by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 4 of
In its fourth episode, Gangsta. addresses many of my hopes for its narrative so far. We learn a bit about Worick and Nic's past. Alex has also displayed character beyond “passive voyeur.” The story's pacing has been upped, and it feels like there's more happening per episode than before. The production issues, however, have only been magnified. The colors are even more washed out, the animation has reached “QUALITY” levels, and the score stills seems like an eternally looping three-second Casio beat. I want to like you more, Gangsta., but presentation counts.
Back when his parents were alive, Worick (whose real name is Wallace Arcangelo) was a rich kid. Bored by his studies and neglected by his parents, he forms an illicit friendship with Nic, the child mercenary assigned to protect him. This section also gives us some information on where Twilights came from. They're the descendants of people who abused Celebrer, a drug used several generations ago to create super soldiers. Celebrer addiction is hereditary and people who stop taking it die. At first, Worick is repulsed by Nic's passivity and even his disability, but Nic gets through to him with his lonely, innocent soul.
While Worick doesn't seem to be a Twilight, he does have a special ability - a photographic memory. This makes him a fantastic data analyst. When the police call him in, he can sort through a full binder and identify the people involved in minutes. This explains how Nic and Worick have managed to carve out a somewhat independent niche in Ergastulum's highly organized criminal underground. They're involved with many sects as both muscle and information brokers. Nic's dad, Gaston Brown, was a military commander who crushed some sort of “anti-Twilight faction.” This probably has something to do with his son being a Twilight. The condition is hereditary, so there's a good shot that he's one too. Worick's dad is also involved in this. The maids gossip about his “cheap prostitute” mistress, so you know he's a shady dude. After all, only the worst people would be involved with prostitutes in this universe.
Alex is only in the episode briefly, but she's used well. When she learns that the last girl to stay with Nic and Worick befell some danger, she has a vision of her former pimp, Barry. He speaks to her fears: that she won't be able to escape her former life, and that the boys will coerce her into sex in exchange for room and board. Although clearly in pain, she reassures herself that they're not like that. At this point in their relationship, it's more blind hope than anything, but it's a hope that the viewers share. We want Nic and Worick to be good guys who help Alex recover. I'm confident that it'll work out, but I'm curious about how Gangsta. handles Alex's journey towards trusting them. In about a minute of screentime, Gangsta. conveys the complex, sympathetic, and realistic psychology of an abuse victim. (The book she's reading also indicates that she's trying to learn sign language. She's making an effort to communicate with Nic on his terms. D'awwwww.)
This is all ancillary to the episode's plot, which concerns Nic and Worick interfering in a back alley fight between Gangster Monroe and a powerful Twilight. (I've seen this guy on promotional materials so I presume he's a main character, but he doesn't have a name yet.) Nico takes over, and the episode cuts as Gangster Monroe takes bets on them.
When I stand back and think about this episode, it was solid. The flashbacks were interspersed with the present-day story in a meaningful way. There was a lot of subtly-conveyed character information. Ergastulum's power dynamics are starting to take shape. The editing and cinematography are fine – they do a great job at using image association to make a potentially tangled sequence of events flow seamlessly. Sure, the animation is rough, but it's what I expect from Manglobe at this point. Bad animation can be redeemed by great design – just check out Tokyo Ghoul or Michiko and Hatchin. But Gangsta.'s art and sound direction are aggressively unengaging. The art reminds me most of Texhnolyze, a story about humanity dying out from sheer existential ennui. This is supposed to be gritty fun, not gritty bore-my-eyes-to-death. This show should match the opening, which recalls both Michiko and Hatchin and Black Lagoon – anime with style, or at least with colors. I straight up have no idea what's happening with the soundtrack. Gangsta. would be better with a functional one.
I haven't seen such a promising story matched with such dull artistry before. It's a tonal issue more than anything. The art design works for scenes that benefit from a sense of alienation, like Alex's panic attack and Worick's flashbacks, but it destroys the comedy and action. It's like Gangsta.'s script has been shot in the kneecaps. It's a real shame, but at least there's plenty to talk about.
Gangsta. is currently streaming on Funimation.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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