Consider my production complaints temporarily revoked.
Hot damn, did this episode look good. Thanks to some fluid fight sequences, gorgeous shot selection, and snappy camera movement, “Sanctions” maintained tension and excitement without sacrificing coherency or thematic unity to do it. The scenes flowed from action to exposition more-or-less seamlessly, mixing the clash of swords into the background to remind us what was happening just off-screen, and even the music caught my ear in a good way thanks to a slow, jazzy piano number that merged the violence on-screen with the undercurrent of tragedy that’s present even during the show’s most high-octane moments.
So, yeah. I liked the look of this one a whole helluva lot.
Certainly we have Manglobe’s animation team and some quality sakuga (dynamic in-between animation) between Nic and Doug to thank for this, but a lot of the credit goes to episode director Ho Pyeon-Gang (whose small filmography includes shows as diverse as SAO, Silver Spoon, and Baby Steps) and his mixing of quick cuts, key close-ups, and off-kilter angles to keep everything frenetic, unstable, and just a little claustrophobic. This was his first GANGSTA episode, and I very much hope it isn’t his last.
While the focus of this episode was on the showdown between Nic and Doug, two A/0 tags having way too much fun beating the crap out of each other, there was still plenty of world-building and character development to talk about, too. This is looking to be the kind of show that strolls along its timeline(s) dropping plot points like breadcrumbs as it goes, making Bullet Point Rundowns a handy, recurring feature. So what’d we learn this time?
- Doug belongs to the Paulklee Guild, run by a seasoned Tag named Gina. The guild members seem to function as mercenaries-for-hire and are almost (if not entirely) populated by Tags. They carry some serious clout in the city, too, judging by Worick and Danny’s concern about what might happen if Doug gets killed in this fight.
- Despite Ergastulum’s claim to have abolished slavery, Tags are pretty much all owned in some way, either through the guild or individual contractors. It keeps them safe from discrimination and hate crimes, but also limits their actions.
- And speaking of those limits, the Twilights operate under Three Laws: (1) Don’t take action against “normals,” (2) Obey your master, and (3) Defend yourself. So, basically, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’d say 3 and 2 can override 1 in certain circumstances, but what these rules really boil down to is: Force the Twilights to become mercenaries for Normals and order them to kill each other so the Normals don’t have to risk their own necks to do it. It’s a messed up system that dehumanizes the Twilights maybe even more than they already were, and it’s no wonder that Chad doesn’t like it.
- Oh, and in order to maintain the city’s shaky power balance, some people are “under protection by the Three Laws,” including Boss Monroe and presumably many of the other higher-ups on both sides of the law. Meaning that, by accepting a contract without Guild approval and going after a protected individual, Doug was rocking all kinds of boats this week.
There’s a lot to unpack here, especially in terms of how we read Worick and Nic’s relationship. Up till now we’ve assumed our Handymen were working as equals—Worick has made it a point to regularly call Nic “Partner” (相棒; aibou), especially in front of Alex—but this week we learn it’s a lot less balanced than he makes it look.
Worick is Nic’s “contract holder,” meaning that at best they have an employer-employee relationship and, at worst, a master-slave one. Granted, both receive benefits from the contract, offering the other social and physical protection, but the onus is on Worick to keep Nic “under control,” and when push comes to shove (as it did this week), he’s able to deliver direct orders that Nic pretty much has to follow if he wants to maintain his safety and quasi-independence.
It’s viciously clever to wait five episodes before revealing this information, because it changes our perception of past interactions and makes us question just how much we really knew about these characters. Before, I figured Nic listened to Worick out of respect; now I know he was just following orders, albeit implied ones.
We still don’t know how the contract between them came about, although it’s likely that Worick did it because Nic was being targeted by anti-Twilights and this was the easiest way to keep him safe. Worick certainly clings to the idea that their relationship is one of friendship, not servitude, and I don’t doubt that he genuinely cares for Nic. We have no idea how Nic feels about all this, though, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become a point of (major?) tension and conflict between the two of them at some point.
One thing we did learn about Nic this week: He’s kinda fucked up. I started reading the manga (I’m not going to read ahead, I just like to go back over events since there’s so many little plot points and recurring characters to keep track of), and it’s a lot clearer from the start that Nic has a bit of the mad dog in him, coming alive with a kind of reckless, almost malicious glee whenever he’s allowed to go all-out against an opponent.
The anime adaptation is ever-so-slightly more restrained than the manga, so this wasn’t quite as obvious from the outset, but here we really see how much he lives for the fight and how little regard he seems to have for his own well-being, intentionally (and regularly) overdosing on Celebrer so he can fight without feeling pain, and needing Worick to physically hold him back to prevent him from finishing off Doug (and likely dooming himself in the process).
So Nic is slowly killing himself, Worick is aggressively maintaining an illusion of equality and emotional closeness that may not actually exist, and Alex is still privately working through her own traumas, beating back the ghost of her past abuser. These three were made for each other.
And speaking of Alex, someone (who either is Dr. Theo or looks a lot like him) has taken her off on a quest or a kidnapping, so it doesn’t look like Worick will be getting a breather any time soon. Alex hasn’t had much to do since joining the cast, so hopefully this will be a good chance for her to exercise some agency and get some extra development, allowing her to stand alongside her two partners as a compelling character in her own right. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.