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 – 02 – New Kids on the ‘Bukuro

It was just the G-Boys in Ikebukuro, until one night at the Global Ring a young lad with fiery red hair and angel wing tattoos captivated a crowd with his flawless, shirtless ballet. That lad is Ozaki Kyouichi, and his upstart Red Angels are positioned to be the most serious rival to the G-Boys yet.

The question isn’t whether the G-Boys’ hegemony will be challenged, but when and how. But like last week’s IWGP, things don’t develop quite as predictably as I initially expected, once again demonstrating a preference for nuance and realism over black-and-white conflict.

But first, it’s lunchtime, and Makoto joins G-Boy King Takashi for a meal at OK Curry, a suddenly popular restaurant in the ‘Buro that also treats its mostly young, impressionable employees like shit. That, combined to the okay-but-not-great grub, suggests a company only concerned with maximizing its profits, not helping their community.

There’s an interesting choice to juxtapose the almost too-enthusiastic smiling employees in the front of the shop with one being mercilessly berated in an alley by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Since many of OK’s employees are G-Boys, Takashi suspects this is the Red Angels’ doing, and wants Makoto to investigate.

He starts with G-Boy Masaru, who knows Mitsuki, the blonde kid who was being abused by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Masaru doesn’t like how he and others are being treated, but he used to be a useless delinquent and his job at OK Curry put him back on the right track and made his parents happy, so he’s loath to mess that up.

Makoto also tries to meet the Red Angels’ ballet virtuoso leader, Ozaki Kyouichi, but is blocked by a bunch of thugs in red. Fortunately there’s someone among them with a level head—not too dissimilar to Makoto—who politely tells him Kyouichi isn’t currently around. Makoto says he’ll try again later.

That night, Mitsuki climbs to the top of the OK Curry building and prepares to jump to his death, believing he simply isn’t cut out for life. Masaru tries to talk him down with a police megaphone, but Mitsuki doesn’t want to trouble his friend, and jumps. Uh, killing yourself when he tried to stop it will definitely trouble him, my guy!

Fortunately, he only falls a few stories and the fire brigade catches him on a trampoline; his injuries aren’t life-threatening. But the two OK thugs were present for the incident, and before long Makoto gets a call from Takashi: Masaru was jumped, and ends up in the hospital beside his friend.

Makoto and Takashi visit Masaru, and then Kyouichi soon joins them, flanked by two toughs and a bouquet in hand. For a moment it seems like Masaru was attacked just to get Takashi’s attention, but as the two sides draw closer, Makoto wisely talks first, addressing Kyouichi’s friendly lieutenant to de-escalate.

Turns out Mitsuki is a new member of the Red Angels, and Kyouichi was just there to visit a member, just as Takashi came for Masaru. They also learn that OK Holdings are pitting the G-Boys and Angels against each other with rumors that each are moving against the other, thus keeping the two gangs off-balance enough to be ineffective at curtailing OK’s appalling labor practices.

But while there are a lot of ragged toughs on both sides, the two gangs are led by cooler heads; even Kyouichi comes off as far more reasonable and less aggressive than his hair portended. Makoto comes up with a plan whereby he uses his press credentials to enter an OK Holdings shareholder meeting and confronts the president with their former employee Masaru.

Mitsuki’s near-miss convinced Masaru to do everything he can legally to put a stop to OK Holdings’ crap before anyone else gets hurt, and the G-Boys find him a lawyer to give his threat teeth. He’s then immediately surrounded by the black-clad toughs, who are themselves surrounded by an alliance of G-Boys and Red Angels—Masaru was acting as bait to draw out OK-hired mercenary goons, who are too violent and unscrupulous for either gang.

While Takashi and Kyouichi were able to talk things through and discover they had no real beef, talking won’t work against these goons, which means both gangs need to back up their words with action. It’s not a long fight, as the free-agent goons are no match against Takashi’s boxing prowess or Kyouichi’s balletic kicks.

The G-Boy/Red Angel team-up may have been a one-time thing, but as long as both sides put the well-being of Ikebukuro and their respective guys above pointless turf squabbles, coexistence is possible. That’s underscored when Makoto and Tomomi Isogai, the Red Angels’ friendly lieutenant, watch another one of  Kyouichi’s performances together in a mixed crowd of red and blue.

IWGP is as unflashy as Akudama Drive is flashy, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it boring. It’s confidently presenting very down-to-earth scenarios that you’d see in any big city district anywhere, where open dialogue and compromise can and should always come before violence and destruction. Makoto keeping all possible channels of communication open in his town isn’t always thrilling, but it is admirable. So far that’s enough to keep be invested.