulum affair as we shadow Ally as she helps out with deliveries of Dr. Theo’s drugs throughout the town. In the process, she learns a lot more about the town she apparently didn’t know too well before, and much more about her two employers; almost more than she probably wanted to know.

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But before that, we get a glimpse into Woricks (likely periodic) dreams in which he relives the night he met Nic: when Nic came to murder his family and stab his eye out back when he was thirteen. This puts their relationship in an entirely new light, introducing the possibility that Worick could be long-suffering Stockholm victim who simply went with the flow of where events took him.

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Worick shoos Ally out along with Nic because he has a lady caller; apparently one of his many jobs is gigolo, and apparently a well-regarded one as his client seems pretty well-off and discriminating (she also drives an old Jag…or is that an Alfa?)

It makes sense that he wouldn’t want to upset clients by having another woman around his pad…but perhaps he also didn’t want to make a federal case out of his other job to Ally, and would rather she figure it out organically from clues and the words of others.

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He eventually joins up with Nic and Ally. The latter gets to witness a variety of Ergastulum happenings, like a mobster trying to win Nic back into the fold (saying he can bring Worick along too) while disposing of bodies. They also visit a brothel where Worick once worked (and likely learned his trade after his kidnapping by Nic), where the madame treats him with some degree of maternal tenderness.

Dr. Theo’s drugs are for a very ill woman who doesn’t seem to be getting better; someone Nic seems close to. Ally agreed to work for the Handymen; now that the curtain is being pulled back a bit, there are still some doors that close in front of her she dare not push back open.

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And that gets to the advice of the old shop woman who knows what brand of cigs Worick sent Ally out to buy for him. She tells Ally not to linger around these two chaps too long. Heck, even Worick warns her not to stay in Ergastulum too long, or she’ll be stuck there just like everyone else.

For a second, it looks like Ally takes the woman’s advice, but she doesn’t go far; just to the alley where she and Worick first met. There, she asks Worick if he ever thinks about the “why”…whether it’s why Nic killed his family and kidnapped him, or why he’s a gigolo, or a host of other whys. But all Worick can say is “good question.”

Does this life make him happy? Is he weak, or passive, or complacent? Who knows. But Ally could probably answer Worick if he asked: “Why stay?” Because where else is there to go? The way Ergastulum is presented to us, there may as well be an empty void beyond its walls. Something is better than nothing, and the knowable and inscrutable are less frightening than the unknown.

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GANGSTA. – 02

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Everyone in the city of Ergastulum seems to be hanging by a thread in terms of keeping their internal organs internal, so it’s striking to see a relatively well-adjusted little girl living amongst all this violence and danger.

I guess it helps to be the nurse for a well-respected mob doctor, Theo, as well as good friends with Nic, who seems to be the most powerful cat in town, even against his own “kind”, a class of Shizuo-like supermen called, among other things, “tags.” Nina may be small and frail, but she’s tough, hard-working, and definitely a good influence around the feral Nic.

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Nina’s boss Dr. Theo, neutral in the various wars of the city, wants Nic to take care of somebody trying to bully him into joining an organization, theatening Nina in the process. In the chess game of these two sides, the guy targeting Theo already sent some wiseguys after Nina, but Worick sniffs them out, and uses Alex (or “Ally” as he now affectionately calls her) as a distraction so he can ghost the three of them.

Worick congratulates her on her measured reaction to the violence, but it’s clear she’s not exactly okay being around it, perhaps choosing to turn the despair inward. Ally later marvels at Nina’s stomach for this business, but this is Nina’s home, and always has been; she’s simply used to it.

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We’ve seen how well Worick and Nic work as a team, but in this case, against a fellow “tag”, Worick leaves the bulk of the work to Nic. His target actually gets a knock or two in, but only because both Nic and Dr. Theo are screwing around to a remarkable degree, considering Nina’s right there in the crossfire. But Nic, an “A/0” rank, is just giving his “B/2” opponent three minute lead time to do his worst. Once those minutes are up, Nic does what he does and carves the guy up, though doesn’t kill him.

I’m liking Gangsta’s grungy style and smash-mouth combat, though at times it reminded me of a Durarara!! fight. In fact, this show could almost pass as a spin-off of that show’s underworld elements. We see the guy Nic doesn’t kill beg his boss for his life and get rejected, showing us that while some like Nina consider “twilights” like Nic to be kind, good people, others just see them as tools, or if they don’t perform, plain old trash.

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GANGSTA. – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: As the title suggests, a gangster show, and a perfectly serviceable one at that. It takes place in a world pretty much like ours, only perhaps a bit colder and harsher (your locale may vary). It’s populated by all the usual suspects: wiseguys, pimps, prostitutes, dirty cops, and Worick and Nic, two gangsters-for-hire.

Nic is deaf and good with a sword; Worick wears an eyepatch and is good with his words (and handgun). They take on a job from Police Captain Chad to clean out a new gang led by a prick named Abbot that’s breaking the rules, and have no trouble doing so. In the process, they make a friend in Alex, a woman once under Abbot’s heel, but once Abbot is checked out, she answers the Handymens’ phone.

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Why you should watch: If you liked the thematic elements of Cowboy Bebop/Samurai Champloo, Michiko to Hatchin, Black Lagoon, and the like, this show will probably be a good, if familiar, fit. It deals with grown-up stuff like gang territory, corruption, drugs, sex, abuse, and other unpleasant things, and the camera mostly sits back and lets everything play out.

Watching the quirky duo of Worck and Nic do what they do helps this small, well-contained episode avoid by-the-numbers-ness. The town where they live and work is a maze of high, ashen walls, accentuating the claustrophobia of those like Alex trapped and oppressed within them. And like Zankyou no Terror, these two guys may not be entirely safe or sane, but they have their soft spots too.

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Why you may not want to watch: If you don’t want swearing, blood, or sexual content, stay away, obviously. But the shows I mentioned above also happen to be shows that were both more original and came out of the gate better than Gangsta, and also had their share of quirky MCs.

The milieu is almost too familiar, and while a subdued palette is called for considering the atmosphere, the show does look a bit dull, and aside from a couple neat moments (like Worick firing a gun right next to Nic’s useless ear), the combat animation isn’t anything special. Finally, Alex, so far, is a boilerplate damsel-in-distress who is only alive and free thanks to the actions of others, who happen to be male.

The Verdict: Gangsta has the distinction of being the first of six Summer 2015 anime I’ll be checking out, in addition to continuing Food Wars. It executed fine, but I wasn’t dazzled, nor did it really innovate. At this early stage in the season, the chemistry of the core trio and the promise of more gansta-y adventures warrants further watching— for now. I’ll call it a slow but solid start.

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To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S – 09

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The Level 5/4 duo of Mugino Shizuri and Takisubo Rikou relieve Frenda. Mikoto flees, but Takisubo uses AIM Stalker to locate her as Mugino sends Meltdowner beam attacks her way. The chase gradually wears Mikoto down. Meanwhile, Nunotaba aims to install emotions into the clones, so they might fight for their lives. She is thwarted by Kinuhata Saiai who was guarding the other lab in case Mikoto was only a diversion. When Mikoto deflects Mugino’s Meltdowner, Mugino realizes that her target could only be Tokiwadai’s Railgun.

This has been a rough couple of weeks for poor Miss “Clean Up My Own Messes Made Inadvertently When I Was A Toddler.” Just when she had Frenda where she wanted her, Frenda’s stronger, more tenacious, esper comrades arrive and make life a living hell for Mikoto. She seriously can’t stop to catch her breath, lest she get blasted into dust by Mugino. And just when we thought all of the Railgun’s suffering wouldn’t be in vain because Shinobu is at the other facility, making her move, Shinobu is also thwarted. Her plans to give all of the Sisters emotions apparently fails…but maybe not all the way.

Aside from that one glimmer of hope, the bad guys run this episode. Which is okay; the entire franchise has always had a problem with idiotic, over-boasting adult villains, and it’s good that this ITEM group is not only extremely confident, but also relatively likable. They’re all so different, they won’t be easily caught off guard at the same time, and what’s more, even if Mikoto is a stronger esper than all of them, it’s still four-against-one…at least until the end, when Mugino perhaps makes her first mistake: deciding to go one-on-one against a winded Mikoto.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Shinobu knows her limitations and is aware of the possibility the Level 6 program will never be totally defeated…but she still decides to do what she can for the clones, as she couldn’t ignore the glimmer of emotion she felt from one.
  • Esper breakdown: Mugino has a lightning-esque Meltdowner ability; Takisubo has the AIM Stalker tracking ability, but only when she takes a drug that sends her into overload; and Kinuhata has super-strong bulletproof esper armor (and tries to say super in every sentence).
  • Mikoto’s goal is to destroy the facility…isn’t that exactly what’s been happening the last two weeks? Place looks pretty destroyed already to us…maybe there’s still some vital part she hasn’t gotten to yet; but as Shinobu points out, even destroying all the facilities won’t end the experiment.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S – 08

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A group of cleaners called ITEM is hired to protect the two remaining labs running the Sisters experiments. Three of the four members stake out one lab, while the fourth, Frenda, covers the second lab on her own, hoping for a bonus. Mikoto attacks this lab, and Frenda has placed explosive booby traps everywhere. Mikoto barrels through them all and corners Frenda in a small room, and Frenda tries to stay a step ahead, but ends up on the wrong end of Mikoto’s electricity. Before she can get any info out of her, the rest of ITEM bursts through the wall to bail Frenda out.

Hopefully this goes down without a hitch.

Well, thankfully, it didn’t, or we wouldn’t have had a very eventful episode! Mikoto would have destroyed the last two labs, completed her mission, and, I dunno, gone underwear shopping with Kuroko or something. Instead, she has to deal with one tough customer in Frenda Seivelun, a tiny, blonde ball of energy who may not be an esper, but is a magician with both explosives, traps, hand-to-hand combat, and nearly inexhaustible supply of counterattacks, feints, and bluffs. She and Mikoto fight for most of the episode, and it’s incredibly fun to watch the more direct Mikoto constantly run into a trap, only to overcome because she’s Level 5. You get the idea that if ITEM knew that little nugget of information, they never would have split their forces. But even so, Mikoto takes a beating before getting the upper hand.

ITEM is kind of a parallel to Mikoto’s group of four friends: imagine that instead of solving crime and protecting the weak and innocent from baddies, they start their own cleaning business. Lord knows there are plenty of labs out there doing awful shit that need protection. And Frenda makes it clear to Mikoto she doesn’t care what the client is up to (technically her client is a middleman) or whose cause is just or right. That’s not how things work for ITEM. They were paid to do a job, Mikoto’s the target, they eliminate the target and get paid. That’s it. Their casual, “another day at the office” repartee (the hallmark of Jormungand, for better or worse) in the cold open is proof they’ve been doing this a long time and they’re good at it. Which means Mikoto is in serious trouble, and in need of an ally or two of her own…

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • ITEM breakdown: the leader is Mugino Shizuri, voiced by Koshimizu Ami (AKA Holo/Maou), who is an esper. Her three underlings are Frenda (a very florid Uchida Maaya), Kinuhata Saiai (Akasaki Chinatsu), and Takitsubo Rikou (Suzaki Aya). It’s a nice mix of voices we know well, and they’re all good additions to the cast.
  • Great battle action this week, something Railgun does better than random slice-of-life, IMO (not to say they’re bad at SoL; Mikoto’s day with MISAKA was wonderful).
  • While Maaya’s voice is a bit grating at times, she gets a few deliciously dark and evil things to say to Mikoto as they duel.
  • About that ally: the next-ep preview makes it plain, but Nunotaba Shinobu is tired of sitting on the sidelines. She pays a visit to the other lab, and while Mikoto distracts ITEM and the lab admins, she’ll be doing her part to stop the experiments and help Mikoto.