GANGSTA. – 06

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Nic spends the episode recovering from his injuries (Paulklee shot him with drugs, not bullets) under Nina’s admirable ministrations as the clouds continue to dump rain on Ergastulum, as if to wash away the blood of the last battle. But the duel with Doug and the shootouts that accompanied it may only be a taste of what’s to come, as the Corsicans are about to throw off the delicate balance that has been sustained by going after the Christianos, a family beholden to Monroe.

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It’s fitting in an episode called “THORN” that everyone deals with various literal and emotional thorns in their sides or minds. Both Nic and Worick carry a lot of baggage from their highly traumatic pasts. Nic was the son of a prostitute shanghaied into mercenary service; Wallace is the unwanted and unloved son of a drunk, violent crime boss whose light we know is destined to go out.

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Wallace got over his prejudice for his perceived low-rent bodyguard and befriends Nic and even teaches him to read and write, most likely out of a desire to have one friend in his life; someone who doesn’t curse his existence. While we’re still missing a couple of bits and pieces in the middle, the genesis of their friendship, which would persist for decades to the present, is making more and more sense.

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Ally has her own thorn in the form of  withdrawal due to an appalling drug her pimp plied her with regularly in order to keep her submissive and in line. The horror movie scene that ended last week’s episode turned out to be hallucinations from that withdrawal, and Dr. Theo informs Worick that Ally has yet to fully recover, though it will happen with time. Some thorns can’t be removed too quickly.

When a shoeless, rain-soaked Ally kisses Worick on the street, it’s filmed as if it were a climactic, passionate romantic scene, right up until she tries to undo Worick’s pants and we realize she’s still hallucinating Barry, and is ready to do anything to him if only he doesn’t hurt her. Ironically, Worick does technically hurt her—by head-butting—in order to snap her out of it (not sure how that works medically, but whatever), but since her head’s harder than his he ends up hurting himself more.

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At any rate, it’s one of the show’s best scenes, and combined with Nic’s recovery, the Handymen and their administrative assistant are back in business…just in time for another war. Even in his hospital bed, Nic looks as ready as ever to take on whole battalions on his own, but a part of me thinks Worick would really rather just kick back in his apartment and talk about his crappy day with Ally-chan.

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GANGSTA. – 05

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As fellow A/0 Tags Nic and the dreadlocked kid fight furiously up on the rooftops, the normal gangsters take bets below. but when Worick arrives, he determines not only that Nic is depending on an overdose of Celebrer to fight and shrug off his stab wounds, but that the kid words for the Paul Klee Guild, and Nic shouldn’t even be fighting him.

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Of course, the kid, Doug, took the job to take out Monroe for the opportunity to fight a fellow A/0, and is loving the fight, but when he’s winded and Nic hasn’t broken a sweat, he realizes the fight is tainted. This is drugs, not merely natural talent and skill, at work. Finally, Doug’s master, Gina Paulklee of the guild, arrives with her very able assistant Ginger, to break up the fight and punish both Doug and Nic with multiple gunshots.

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Such is the price of going against the “Three Laws” instituted once Tags were freed from slavery. We finally learn what they are thanks to Gina: “Don’t take action against Normals”, “Obey your master”, and “Defend Yourself”. To break one of those laws is to upset the delicate balance of Ergastulum, which Gina and her guild work to maintain.

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Doug is left for dead, but Worick can and wishes to only carry one person, and that’s the wounded Nic, to Dr. Theo’s, where Nina looks after him. Meanwhile, Alex is seeing her old pimp in the alley even though he’s supposed to be dead, and even hears him coming up the stairs to the Handymen’s office. When Worick calls, the office is abandoned.

Did the pimp survive, or is Alex merely hallucinating due to PTSD? I’m guessing the latter. Either way, the fifth episode ends with our trio of protagonists roughed up physically and emotionally. I’m guessing next week won’t be the beach episode…

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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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