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

GANGSTA. – 12 (Fin)

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“It’s no use. Any of it.”

It’s a dark, nihilistic and very open-ended finale for GANGSTA., and although I wasn’t expecting many happy endings, then endings we did get were ambiguous, and I felt that too much was left on the table. Maybe that was the intention.

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One ending left open perhaps by design, was the Marco/Connie crisis. Connie’s grief-stricken grandmother whacks Marco with her cane, cursing him for taking yet more of her family. Nic stops her, at later drapes a coat over her in the rain, and all she wants at this point is to seem some thing, any sign of what happened to Connie, even if it’s just a head or an eye. But all we get a heartbreaking flash from Marco’s POV of her smiling in bed, a perfect moment that may never come again.

Marco, once a member of the Destroyers who are wreaking havoc on Ergastulum, laments he no longer has the strength to protect what’s important to him, or even save his girl. So what does Loretta do? Strips down, puts on her work clothes and shoulder holster, and steps up to the plate. Marco has given a lot to the Christiano family, and she’s going to see that he’s repaid for that leal service. Marco sees the ghost of her father behind her as she speaks with his voice.

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As Nic backs up Christiano at Bastard, leaving Ally behind at the office, Worick prepares for a last stand with Miles to buy time for Daniel Monroe. When the Destroyer Striker arrives, no normal or Twilight or steel door can stand against him.

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Worick and Miles set up an elaborate trap, but both are seriously wounded, and though Worick manages to get a sedative into Striker, Striker tosses him out the window. It’s an exciting fight, but there’s never the feeling Worick or anyone else has the slightest chance. Hauntingly, Nina suddenly wakes up as soon as Worick’s bloodied body hits the ground, sensing he’s done for.

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Delico continues to trudge through the rainy streets with Heather searching for his sister Erica, and he finally looks up helplessly at her flying over the rooftops with Mikhail. Worick lies bleeding out, remembering being told he can try as hard as he wants to keep up with Twilights, but they’ll always be different from him, and out of his reach. Nic flies through the rainy sky and delivers the nihilistic line up top.

Is he right? Are Loretta, Marco, Connie, along with Nic and Worick, all simply doomed? Is all we got, and all we’ll ever get as viewers, is a brief, twleve-episode look-in to this accursed world populated with wounded souls, beasts, and lost causes? Or is Nic wrong, and the fact none of the above characters end up dead for sure offer hope that things can turn around in a future GANGSTA. sequel?  This episode gave no indication of a continuation, so we’ll just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, our look-in has concluded.

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GANGSTA. – 11

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As Corsica’s hunters (AKA the “Destroyers”) begin bombing the Paulklee district to dull Twilight senses, Delico leaves Monroe’s mansion to find his sister Erica and deal with her, with his colleague Yang tagging along. Doug tries to get back to base, but gets an X-slash across the chest. And the axe girl with the everlasting lollipop and funky manicure is unimpressed with the quality of opponents, calling them “a pile of crap.”

Notable in their total (rather than partial) absence from the episode? Nic and Worick. And yet the episode does just fine without the Handymen, giving the supporting cast room to breathe and be fleshed out a tad more (though without any lengthy flashbacks).

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Central to the episode is the semi-secret romance between Marco and Connie, the latter of whom says goodbye with sign language in a way that suggests she’s going to end up in danger before the day is done. Yet between this, Ally taking care of the kid at the Handymen’s, and Delico’s Erica-Hunt, the Destroyer’s chaos isn’t as far reaching as last week suggested…at least not yet.

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It doesn’t take long for Sig to carve her way to Gina Paulklee’s bedroom window, where she’s just waking up (with Ginger, who we now know is also her lover). But Gina ends up agreeing with Sig that the place is a cesspool. Her point is, so what? Now that Sig has come to this point, neither she nor her Destroyer partner are authorized to act, and even when her partner does go after Gina, Ginger snaps his knife with her bare hand. Sig’s axed her way through soft wood, but now she’s up against tougher stuff, and it’s good to see the doubt in her eyes for the first time.

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That particular standoff ends in a Destroyer retreat, but the rest of them continue to move, and the damage is done. Delico and Yang run into Heather, the sister of a six-year-old killed by Erica, hoping she’ll lead them to her, and Doug bleeds out in Gal’s arms rather than accept a downer Celebrer. It would seem Doug has had enough of the Gangsta life, and is content to take his chances in the afterlife.

One Destroyer is a raven-haired beauty who wants smokes, and the town tobacconist just happens to be Connie’s grandmother, who is out. Connie gets her the smokes, but the woman can’t help but smell Marco on her. Marco, sensing Connie is in danger arrives only to find her hat. If the Destroyers are going to start taking normal hostages, the Twilights care about, that’s only going to make things more difficult in the finale next week, where I’m guessing Nic and Worick will pop back out of the shadows.

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GANGSTA. – 10

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No Summer show is better at setting a specific mood and atmosphere and flow to its episodes than the sometimes painfully hip GANGSTA., and a lot of the credit has to go to the super-smooth hip-hop stylings of Tsutchie, also known for his work on Samurai Champloo.

And while there’s certainly dread in the air in the aftermath of the first of many battles in Ergastulum, the mood the score evokes tends more to the tentative, and to a status quo everyone is struggling against fate to maintain. Many Twilights died, but many more remain alive, many of them children, who need to be protected here, in the only place there is for them.

That’s definitely going to be more difficult with a fresh squad of serious-looking Twilight Hunters entering the town, ready to continue what Erica and Mikhail started at Bastard.

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Rather than a calm before a storm, we’re in the relatively calm eye for much of this week. Connie reveals she’s Marco’s lover as the two embrace in Dr. Theo’s clinic, while Connie also embraces Ally as thanks for protecting Miss Christiano. Ally takes care of the orphaned baby of a Twilight killed in the fray as Loretta rests. Nina makes sure Nicolas rests up and heals. Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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That shoe starts to drop, as the eye of this storm begins to drift away from Ergastulum and the clouds and rains of violence proceed. Worick accidentally bumps into one of the new Hunters in town, whose look and smirk he doesn’t like one bit, while a scantily-clad, crazy-eyed blonde with an ax in her hands and a lollipop in her mouth, begins a one-woman assault.

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As Loretta assures Ally in the Handymens’ office that Bastard will open for business tomorrow, without delay, because it has to—as Al says, the people who rely on Loretta have nowhere else to go—Doug is sent out to meet the ax girl, and the guys who go with him are quickly taken out. While I’ve seen my fair share of cute homicidal girls, I can’t remember a time when a guy was viciously hacked in half to the tune of such chill music.

Once again, the bad guys have fired the first shots. At this point, I’d advise putting Ginger on the front line and letting her have at it. But I know no one Twilight will be able to stop this brash new posse of overpowered super-hunters, of whom Ally’s bro is a member. It’s going to take more teamwork, and a lot of luck.

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GANGSTA. – 09

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Alex’s gorgeous song, and the momentary tranquility it brought, is over less than a minute before the Corsicas attack Bastard, first with a token B-rank twilight whose daughter is being held hostage, then with the two twilight hunters, Mikhail and Erica, who prove more than a match even for Loretta’s best men, Galahad and Marco.

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Mind you, there was almost enough time after Alex’s song for Loretta to finish inviting her to stay at a room at Bastard if she needs a place, but then the club proceeds to be torn apart as Loretta’s men battle the hunters. Gal and Marco are able to restrain Mikhail, but when Erica is ordered in by Ivan Glaziev, the tables turn quickly, and are then turned into kindling.

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The Handymen get word of the chaos unfolding at Bastard, and Worick sends Nic in to buy him five minutes while he fires a flare that the Paulklee Guild, Dr. Theo, and the police all see. I liked how the flare was reflected in so many different windows, connecting all the people in various parts of Ergastulum’s labyrinth and drawing them to the action.

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When Erica is about to kill Marco, the honorable Loretta can’t help but defend her man, but both she and Alex empty their clips at Erica, she deflects them all and they end up on the wrong side of her sword. That’s when Nic arrives to save Alex and Loretta and buy Worick five minutes to assemble backup, during which Galahad tells Ally that Nic is only an A/0 when he overdoses on Celebrer Uppers; otherwise he’s a B/5 at best. In other words, a “faker.” Nic also pegs Erica as Delico’s estranged sister.

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A/0 or no, Nic gets Worick his five minutes, but no more, as Erica’s about to kill him too when Ginger blasts in and shuts Erica and Mikhail down, with Doug in tow. There’s every indication Ginger is one of if not the strongest twilight in Ergastulum, and her presence forces the hunters to retreat as the police also arrive.

We then see Uranos Corsica talking with Ivan, who has Erica licking her wounds in his lap, when the newest member of their little team, эсминец (“Destroyers”), arrives, and it’s yet another sibling: Alex’s brother. Emilio. Now one of her primary rationales for leaving Ergastulum has followed her there, and he’s with the bad guys.

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