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 – 01 (First Impressions) – Just a Simple Fruit Vendor

In an Ikebukuro full of rival gangs like the G-Boys, Majima Makoto is a neutral mediator to whom anyone can come with a problem to solve. Thus he is one of the people helping to maintain a delicate balance in the town and keep it from descending into violence.

I’ve been to Ikebukuro, and perhaps due to watching a lot of Durarara!! prior to visiting, I got a very cozy, familiar feeling walking its streets. But aside from the Sunshine 60 building’s super-fast elevator, there’s nothing all that flashy about the town. It’s most prominent feature is a 600-foot…incinerator chimney.

Like the town where it’s set, IWGP is similarly restrained, un-flashy and ordinary. After a more theatrical cold open in which G-Boys leader Takashi is on a literal stage knocking out a junkie his gang has surrounded, things unfold relatively straightforward manner.

Takashi visits his old friend Makoto (who runs a fruit stand with his mom), and presents him with the 12-year-old Kurashina Mion, who tried to burn a whole building down because it was the hideout of a drug addict who hit her mom with a car. He’s hopeful Makoto can get Mion justice without violence.

Practically speaking, Makoto’s case is composed of a number of sit-down meetings in restaurants. That’s not very interesting, but it gradually emerges both to us and to an initially skeptical Mion that Makoto knows everybody who’s anybody in Ikebukuro, from gang higher-ups to cops, making him the best person to help her.

The fact Mion insists on tagging along even when Makoto cases a suspicious smoke shop, leading to her panicking and smashing a jar of “high grade herbs” and resulting in a chase. It’s here where Makoto’s encyclopedic knowledge of his town and its rooftops comes in handy, as he makes sure Mion can manage their escape route.

Makoto naturally also knows a super-hacker rather embarrassingly named Zero One, and once he gets the leads he needs from the official police, he relies on Zero and Takashi’s G-Boys to help stake out the smoke shop owner’s various properties.

Once they learn he’s almost certainly dealing illegal drugs, Makoto and Takashi discover the apartment is a marijuana-filled grow-house and drug lab. It’s here where I must assume that weed is still illegal in Japan (in many U.S. states you buy it legally for medical or recreational use), and that there are harder drugs than weed being made/sold by these guys.

Mion sticks her neck out to delay the smoke shop clerk from discovering Makoto and Takashi in the apartment. The clerk chases her down and nabs her, but Makoto comes to her rescue by delivering a devastating kick. It’s clear he prefers to avoid violence unless absolutely necessary, which makes sense as this is not a “stylized” version of Ikebukuro or Japan where anything goes.

In the end the bad guys are arrested for their illegal deeds, and Mion’s mom is released from the hospital with a clean bill of health. In the titular Ikebukuro West Gate Park, Mion thanks Makoto while introducing her mom. Thanks to him she knows that “some grown-ups are cool” and that she wouldn’t mind if someone like him was her dad.

Makoto and Takashi are confident the drug bust won’t come back on them since no one knows they’re involved…but their assumption is incorrect: someone is watching them, so there may be consequences that may threaten Makoto’s neutral status in the near future.

IWGP isn’t a show that will dazzle with its visuals, over-the-top action, or outrageous characters. It looks like it aims to be a more down-to-earth and realistic version of Durarara!! in which we’re presented with a complex tapestry of relationships and loyalties, with Makoto in the middle.

It’s a show with a quiet, confident competence. If that sounds like “boring”, it might be for some. But I for one enjoyed its relative subtlety and nuance, and will be back next week for more.