GANGSTA. – Episode 4: “Noncomformist”

Brown and grey and read all over. Screenshot_2015-07-23-18-06-40 I keep wanting to talk to people about this show, so it looks like GANGSTA has made my episode blog schedule. FUNImation is still being delightfully unclear about its actual release date (their schedule says Sunday but the last two episodes have come out at various times on Wednesday), and since my mid-week schedule is already packed with My Love Story and Sailor Moon, I’m shooting for Saturday posts at this point. I’ll let you know via Twitter if that changes.

[EDIT: Thanks to some broadcasting delays, it looks like GANGSTA will in fact be a Sunday show from now on. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change again.]

For those just now coming in, I did a Premiere Post and a Rule of Three as well, so feel free to catch up on those before diving into this one. Also, as with all my episode posts, it’s assumed you’ve seen the episode under discussion. I haven’t read the manga, though, so there won’t be any spoilers for that, and I’d ask that commenters refrain from discussing anything in the manga (even “they left out X,” as they could work it in later) for the sake of both myself and other readers. Thanks! Now hit the jump for an Episode 4 rundown.

Like last week, GANGSTA settles into a back-and-forth rhythm between past and present story arcs, which gives the modern-day action extra weight and serves to keep the story moving snappily between multiple plot lines. It also allows the titles to have nifty little double-meanings, as the “noncomformist” could either refer to The Handyman Formerly Known As Wallace or the young Tagged assailant ignoring the “Three Laws” enforced in Ergastulum.

Screenshot_2015-07-23-18-19-36

Go on, ask him how many damns he gives. The answer will NOT surprise you.

Speaking of those three laws, this episode dropped a lot of casual references and details without bothering to explain every single one of them. Personally I enjoy that kind of storytelling—I like getting thrown into a world and figuring out its rules as I go—but I can see it being a little overwhelming. So before we get into character analysis and potential thematic chatter, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to do a run down on pertinent plot details first. So, here’s what we learned this week:

  • During the “East-West Wars of Unification,” a bio-enhancement drug called Celebrer was used to turn people into super-soldiers, but was quickly discontinued due to its side effects (dependency, memory loss, death).The descendants of these Celebrer users have certain heightened physical abilities (particularly combat-related), but also certain mental and physical “deficiencies,” as well as a dependency on Celebrer and significantly shortened life spans. These descendants are commonly known as a “Twilights” (a.k.a, Nicolas Brown).
    Li'l Nic makes the best faces, btw.

    Li’l Nic makes the best faces, BTW.

  • Fifteen years ago there was something called “the Twilight Hunts.”
  • Nic’s childhood boss/teacher(?), Gaston Brown, was once in charge of “quashing the anti-Twilight faction,” but then joined the Arcangelo family’s security team. He brought Nic with him, which is how he and Worick met each other.
  • Worick (formerly Wallace Arcangelo) appears to have been the product of a tryst between the Arcangelo patriarch and a mistress, and is isolated and shunned because of it. He also has a photographic memory (in that exaggerated way fictional characters always have photographic memories), which makes him useful to the police and a nightmare for his old tutors.

Everybody got all that? Awesome.

Well SORRY, Wally, but some of us AREN'T superhuman. We need bullet points to help us get through our classes.

Well SORRY, Wally, but some of us AREN’T superhuman and we need bullet points to help us get through our classes.

So. Plot points and world-building aside, what are we really dealing with here? As is expected from an episode with one foot in the present and one in the past (and a character who can remember all of it with perfect clarity), there’s an underlying theme here about growth and change—and, because of the unspoken but ever-present acknowledgement of Nic’s own shortened life span, death.

Chad (a cop who is getting too old for this shit) has known and worked with Worick and Nic since they were seventeen, and he’s not quite sure if either of them has actually changed. Worick, too, teases Nic about how he looks the same as his old arrest photo. Really, the whole series thus far has presented our two leads as drifters, cycling through jobs (and secretaries, apparently) more as a way to kill time than with any active goals in mind.

It’s unsurprising that the equally directionless Alex is drawn to them, nor that all three appear to be hiding from their own demons: Worick from his family, Alex from old traumas and abuses, and it’s suggested that Nic sticks to back alleys in order to stay out of someone‘s sight, although it’s unclear who just yet. I’m not sure where all of this is going yet, but it’s definitely there, so it’s worth mentioning now so we can come back to it as needed.

gangsta4-1

Much like Odysseus, Alex is caught between a rock and the bloody taunting memory of her abusive former pimp.

Although really, the best thing about this episode was watching “Wallace” gradually lay the groundwork for his friendship with Nic. He’s an angry kid who’s smart enough to know his family situation and (judging by his clenched fists) figure out that Nic is a Twilight, but he’s still quite sheltered, unprepared for either Nic’s deafness or his casual familiarity. At this point it strikes me as more fascination than genuine affection, a relationship built on loneliness and a desire for human contact (particularly from someone his own age). Watching that gradually become the relaxed, trusting bond they have now is going to be a treat, as will the emotional impact it has on present timeline events.

Screenshot_2015-07-23-18-22-38

“But seeing as how we’re gonna be partners for the next, like, 20 years, now seems as good a time as any.”

I suppose I should mention the new Tagged (another top-tier “A/0,” like Nic), but really, we’ll have time to discuss that next week, and I find the character stuff 100 times more interesting than any of the crime drama. Part of this is certainly due to the animation – at this point I think it’s fair to say it’s never going to be all that fluid or stylized and I’m just going to have to deal with that. Same with the music, which you don’t realize is repetitive and lackluster until you do, and then you cannot stop realizing it. (Sorry. I just ruined the music for someone, didn’t I?)

That said, I do continue to like the direction in this series, as it refuses to glorify or romanticize violence, and often even pulls us away from the big bloody action shot to focus on individual reactions instead. Skewed angles help to show how broken Wallace’s world and his personal prejudices about Nic are, and the script juggles its dual story lines clearly and smoothly. There are some definite production issues, don’t get me wrong, and a part of me will always be a little sad that we’re not getting the perfect GANGSTA experience. But with this much meat to chew on, I don’t particularly mind if the side dishes are a little bland.

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2 thoughts on “GANGSTA. – Episode 4: “Noncomformist”

  1. I agree with you on mostly everything except the whole “refuses to glorify violence”.

    Gangsta is a MATURE show, and with it, the glorified violence of 90s anime makes a resounding return. Its one of the reasons I enjoy the show.

    I’m personally also of the mind the production on this show is STELLAR. Its Manglobe, and those guys have never skimped on animation. Repeatedly throughout the series four episodes, I’ve been amazed at the spectacle.

    The repetitiveness of the music is something I often see with anime, and rarely mind it. Its a very japanese thing to do (they do so a lot in their video games too). It ends up giving us a sense of the familiar, and sets a cadence and tone for every scene.

    But for all the little things I might respectfully disagree with, I agree with the most important point.

    I think what makes this show truly stand out is that its a character driven show, and a very very well written show. The way the exposition for this show is handled, is just clever. There’s no feeling of contrived info dumps, but rather everything’s organically thrown out there for the viewer to latch onto.

    If you’re not paying attention, then you’re likely to miss out on those little world building tidbits.

    I honestly think, with Working!!!, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, Gangsta is the top tier show of the season.

    Love that you’re blogging this series. If I had the mental and physical bandwidth, I would too, but its interesting to hear your thoughts on this. Especially cause for once, we’re not entirely on the same page (Different view points are what make life so interesting!)

    Like

    • You write such long comments! I love it, but sometimes it means it takes me a while to get back to you ’cause I wanna write a little novel in reply, lol.

      Hm… perhaps “glorify” isn’t the right word to describe the violence in GANGSTA? What I meant was, there are roughly two kinds of “mature” violence/crime-focused series, which I guess you could over-simplify down to “revelry” versus “tragedy.” Shows like Black Lagoon and Baccano are built around this kind of high-octane, over-the-top violence; it’s romanticized and fantasized to the point where you’re supposed to take a certain level of giddy glee in watching everyone go around blowing up things and kicking faces in. Shows like that will have its serious moments and character beats, but the primary goal is to have fun, to provide viewers with a kind of cathartic release of aggression. They revel in sprays of blood and flying heads. Like Tarantino movies, I s’pose.

      Then you have shows like Gunslinger Girl or GANGSTA which, I’d say, aren’t intended to evoke that “hellz yeah!” emotion the majority of the time. Not that they won’t have kickass moments, but the general idea for these types of stories is to focus on the physical and psychological ramifications of these hyper-masculine war/crime stories, so that the undercurrent is one of tragedy rather than revelry.

      Because of that focus, GANGSTA is less interested in the violence itself (there’s very little in the way of gratuitous blood splatters and lingering gore shots) and more interested in people’s reactions to that violence. And those reactions are often (particularly where newcomers like Alex are concerned) ones of confusion and horror. So when I say the series doesn’t glorify violence, I mean that it ultimately wants to say that this bloody mentality is damaging, not something people should want to emulate.

      Put another way, watching Baccano makes me want to fight people on top of a train, because it looks cool and you get to make awesome friends; watching GANGSTA absolutely does not make me want to live in Ergastulum and take down crime bosses, because of how clearly that life style is wrecking its characters.

      For the record, I like both the revelry and tragedy versions of violence (I enjoyed Kill Bill and Boardwalk Empire in equal measures), but it’s been a while since i’ve seen an anime that approaches its brutal world with this much sadness, so I wanted to highlight that. Clearly I should’ve used more than a couple sentences to do so, though. ^^;;

      As for the production issues – I like Manglobe too, and for the most part everyone’s on-model and consistent in their movements, but I find some of the animation to be rather jerky (there was one scene where the cops were halfway teleporting down a hallway), and many of the alley scenes lack a certain level of depth. I’m not sure if GANGSTA’s heavy use of skewed angles helps or hurts things, but moments like characters jumping up buildings have a tendency to look weirdly flat, as if the people and backgrounds aren’t quite in sync w/ each other. Hard to explain without screenshots and clips, but because it usually does look pretty good, those moments are really jarring for me. Could just be a tastes thing, though.

      It’s not so much that the soundtrack reuses pieces (in order to evoke particularly emotions or tie different scenes/characters to each other, etc. – I love stuff like that), but that all of the tracks sound basically the same, a bland jangle of the same instruments with little variation in key, rhythm, or tempo, so that none of them are distinguishable from the others, making it all but impossible to tie any of them to a specific feeling or character.

      And actually, the bland jangle doesn’t bother me that much because I can just tune it out, but every so often we get these super out-of-place synth riffs that are just plain weird. The last scene of Episode 4 was where I first really noticed it; we were about to enter a big kickass battle but instead of getting some jazzy chords or rising drumbeats or what have you, we got this bizarre electro-rock piece that evoked a kind off-kilter “bad trip” feeling rather than building aggression. Again, hard to explain without the scene in front of me, but it was really odd and made me sad, ’cause the music fit the scene so poorly that it sapped it of a lot of its tension for me.

      But, again, these are all pretty minor quibbles, all things considered. I come to fiction for compelling stories and characters, and GANGSTA has that in droves, so I’m overall pleased with the experience thus far. Much like with OreMono, though, because it does do so much that I like, the stuff that I don’t tend to stand out even more, and I can’t help but mention it.

      Thanks again for the nice long comment and discussion! It’s good to hear other opinions! Hopefully this reply wasn’t terribly TL;DR, but you got me thinking about things and I wanted to make sure I explained myself clearly.

      Like

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