Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - The Complete Series [Limited Edition]
In the city of Ergastulum, war is everywhere. It's a street war between four mob families on the surface, but what's really at stake is the existence of people known as “Twilights,” offspring of soldiers treated with a drug that gives them enhanced strength and speed while reducing their lifespans. Worrick Arcangelo and his Twilight partner Nicholas Brown are known as “the Handymen,” two guys who will clean up any messes and make any deliveries you need, or even just give you a hand when you're down. The two of them become increasingly involved in the violence of the city, which is wrapped around their own pasts.
In ancient Rome, ergastula were pits specifically meant to hold unruly slaves or to punish misbehaving ones. In Gangsta., Ergastulum (the singular form of the word) is a city in an unnamed country that may as well be a pit trap intended to punish the wicked. The world that Worrick, Alex, and Nicholas live in isn't post-apocalyptic, but it is a grim place where gunfights are normal, and sex and drugs are more potent currency than cash. It's the place people run to when they have nowhere else to go, and it doesn't seem like many people make it back out again.
It's a fitting setting for this series, which seems to draw its musical and visual inspirations from both Cowboy Bebop and Black Lagoon. The plot follows the (mis)adventures of three lost souls who washed up in the city: Worrick Arcangelo, the former scion of a wealthy family, Nicholas Brown, a Twilight with severely impaired hearing, and Alex, a young woman who was working as a prostitute after being trafficked from outside the city. Worrick and Nicholas (who is also called Nico and Nick throughout the series) met when Worrick still lived with his family; Nick was hired to be his bodyguard. The two boys formed a bond that has lasted into their thirties, and it's clear that Worrick at least considers Nick to be the closest thing he has to family. It's less clear how Nick feels, not because he rarely speaks, but because he seems to keep himself at a great distance from life in general. All of this begins to change when Nick insists that he and Worrick rescue Alex, who he's been watching from a distance. With Alex, Nick is at least more straightforward about his feelings, acting sort of like a heavily armed teddy bear when it comes to her well-being.
While the action of the story, which revolves around Nicholas's status as a “Twilight,” a super-powered human born to soldiers who were given an experimental drug, it's really the interpersonal relationships that make the series. Although Worrick is the more directly warm and outgoing of the two Handymen, he's also the more cynical, and it seems possible that his friendliness comes more from his other job as a gigolo, a male prostitute. After the death of his entire family and his flight from the mansion with Nick, the two boys turned to criminal(ish) activities to support themselves, so the very pretty thirteen-year-old Worrick found himself in the sex trade. His story on this front is only marginally different from Alex's – at a similar age, she was taken by a pimp and brought to Ergastulum as a prostitute. But where Worrick's experiences were, though not positive, at least not as physically abusive as Alex's, hers were immediately tied up in cruelty, drug addiction, and humiliation. While he's not unsympathetic to Alex, he doesn't initially seem to feel the same need to take her off the streets that Nick does; she's emphatically Nick's project, and Nick is the one who goes out of his way to make sure that she's safe. By the end of the series, we can tell that Worrick also cares for her, but he lacks the same emotional investment.
As a character, Alex is perhaps the most conflicted. While Worrick worries about Nick, specifically that he's actively shortening his life and doesn't see Worrick as a friend, Alex is consumed with self-doubt. It's particularly telling that even though she has stopped selling her body after moving in with Nick and Worrick, she still calls herself a prostitute. In part this is the mark of Barry, her evil former pimp and the drugs he forced her to take, but it's also a measure of how devalued she feels as a person. Her skimpy wardrobe may be less what she's grown comfortable wearing and more a scarlet letter – her way of informing the world at large that she isn't a “good girl.” Both voice casts do a good job of conveying all of these complicated situations, Kenjiro Tsuda and Brandon Potter deserve special mention for their work as Nicholas. As a deaf character, Nicholas mostly signs, but he is capable of speaking aloud, and both actors do a good job of making him sound real, rather than resorting to an offensive stereotype. Even if you aren't a commentary watcher, it's worth listening to Potter discuss how he trained for the role, which comes up in both included commentary tracks.
The biggest mark against Gangsta. as a series comes from its failure to create an ending for its story. The TV series follows Kohske's original manga very faithfully, to the point where things just cut off when the end of the adapted material arrives. To call it a cliffhanger is almost disingenuous – it's not meant to tantalize viewers, it simply stops. The good news is that as of this writing, you can run out and pick up manga volume seven to keep going, but that barely eases the shock of the abrupt stop the anime reaches.
Fortunately before that point, things are pretty good. The dark, muted colors of the show make red blood and blue eyes stand out impressively, and the animation is fluid in early episodes, particularly when sign language is used. Alex's body seems to change proportions from episode to episode, but if you're looking for female-oriented fanservice, Nick and Worrick offer plenty with their perfectly tailored shirts and well-fitting pants. The music, particularly the theme songs, really work with the story. The extras are the usual for this type of release – commentary (one audio, one video), trailers, ads, and an “extra” episode that doesn't add much. It's worth noting that the extras are only on the blu-ray discs in this set; the DVDs only have episodes and trailers. The physical extras are much more impressive, however: two cork coasters with the logo of the club "Bastard" that plays a major role in the pseudo-finale, the usual chipboard box with striking red-and-black artwork, and a tin for the in-world brand of Paradise Mints, which Alex fixates on in the Handymen's office. These have the bonus of being not only cool to look at, but useful too - assuming you don't like to keep your extras pristine, both the coasters and the tin could be used regularly.
Gangsta. is one of those series that may have erred in being too faithful to its source, resulting in an ending that frustrates. But before that point, it's an interesting journey into a Gotham-style world where violence and prejudice are the order of the day, and you never really know who's got your back.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : A-
+ Both of Nick's voice actors do a great job, interesting character relationships, past and present are well intertwined
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