Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 12 (Fin) – The Troublesome Troubleshooter

With Takashi out of commssion the G-Boys are rudderless and eager for revenge, and Kyouichi isn’t above acquiring guns from the yakuza in order to gain the advantage in an otherwise bats-and-clubs fight. Meanwhile, we meet one of the usually unseen victims of the fighting, a young girl whose brother was injured who will play a larger part in the episode’s climax.

Makoto remains in the shadows, relying on his trusted friends in Saru and Lin to get a bigger picture about what’s going on. He learns the Kyougokukai Group from Kansai is trying to make a move against Ikebukuro and the Hidaka Group, providing firearms to both Red Angels and G-Boys. The kid gangs will soften each other out, and Kyougokukai, will stomp them all out and take over.

Makoto still has allies in the G-Boys, including Masaru, who owes him a debt for helping him save Mizuki, only for Mizuki to end up in trouble and missing now. When some less friendly G-Boys spot him and give chase, he’s saved by a more unlikely ally in the recently banished Hiroto.

Hiroto is setting up new turf outside Ikebukuro, but can’t stand by and let his old turf go to shit, especially if it’s due to the machinations of outside yakuza groups. We later learn he and his men, like the little girl, have a crucial role to play in the endgame.

Then there’s Isogai, quite obviously the mastermind behind everything based on clues from last week’s episode. Makoto gives him a call still believing he’s someone who can be trusted, and they meet by a secluded shrine. Isogai gives him a new phone, which Makoto quickly checks for the spying app that confirms Isogai is indeed the mastermind.

Isogai goes on to explain his motivations. A native of Ikebukuro, he was bullied in school and had to stop going to classes. He ended up joining the Kyougokukai, and knowing their interest in Ikebukuro, volunteered to serve as a sleeper agent until the conditions were right to blow everything up.

For all his hatred of punks both red and blue, Isogai still sees value in Makoto as a good guy and troubleshooter, and asks him to join him, Makoto refuses, there’s a scuffle, and Isogai ends up putting five bullets in him. At the same time, Takashi wakes up in the hospital, wondering what’s keeping Makoto.

The two sides form battle lines in West Gate Park, and Takashi not only makes a surprise appearance, but starts a fight with Kyouichi despite still bleeding through his bandages. It would seem all the pieces are arranged on the board the way Isogai and his Kyougokukai superior Yoshimatsu want (the latter, Glasses Guy from last week, even watches the battle from his car).

The G-Boys and Angels are about to slam into each other when suddenly a video starts playing on the park’s Jumbotron: a video expertly recorded by Makoto’s film director buddy, capturing Makoto’s entire incriminating conversation with Isogai, exposing him as a traitor to the Angels and Ikebukuro itself. Everyone stops fighting, takes in the scope of Isogai’s treachery…and stews.

Isogai responds by pulling out his gun and shooting Makoto again, but as with the last time he shot him, it was with harmless blood rounds (lent to him by his director friend). Makoto switched the guns out when they scuffled at the shrine. Kyouichi delivers a  devastating, balletic kick to Isogai’s head and threatening to dance on him until he’s a pile of crushed bones—but Makoto begs him not to go too far.

As Hiroto’s men deal with Kyougokukai’s Yoshimatsu, who is invited to a nice chat with Saru of Hidaka Group, Makoto tries to do what he does best: call for all the warring parties to stand down, go their separate ways and think about whether they really want to fight a battle they were manipulated into fighting. Also, the riot cops are about to come in an arrest everyone.

He urges everyone to remember that while can sometimes lie and hurt each other, they also have the capacity to forgive. Everyone stands down…except that wild card little girl whose brother was injured. She isn’t satisfied until she’s able to stab Takashi, and he lets it happen, drawing her into a hug even after she sticks him in the kidneys.

Because Takashi is so gentle with his would-be killer, the avenging girl must sense that he had forgiven her before she even stabbed him, and thus can forgive him and those who cause her brother’s injury. Before passing out, Takashi tells Makoto to take over the G-Boys if he doesn’t make it.

While that would have been an thoroughly interesting development, Takashi pulls through, and even has the sister and her recovered brother visit him, completing the cycle of forgiveness and healing. Kyouichi disbands the Red Angels and moves into a house his parents left him just outside the Yamanote Line.

Makoto’s mom re-opens the produce stand, where Guo continues to help out. And finally, Makoto sits in West Gate Park when he’s approached by someone who has a problem that needs solving. In other words, life goes on in the town he loves. It’s not often a series concludes by bringing together most of its previous narrative elements into a satisfying whole, but IWGP pulled it off beautifully.

Don’t believe the low MAL score or lack of ANN reviews: IWGP was a strong Fall 2020 dark horse candidate. ambitious in its concept, resourceful with its protagonist and setting, involving at every turn (one iffy Youtuber episode aside), and realistic in its depiction of the complex social structures that make up a town, and the importance of maintaining relationships and balance.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 11 – Nightmare on Sunshine Street

If I haven’t already, I’ll go on record now: Thus far I’ve always enjoyed the IWGP stories that aren’t directly related to the G-Boy/Red Angel dispute, like when Mikoto gained a sister in Guo, or last week’s dive into restorative justice. That said, if the show wishes to close things out by refocusing on the Red-vs.-Blue divide, there are far worse ways to do so than what we got.

This week takes what had been a volatile tinderbox and blew it up with a few bold strokes. What keeps this episode out of four-and-a-half star territory—aside from the fact it’s only part one of two-part story—is that it takes a step back from the earnest urban realism and relies on predictable action-drama anime tropes.

Red/Blue tussles are becoming more frequent ever since the Angels helped the G-Boys put quell an internal dispute. A border dispute on Sunshine Street could quickly escalate into full-on gang warfare, so Makoto does his thing: works with Kyouichi and Isogai to arrange a peaceful meeting with King.

As soon as the Angels’ hotheaded number 3 Utsumi is introduced, we’re invited to believe he’s trying to up his team’s aggression against the G-Boys, just as King’s underling Hiroto tried to do the opposite. But there’s the additional element of a young Watanabe Kazumasa looking like he wants to say something to Makoto, but hesitates…then ends up with a knife in his heart.

The border dispute meeting is off, as the Angels are convinced the G-Boys killed their kid. Mikoto learns of the murder on TV, and rushes to meet with Takashi, who assures him he didn’t order the hit, while not ruling out that a hot-headed underling might have.

Then a bad-case scenario gets even worse when a drugged and clearly out-of-it Mizuki guns Takashi down and flees. As Takashi checks for vitals and calls an ambulance, a man in a white suit and glasses sits in a car watching while someone in the back seat snaps photos of Takashi standing over the gunned-down Takashi…someone with Isogai’s hairstyle.

Takashi is alive but unconscious in the hospital, but the misleading photos are posted online, and the general consensus among G-Boys is that Makoto betrayed their leader and tried to kill him. Their retribution is swift, as some of them launch a van at Makoto’s family produce stand, hitting his mom and nearly hitting him and Guo.

Guo, knowing her brother didn’t shoot Takashi, urges Makoto to start running and find out who’s responsible for this. That brings us to the episode’s cold open, in which Makoto felt like he was having a bad dream. While hiding from various roving bands of G-Boys, he gets a call from Makoto, who uses the call to get a fix on his location.

Judging from the look in his eyes, at this point I was convinced Isogai was responsible for Kazu’s murder, Mizuki’s drugging, and Makoto’s framing. By using Kyouichi and Utsumi’s rage over Kazu’s death, he creates a fine smokescreen in which to freely operate while all hell breaks loose.

As blood starts to spill on the streets, Chief Rei insists Makoto come to the station for questioning, as he was at the very least a witness to Takashi’s shooting. Makoto isn’t ready to do that quite yet, as he won’t be able to solve this riddle from the police station.

Meanwhile, as a satisfied man in white lounges on the bed of a hotel room enjoying a (possibly post-coital?) cigarette, Isogai takes a shower and grins like an evil villain. Which, fine…it’s an interesting turn for a somewhat dull but likeable character, but I was kinda okay with him being somewhat dull and likeable? Not to mention the unpleasant undertones of the only gay guy in the show being the big bad…

Makoto meets with Zero One in their usual café—which seems odd considering all the G-Boys are after him—but then again, most of the G-Boys are probably busy fighting Red Angels. Here is where Makoto is portrayed as perhaps a bit too ignorant of modern smartphone technology, as the hacker explains the spy app that allow his pursuers to pinpoint his location.

They’re interrupted by Detective Yoshioka, who politely asks Makoto to come with him for questioning. Makoto gets in Yoshioka’s car and explains what he knows so far, but instead of going into the station, he asks that Yoshioka let him go to track down the culprit as only someone with his skills and connections can. Yoshioka doesn’t endorse Makoto’s actions, but also can’t exactly legally detain him.

So off Makoto goes, through dark alleys and across the neon-lit boulevards of Sunshine Street, in the middle of a nightmare from which there is no waking. His mother and his best friend are laid up, and thanks to a devious setup job his neutrality has been utterly destroyed. While this episode took some sensationalist leaps to get to where it is, everything that has unfolded so far remains not only plausible, but inevitable.

I’m just not particularly elated about Isogai being the presumptive Big Bad, because this was a show that didn’t really need one, and in fact always thrived in the gray area between good and bad that best reflected real life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 10 – Moving Past the Hate

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.—Matthew 5:38-39

One day, a serious young woman named Hayama Chihiro approaches Makoto at his fruit stand, shows him a photo of a young man, and flatly asks him to ruin that guy’s knee. Makoto learns why: a year ago the young man, Otokawa Eiji, kneecapped her brother Tsukasa and robbed him.

For all of ¥3,000, Tsukasa’s dream of opening his own restaurant was crushed along with his knee. Since Eiji was a minor, he got seven months in juvie, and is now wandering free. Chihiro has been tailing “the beast”, as she calls him, ever since his release, and now wants him to suffer as her brother suffers. A knee for a knee!

Makoto remarks that if Chihiro were okay with Eiji’s knee being smashed, she’d be no less of a beast that her brother’s attacker. But as with so many other issues with Makoto becomes entangled, there is much more information to be learned before a final decision is made. To that end, he contacts one of his mates, Chief Rei.

When Rei calls back, Makoto has tracked down Chihiro, who is watching Eiji at an arcade. He lends her one of his earbuds and they listen together as Rei goes over the particulars of the crime. Eiji was being extorted by a group of bullies in high school, and was warned to secure the money (any amount) by the day after the attack, or they’d ruin his knee.

Eiji only attacked Tsukasa because he needed money to give to the bullies, but only he was convicted and sent to juvie for the attack, while the bullies only received a scolding. As Chihiro learns more about Eiji and the context of the attack, her once pure and unwavering hatred suddenly becomes diluted with pity for the kid’s situation, and guilt for nearly making it worse. Now she’s not so sure she wants Eiji attacked.

Now that Makoto knows Chihiro’s feelings on the matter, he wants to know those of Eiji’s victim, her brother Tsukasa. Makoto visits to their home under the guise of Chihiro introducing a new boyfriend. Chihiro’s reaction to Makoto’s suit is priceless. Tsukasa is voiced by Ishida Akira, a seiyu so very skilled at projecting the vulnerability of his characters and the weight they carry.

Tsukasa admits that for a long time he thought about finding and stabbing Eiji for what he did, but when he stops to think about what that would make him, his certainty and thirst for such revenge wavers just like his sister’s. Now he feels it would be better if he were to meet Eiji, look him in the eye, and talk to him about what happened.

If Tsukasa did that, he could learn whether Eiji was a “beast” or just a human (the vast majority of criminals being the latter). If he learned Eiji was the latter, his hatred would subside. Above all, Tsukasa doesn’t want to “stand in a  place of hatred” forever. He wants to move past it, and into “tomorrow.”

Tsukasa’s noble words move Makoto to arrange just such a meeting. In order to get Eiji to agree, he offers membership into the G-Boys. To both Eiji and Makoto’s surprise, Takashi shows up with a couple of his boys, as he’s curious to see how Makoto resolves this situation. He makes Eiji a G-Boy on the spot and promises he’ll never be hassled by his extorters again.

But first, Eiji must endure the trial of his life: sitting down across the table and looking the man he attacked a year ago in the eye. It’s a gloriously tense scene that grows more and more cathartic as Eiji and Tsukasa and Chihiro learn more about each other. The siblings learn that Eiji, like them, lost a parent at an early age, though they don’t sympathize with how he handled it. Eiji learns that his attack cost Tsukasa his dreams.

Finally, Eiji learns that nothing he says can undo or make up for what he did, any more than Tsukasa and Chihiro’s hatred or revenge exacted upon the pathetic Eiji will truly satisfy them. Chihiro’s description of how she “never gave in” to criminality as Eiji did due to her brother’s love and cooking is matched by Eiji’s description of all the un-scalable “high walls” he faced once outside of juvie.

Once the accusations and grievances have flown, the time comes for Eiji to accept that his wrongdoing will never disappear and think about what he can do from now on. Tsukasa reveals he knew all along Makoto was the famous troubleshooter, and thus had an inkling that a meeting like this was in the works.

The bottom line is, the meeting does work: Tsukasa has learned conclusively that Eiji is not a beast, and as such Eiji’s remorse will probably never disappear. Tsukasa then chooses to forgive him, and they shake hands while Makoto and Takashi exchange approving glances.

What Makoto accomplished by having the Hayamas and Eiji meet and talk things out amounts to what Chief Rei calls “restorative justice”, a reunion that serves both victim and perpetrator by aiding the former’s recovery and the latter’s rehabilitation. Knowing Makoto can pull such justice off without even knowing what it’s called, Rei is confident Ikebukuro can remain a safe and peaceful town.

Having passed his trial, Eiji is aided by the G-Boys, who convince his extorters to return all the money they stole from Eiji. No blows are landed or blood spilled, as the tacit power of the G-Boys community and its “King” is more than sufficient, proving the value of a well-balanced network of groups with shared interests as a deterrent to escalating violence.

Makoto continues to see the Hayamas, who plan to buy a food truck outfitted with equipment and modifications that will enable Tsukasa to stand less while cooking. They also plan to hire Eiji to work for them, since they’ll need help running the truck, and he needs a job. Who better to work for than the people you wronged, but ultimately forgave you? That cooperation will likely allow him to forgive himself one day.

That famous Matthew passage up top is highly instructive of how society can and often must go. In most cases, it isn’t productive for victims to vilify or dehumanize criminals who did them wrong, nor seek empty, self-defeating vengeance. Often there are humans on either side and beasts on neither, and understandings can be reached by direct interaction, learning from one another who they are and why things were done.

Often…but not always. Enter the unpleasant spectacle that follows the atmospherically moody but hopeful end credits. G-Boys and Red Angels are brawling in an alley, staining the streets with their blood. Still, I see this display not as a rebuttal or repudiation of the more peaceful and conciliatory tactics employed by Makoto.

Rather, this kind of scrimmaging is the inevitable other side of the double-sided sword: a scenario involving large groups of restless young people, each with their own histories. At some point they’ll grow large enough to butt up against the turf of another group, with the resulting enmity bringing out the beasts in everyone.

Yet even this can be mitigated by those who lead these groups, namely Takashi and Kyouichi, sitting across a table, with mediators observing. Even if wars can’t be outright avoided, their duration and the amount of blood spilled can be minimized, as long as all concerned parties remember that they are all human, and always were.