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.
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.
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.