Gangsta. Ep. 1: Cool cats and unlucky tramps

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What’s this? A show that doesn’t take place in Japan? And the main characters aren’t high school kids? Finally, we are far removed from the world of battling schoolchildren and state-of-the-art schools. We are far removed from magical schoolgirls and colossal robots. And amazingly, some young, unassuming shounen doesn’t just stumble his way into an amazing power that makes him the most pivotal character in the story. Don’t get me wrong, though. Kekkai Sensen was the least bad show last season, and I certainly enjoyed most of it. But the truth is that a show like Kekkai Sensen still couldn’t help but have plenty of anime notes — the same anime notes that sometimes made the anime feel too conventional and cookie-cutter. Luckily, Gangsta avoids a lot of those same notes that I often deride. So… I should like it, right? Well, I suppose it’s a breath of fresh air… if fresh air can be thugs with hearts of gold, and women being mistreated left and right. But don’t worry! Our thugs — the good ones — eventually take in Alex, the dark-haired, dark-skinned beauty with “monster tits.” Nice.

But this isn’t a post about how the downtrodden minorities are being mistreated, so I just can’t possibly watch this show. This isn’t about how the upcoming Doom game has buckets of blood and gore, so it’s oh-so-disgusting to see gamers cheer for such carnality. I’m not outraged nor am I offended by how Alex is treated in this introductory episode. At the same time, however, it is what it is: here, women are beaten, fucked in some dark alley, or sucking some guy off in front of his underlings. The two that don’t fit the above picture are either too old or too young. This, in itself, does say something — and I’ll figure out what that something is later — but it doesn’t say enough to draw me in. You gotta give me more. You gotta give me something to chew on. Worick, one of the good thugs, sarcastically says to a very bad thug, “Pieces of shit like you who beat women and don’t obey the town’s laws are our favorites.” That’s very nice and all. Yeah, down with the pimps and drug traffickers of the world! But this is a moment that only feels cool. Beyond that, it doesn’t really challenge our worldview whatsoever.

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After all, very bad men like Barry wouldn’t exist if others weren’t so willing to pay for his services. And while we brutally murder a pimp and his men in those very same alleys and dead ends that these victimized girls often find themselves cornered in, what are we to do about the johns that make it possible for this rotten world to exist? The johns who will punch a prostitute if he doesn’t get what he wants? This isn’t a condemnation of prostitution, by the way, but let’s not pretend that these men just didn’t realize that these girls aren’t desperate — that these girls aren’t resorting to sex work because they have to. And it’s a given that these very same patrons are likely our neighbors, our doctors, our teachers, so on and so forth. The point is that evil isn’t localized in bad gangsters, and hopefully, the good gangsters will be paid enough to get rid of them. Evil is a part of the landscape — our landscape — and we often do jack all about it. Like Captain Chad, we often just throw our arms up and say don’t have the money nor the resources to help those like Alex escape their situation.

I suppose Alex is very fortunate that the thugs with hearts of gold give her a handkerchief. Then after giving her a handkerchief, they even give her a job. Answer them phones for us! You don’t have to turn tricks anymore! You have a home now! You no longer have to be on the streets! But what about the rest? What about those drugged up girls in Barry’s apartment? Do they just turn to the other gangs or what? Corsica? Monroe? I don’t even know. I can’t know. And maybe that’s just because this is just an introductory episode. I can give Gangsta the benefit of the doubt, and just assume that it hasn’t had the time to reflect on the very problems it raises. Sure, I can do that. But until then, Gangsta feels a little empty to me. A little light in the head. Because the focus in the early goings are the two Handymen and how they are such cool, badass dudes. Badass enough that a katana is enough to defeat a slew of armed men in an alley. Those men were armed with guns, by the way. But maybe Nicholas is just that strong and quick that you can’t shoot him. After all, he can apparently kick hard enough to nearly flip a police car over.

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As cool and badass are they are, however, they will still help out old ladies. They will still put out a bowl of food for some stray cat. And of course, our Handymen will take Alex in and not even get handsy with her! Amazing! What a bunch of cool dudes! But cool isn’t enough here. I don’t want to sit here and say, “Well, Gangsta is worth watching, because it’s fun!” Naw man, c’mon, don’t show me a bunch of evil bastards and fucked up girls, then try to make it fun. If we’re going to move beyond the world of magical school girls and can-do shounens — if we’re going to move into the world of adults — we also have to move pass notions of “cool” and “badass.” And Alex shooting one of the very bad gangsters over and over isn’t enough. It’s not the cathartic moment that Gangsta wants. Not when there are just as many Alex’s out there with no one or nowhere to turn to. But the harsh truth is that the fun here needs to be distracting. Nicolas’s badassery and the good feels from hearing Alex answer the phone are here to make this whole sordid business palatable.

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11 thoughts on “Gangsta. Ep. 1: Cool cats and unlucky tramps”

  1. I think for me one of the things that bugged me a bit about Gangsta is that it took half the episode to get any real noticeable exposition, and even then I still had to actually look up and read about it to really get a sense for where the story was going. I mean it literally took half the episode before we got Nic’s name.

    I showed the first episode to my roommate (who’s read the source manga) and he said that the manga was better (and not….quite as full of woman-beating), but that doesn’t really make me any more excited for it.

  2. Alex getting a job answering phones for the Handymen ties nicely with a scene early in the episode where the phone’s ringing and Nick can’t hear it. You get this sense that there are these two gangsters who have closed themselves off to the world around them – one is deaf, the other missing an eye – and they constantly interact with it only through violence. To their merit they have good neighborly relations and they’re nice to kitties but it’s still a bad place all around. And they’re somehow outsiders to all of it: The reigning mobs want the newbie territory usurpers dealt with by neutrals, read: police, and the police can’t be arsed and is illicitly paying the Handymen to do it. So even though they’re in the heart of it all they’re so far down the chain it’s pathetic. The pair’s encounter with Alex is akin to taking the extra step, giving a hard look to their surroundings, and bending and manipulating them as far as they’ll go. Saving her is just the beginning and I too hope more complex issues are dealt with, the futility of it all notwithstanding.

  3. Finally. This show is just a breath of fresh air after thetrainwreck that most of the previous season was. It is nice to see protagonists which are not complexed white knights doing their daily shit. This show looks promising. I look forward to watching more of it.

  4. Dude, Kekkai Sensen was unwatchable.

    As for Gangsta, you’re right to be skeptical. What you’ve seen so far is the farthest it will go with the prostitution question. The manga is proving itself to be just another meandering meaningless seinen that keeps introducing new characters you didn’t sign up for. It’s an entertaining ride, but it won’t deliver.

  5. Reading the manga I didn’t really noticed it, but it’s hilarious to see in action a bunch of gangster holding guns, having Nic dead to right and screaming FREEZE instead of shooting him while he’s acking their members away.

  6. I watch this episode and I can’t help but think of reality just like you, mate. Personally I thought of the Rotherham rapes, how the English police either purposefully ignored or even partook in the victims’ suffering as Muslim immigrants raped, “groomed” and sexually trafficked young girls for 15yrs. That’s only one area of London, mind you, and not even speaking of other horrible atrocities occurring across the globe…

    Thinking about this with regards to Gangsta made me recall a time when I was young, real young, and had a coping mechanism I’m sure most everyone has. In order to deal with the almost physical hurt I’d feel when learning about a crime like this, I would retreat into a fantasized version of the scenario. Some brave badass hero would come along and save the victims of such a crime. He’d be brutal but with a heart of gold and afterwards everything would be better…in my fantasy.
    You get where I’m coming from?

    This show immediately feels like someone’s escapism from the real world, or rather, from the reality of severe trauma. It begins so cruelly and viciously to establish the the portion of the real world the writer is affected by (leaving out the elements they haven’t really learned of, very real elements you described). Once this victimization is established — IN COMES THE BADASS HERO(ES)! With a WAM! and a SLAM! they beat the bad guys up and rescue the poor victim(s), even maybe becoming friends with them!
    “YEAH!” screams the twelve year old me, “SLICE THOSE PRICKS! SHOOT THAT BASTARD! YES!”

    …But then it ends. Oh, not the momentum of the story. That continues on and on as escapism for whatever other horrible true life event the writer is affected by, acting as his own personal lifesaver for when he just can’t take the brutality of reality and just NEEDS to right this evil wrong.
    ___No, what ends is the story itself, and both the writer and the audience is left to once again face reality and see that their journey through this fantasy scenario has changed nothing.

    That’s why we learn to stop relying on that kind of escapism when we grow up. It doesn’t help us reconcile with the facts, it doesn’t give us hope and doesn’t help anyone heal. All it does is further fuel the ingrained idea that someone, somewhere should have been the hero, and that if they were then everything would have been right! It’s a hindrance to us and retards us in every way possible, especially emotionally and creatively.

    Just like you said, mate:
    “If we’re going to move beyond the world of magical school girls and can-do shounens — if we’re going to move into the world of adults — we also have to move pass notions of “cool” and “badass.” And Alex shooting one of the very bad gangsters over and over isn’t enough. It’s not the cathartic moment that Gangsta wants. Not when there are just as many Alex’s out there with no one or nowhere to turn to.”

    Indeed the truth is that this show has to be “fun” but only because this show clearly was never conceived with the intent of helping anyone. It won’t shine a light on the “politically inconvenient” truths and worse yet won’t help us, real people, learn to cope and overcome trauma. This show is escapism built off subject ripped from headlines that the broader public keeps in the shadows for fear of being affected by them, of feeling hurt or having to deal with an impotent rage.
    ___Why learn to deal with that heartbreak, that anger, and channel it into something you can actually do to help, if there is anything one can do? It’s easier, safer, to just retreat into Gangsta.

    Now there’s nothing wrong with escapism, of course. Yet when a story involves this kind of a real and mature problem and does its best to initially convey it as gritty and realistically as possible, it can’t just descend into “badassery”. Or rather, it can, but it will always be hollow.

  7. Hey! I’m seeking for Anime/Manga writers and stumpled across your blog. I could not find your contact details, can you kindly send me an e-mail: alysonburston[at]live.com — It’s regarding writing about Manga & Anime type of offer. This is not spam btw. Cheers.

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