Panning the Stream: GANGSTA, Ushio and Tora, SHIMONETA

It’s okay to be a little GARish sometimes.

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Summer shows continue to run the gamut in terms of genre and content, and so it’s unsurprising that today we turn to series that look nothing like anything else we’ve seen so far this season: A criminal underworld drama and a classic shounen action/adventure. Oh, and a weak attempt at satire which earns a spot as my first official dropped show of the season. But mostly the first two. Hit the jump for even more summer series that caught my eye and popped with potential.

GANGSTA.

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Studio: Manglobe
Based On: The manga by Kohske
Streaming On: Funimation (U.S./Canada)

In a Sentence: In a town rife with crime, “handymen” Worick and Nicolas work as freelance agents for the mob and the police alike, helping to maintain a shaky balance between forces.

How was it? Great pieces (setting, cast, premise) somewhat awkwardly put together.

Overall
GANGSTA is a series in the same vein as the “Rated M for Mature” shoot-em-ups like Black Lagoon or Jormungand, seemingly as interested in exploring the why of these seedy underbellies and not-quite-legal operations (and the often-complex psychologies of the people involved in them) as it is in showing them in all their ultraviolent glory. Shows like this are up my alley as long as they don’t get too exploitative, and so far GANGSTA has tread the line between making us aware of its darkness without devolving into “violence porn.” Case in point: This first episode revolves around a prostitute working for an abusive pimp, but doesn’t feel the need to show us endless footage of her getting smacked around; it’s established, we get the idea, and we move on.

The animation could stand to be more fluid and the direction more dynamic, as its extended action sequences lack tension or excitement. Execution issues aside, the cast has already shown signs of depth and history (particularly Nicholas, a “Tagged” katana-wielder who also happens to be deaf), and the world has a lot of room for expansion. I’m sticking around for at least a few to see if GANGSTA can be a crime-world brawl worth caring about.

Ushio and Tora

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Studio: MAPPA
Based On: The manga by Fujita Kazuhiro
Streaming On: Crunchyroll (click here for the full list of regions)

In a Sentence: Middle school student Ushio forms an uneasy partnership with an ancient demon in order to protect his home from supernatural threats.

How was it? Straight outta 1995 in the best possible way.

Overall
You can go ahead and tag this as my most pleasant surprise of the season. I knew a lot of people were excited about this series, but I’m not a huge fan of long-running, premise-based shounen titles, so I wasn’t expecting much. What I got was an adaptation of an early ‘90s manga that makes no attempts to update its art style or content, which leads to a snappily paced old-school romp equal parts humor and horror. Add to this an art design full of thick lines and vivid colors (MAPPA is swiftly becoming one of the most distinctive animation studios in the business), and you’ve got one heck of an energetic and all-around fun story so far.

The biggest challenge with long-running shounen titles is maintaining momentum and building stakes without getting mired in endless action filler and/or increasingly ridiculous power-ups. The manga is complete at 33 volumes, so we know there’s an end in sight, and MAPPA currently has the series scheduled for 39 episodes, which likely means they’ll be streamlining it down to its essential story elements. Good things all around, really. I’ve had shounen snag me with the pilot only to lose me in the ensuing weeks, so I’ll be proceeding with caution. But I liked this one a whole lot, and hope that continues to be the case.

Dropped

SHIMONETA: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist

I hate it when a show’s premise has so much potential and then flubs the execution. The concept – a near-future where all sexuality is taboo, “immoral” material like porn and “dirty” words are banned, and abstinence-only education is mandatory at school and home alike – could have provided some smart, funny commentary on cultural sex-shaming, repression, and censorship. Instead, it’s a lot of aggressively unfunny dialogue shouted by an over-the-top girl as she drags a hapless boy along on a mission (gee, haven’t see that before).

Add to this the fact that we’re one episode in and already two conflicts have involved women falsely accusing men of harassment/assault for their own gains (because obviously stricter rules/punishments regarding sexual assault will be horribly abused, and excuse me while I puke), and I have zero faith that this series is going to provide meaningful commentary of any kind. I’m out.

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