By Meghan Ellis.
From the very first trailer, Gangsta has promised heavy themes, heavy violence and heavy music, and it’s a show that delivers on those promises with relish. In a welcome challenge to Summer 2015’s saccharine sweet anime line-up, Gangsta delivers everything you could want from a show with a criminal slant: two “handymen” who take on all the jobs that the Mob… and the police… can’t handle themselves.
Directed by Shukou Murase of Ergo Proxy and Samurai Champloo fame, it shows a careful concern with style and substance, juxtaposing musical aesthetic with time period and setting. There’s also deliberate cultivation of an underground feel: even the theme song (performed by STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION) is called “Renegade”, and features distinctly 18-rated graphics. But what’s really made the show stand out so far are the characters. From our first encounter with prostitute Alex, to Nic’s cleverly-revealed deafness, these aren’t your typical lowlives. Add Worick, a one-eyed blonde man with an unusual day job, and you have the show’s handymen – bodies for hire who are just as likely to work for the city’s mafia as the local authorities. Even the traditional shady doctor and aging detective, so common in criminal shows, are made likeable at the same time they’re made morally suspect.
The world of Gangsta is an ugly, bloodstained place where connections are king and money is key: the handymen eke out a living by accepting money from everyone and affiliating with no-one, and immediately we see that they’re not exactly working for the greater good. It adds a dangerous, unsavoury element to Worick and Nic that keeps them firmly in the grey; shown gradually through newcomer Alex’s eyes as she tries to puzzle them out.
For having such rich characters, their home town of Ergastulum has been called out as being simply too whitewashed and clean a place to fit the shady, underground lifestyle of its inhabitants. But the clues are there in the odd-sounding name: an ergastulum in ancient room was a place for chaining unruly slaves, and the city is soon revealed as having a shadowy past and even shadowier purpose. Alex mentions restrictions on walking on main streets, and the propaganda posters everywhere suggest military endeavours…. Plus, I like the sunbleached, dusty buildings. It’s a nice change from the rainy steel-bound cities of most crime shows. Don’t you think the suits, sun and sandstone add a Sicilian feel to the place? Ergastulum really is Mafia-central.
Gangsta a deeply interesting take on the criminal lifestyle. As intriguing as it is repulsive, it’s a show that’s definitely worth watching. I know I’m waiting to see if we’re treated to more katana-wielding dubstep-fuelled badassery from our favourite deaf maniac.
Gangsta is streaming now on Viewster.