GANGSTA. – Episode 5: “Sanctions”

Consider my production complaints temporarily revoked.

Screenshot_2015-08-02-11-28-27

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.

I may have drooled all over my tablet during this shot.

Broken glass, darkness, and two people crammed together in a a square of dim light trying to keep the chaos at bay. I may have drooled all over my tablet during this shot.

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.
Five bucks says someone mentions the Three Laws in front of him every damn episode from now on.

Five bucks says someone mentions the Three Laws in front of Chad every single week from now on.

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.

Ba-dum tish

Ba-dum tish

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.

Screenshot_2015-08-02-11-38-35

It’s a lot easier to talk about friendship when you’re the one holding the reins.

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).

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Nic doesn’t have the strength to sign all the things he’d like Gina to go do, but rest assured he’s thinking them as hard as he can.

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.

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3 thoughts on “GANGSTA. – Episode 5: “Sanctions”

  1. I’m glad you liked the production this week because it really was stellar.

    I think its fascinating how subtle and low key some truly earth shattering things can be in this show, and I think you just put the whole thing in about this episode in a nuttshell with:

    “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.”

    Wow… that’s some heavy stuff if you think about it. I think the thing that really hit me the most was the reveal of Worrick and Nic’s relationship.

    I don’t think there’s any sense of superiority on Worrick’s part though, and I do feel like him being Nic’s contract holder is the best way for Worrick to protect his friend. Now, I’m not sure if Nic quite appreciates it though, and or likes it, or understands what Worrick is doing for him.

    I think it was interesting that this episode had us hear Nic’s thoughts, which is something we haven’t quite seen from the serious too much this episode. I’m hoping we get more of that.

    I dunno about you, but for me personally, Worrick is emerging as my favorite character of the series. I think its the disdain that he feels for being “Nic’s contract holder”, for wanting to be his friend, for saving the other Tag user when he clearly could’ve abandoned him, for calling Alex, that show his humanity and strength of character.

    Its amazing that a guy like him exists, given how effed up his surroundings are. I think you mentioned in a reply to my comment from last week that Ergastulum is kind of place you’d never want to live in, and I totally agree.

    Also in terms of long comments, I do apologize, Its just a force of habit from the fact that I’m a writer as well, and your writing just breeds good thought and discussion. Don’t worry about responding to me at length, you already write an amazingly detailed post, my comments are more of a response to the conversation that you start (and its a darn good one!).

    Again, I’m glad your blogging this series, it gives me a place to read and discuss this show in a manner that’s entertaining and insightful.

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    • Manga Worrick is snarkier and more handsy with Alex (though she made it abundantly clear during the brothel visit that his advances are not welcome, so hopefully he respects that in later chapters), which makes him more human but also less likable. It’s hard for me to separate the two versions at this point but I do agree that he’s spent the past couple episodes really coming into his own as a sympathetic, complex character, and he’s right there with Nic in terms of my interest in his story and motivations.

      Plus, like you, I appreciate that he really does seem to care about Nic as a person and not just a bodyguard or weapon. I think he got put into an impossible situation and did the best he could with it; his “contract” relationship with Nic strikes me as more indicative of their broken world than them as individuals. And while I agree that there’s no sense of superiority on Worrick’s part, the system is set up in a such a way that he can wield a lot of power over Nic, and the fact that he’s done so shows how these unbalanced power structures can warp relationships even without the individual being entirely aware of it.

      Gah, the more I think about this show, the more complex and fascinating its character dynamics and sociopolitical themes get. It’s tough for me to keep my posts limited to 1000-ish words sometimes, so it’s nice to be able to talk more about it in these comments. So no need to apologize! I’m glad for the conversation.

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