GANGSTA. – Episode 8: “Evening Dress”

Well, even the best teams have off nights, I suppose…

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As I mentioned before, I’m reading the corresponding GANGSTA manga chapter after watching the anime episodes to help solidify all the names, factions, and plot nuggets, and while the two are identical (so far) in terms of basic story, there are small cuts and line changes that dramatically affect the overall tone. The manga’s more graphic with its violence, more direct in its world-building, less tasteful in the way characters (especially Worick) treat women and marginalized groups, and sillier in its content, utilizing comically deformed faces and asides.

In other words, the manga looks a lot more like the anime episode we got this week.

I too felt like a drink after this one, Alex.

Good call, Alex. I, too, wanted a stiff drink after watching this one.

Don’t get me wrong: The manga isn’t bad by any means, and I can see why some would even prefer it, especially if you’re looking for a lighter shoot-em-up instead of a quiet character study. For my money, though, the anime is by far the stronger overall production, as I adore its restraint, thoughtfulness, and graceful narrative control, particularly given the heavy subject matter. But regardless of personal preferences, if the anime had wanted to bring in more of Kohske’s humor and/or directness, waiting until Episode 8 to do so was a major tonal misstep, jarring at its best and downright awful at its worst.

In other words, this was one rough episode.

Who are you and what are you doing in this show?!

“Sorry about this, audience, but a high school stereotype seems to have wandered in from the bad harem rom-com anime next door. We’ll escort her from the premises straight away.”

For starters, the few bits of plot- and world-building were thrown at our faces instead of getting worked into the episode via natural conversations or actions. Much of this week’s dialogue felt stilted or forced, but the most egregious was easily when Marco all but says “Let me exposit at you!” right before he explains how the Four Fathers divvy up Ergastulum business:

  • Paulklee runs the Twilight mercenary guild
  • Corsica deals in weapons and vice
  • Monroe gives assistance and brokers business deals for “unaffiliated Twilights”
  • Cristiano handles the distribution of Celebrer

Not even the animation team seemed to be trying very hard this week, given all the wonky movements and noticeably off-model character designs. Gangsta has struggled at times to give its action smoothness or a sense of depth, but at least people’s pupils were looking in the same direction. I’m used to a show’s quality dipping mid-season, but this was just plain distracting. Fingers crossed it was an aberration and not a sign of ongoing production woes.

Too bad you snapped her neck before she ever got the chance to perform.

Too bad you snapped her neck before she could perform.

By far the most puzzling and frustrating decisions this week were the tonal ones surrounding the female characters. Loretta Cristiano is Every Annoying Teenage Anime Girl Ever, a walking cliche in a show refreshingly free of those. While she’s at least got enough moxie and cleverness to keep her from being wholly irredeemable, her interactions this week were obnoxious, full of slapstick and shrieking that would be irritating on any show but stick out like a sore thumb in Gangsta. The less of her we get, the better off we’ll be.

And then there’s Alex. There was a lot of great stuff surrounding her this week, and I swear I’m going to spend the last part of this post talking about positive things because I’d much rather be doing that anyway, but… what the hellGangsta? When did you suddenly decide to use her sexuality as a punch line, or to make casual harassment something we’re supposed to find amusing? That kind of cheap, victimizing humor is callous at the best of times, but here, where Alex’s entire personal story line thus far has been about her recovering from physical and sexual abuse, it’s downright disgusting. This episode put a sour taste in my mouth from the moment it tossed it that “they feel real” joke, and not even its best scenes could ever quite wash that out.

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻)

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
That’s all I got. Just (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

You can do better, Gangsta. I know you can because I’ve seen you spend the last seven episodes handling Alex with sympathy and respect. You’ve been remarkably non-judgmental about sex work itself while also highlighting the many problems and dangers inherent within the system, most of which boil down to a lack of legal protection for the workers. This has allowed you to tackle abuse without once shaming or sexualizing the abused character(s), something many shows struggle with or fail at altogether.

You are a smart, mature series. You do not need to resort to gross groping jokes or have every other character leer at Alex just to remind us how much objectification she has to deal with on a regular basis. Remember when you showed Barry harassing her once, briefly, and then trusted the audience to get it? Do that. Don’t do this. “This” makes me write rants, and neither of us want that.

Nic is giving you all the side-eyes.

Nic is giving you all the side-eyes.

That said, not everything this week involved long sighs and twitching eyebrows. Animation woes aside, there were two good-to-excellent scenes this week, both dealing to some extent with Alex’s returning memories. An offhand question about Alex’s family leads her to remember a younger brother she’s left at East Gate, and she spends much of the rest of the episode struggling to solidify those memories. While the reveal came way too close to the actual appearance of said brother in Ergastulum, it’s executed well, particularly in showing how much closer Alex has grown to both the Handymen.

Worick provides a listening ear and reminds her that she still has a place to call “home” until she finds her real one, further solidifying the casual intimacy developing between them, but it’s Nic’s silent gestures that provide the emotional core of this scene. Observant and more concerned than he lets on, Nic not only notices Alex’s discomfort and intentionally interrupts her conversation with Connie, but then steps in and steadies her, grounding her again in reality and easing her out of a near panic attack. There’s a mutual fascination between these two, and an empathetic understanding as well, I think, and it comes through here in a moment made all the more powerful for its silence.

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Now there’s the Gangsta I know and love!

Then, of course, there was that final, lovely musical montage, which almost single-handedly saved the episode. It’s a beautiful number filled with beautiful shots: Alex crooning into the mic, looking comfortable, even happy (the camera lingers a bit, but I didn’t mind it here because for once that sexuality is on her terms, giving her a kind of power she hasn’t had before); the crowd transfixed, dreamlike and calm; and the fight raging outside, both in the form of the Nic and Worick’s “work” as well as the stranger (who’s got to be Alex’s brother) struggling to get past security.

Ergastulum is a brutal city, but the Handymen and Alex are able, through two separate performances, to provide a moment of peace and a sense of safety to the refugee Tags, many of whom seem to be living ordinary lives completely separate from the underworld violence. There’s something sort of heartwarming about seeing the trio using their talents to help others, whether that’s in the form of a song or a carefully wielded katana.

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The scene rides the edge between hopefulness and irony, as the music speaks of new beginnings while the camera shows us how little things have changed in the last 20-odd years, with anti-Twilight hate crimes just as prevalent as ever. Like much of the episode, there’s a certain tonal dissonance to it, but here it’s intentional and serves a greater purpose, highlighting the contradictions inherent in the city and our main characters’ lives as they struggle to move forward but still can’t shake off the ghosts of the past.

Still, though, by the time the end credits roll, the overwhelming mood is one of regained strength and a renewed sense of purpose, particularly where Alex is concerned. Hopefully that will also be true of Gangsta itself, and we can continue to our finale with a little more grace and a lot fewer flipped tables.

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9 thoughts on “GANGSTA. – Episode 8: “Evening Dress”

  1. Yeah… heard from a manga reader that the juvenile elements would actually get worse further on and strayed from the mature crime-driven drama that many were hoping for. Just wish the anime would close out strong.

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    • I wanted to write something meaningful in response to this but all I could really think was :(

      I think if the adaptation had incorporated more of those silly/juvenile elements into the anime from the get-go, while it’d still be mildly annoying, it wouldn’t feel so weird and out of place. I’m with you in hoping the anime finishes on a strong note and finds a way to give us a satisfying conclusion. Given how their minor changes have improved (imo) the source material, at this point I wouldn’t even mind if they decided to write their own ending, actually.

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    • Hah! I actually went into that scene desperately thinking “Please don’t start singing in bad English, PLEASE don’t start singing in bad English…” I’ve seen far too many good anime musical numbers mucked up by awkward English grammar at this point, and I needed this episode to end on a high note. Fortunately the song was lovely, so it all worked out.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. setsuken says:

    So… I had to take a week off from Gangsta thanks to personal life busyness, but I finally caught up today/tonight.

    Okay… so I’m going to try and word this best as I can, but if I shoot myself in the foot, I apologize.

    I think this is the first episode where we’ve had a markedly different reaction, and in some ways, I think we’ve been looking at this series in starkly different ways without realizing it.

    For me GANGSTA has always been a well written, exceedingly well paced and stylish peice of storytelling. Something that combines artful style with some truly subtle and mature writing.

    And for that, I think it deserves respect. But the stuff about the tone of this episode being inconsistent from the rest of the series? I really didn’t get that. It felt like another piece in the puzzle as far as Gangsta’s world goes.

    The thing about GANGSTA is that while its a well written story, its not a mature or progressive story in the contemporary sense. I think there’s always been trappings of crass, low brow human behavior. I mean look at that Opening intro, and the sexualization is rampant.

    I think the Grandmother has always been a bit of an old fashioned “sexist” in some ways. And I thought that Connie randomly grabbing Alex’s boobs and talking about them being “real” seemed perfectly natural in the story.

    Was it awkward and weird? Was it sexual harassment? Yes, yes it was. But I think that’s how its meant to be taken, that’s the kind of stuff that seems like it’d be extremely common in the kind of place these characters find themselves.

    There’s the way Worrick looks at his “customers” when he’s a Gigglo, the way the Good Doctor told Worrick to “Train” his girl e.t.c… Tons of examples.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is, Gangsta has, at least to me, always been that kind of series. I don’t think its meant to be a series that’s mature, super thoughtful and inclusive and respectful of everyone.

    To me, it always felt like the fact that human kindness and compassion existed in a place like Egastrum was the fascinating and potent part of what makes Gangsta so special. Its the whole thing with Worrick’s question about “WHY?” that fits in there.

    I don’t think you’re wrong to be offended by the episode, but I think the things that you found problematic with Gangsta have always been there. They were probably the most “in your face” this week.

    But then again, this is a senin manga, and that demographic is rather…. unique and not as inclusive.

    So having said all that, I actually did like this episode but some of that is because the things that completely rubbed you the wrong way, didn’t do so for me.

    Having said that, I appreciate this post and the review of the episode, its thoughtful and very eloquently put. I do respectfully disagree with a fair bit of it though :)

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    • Hey, fair enough! I’ll be the first to admit I may have been reading deeper into all the social issues than I was supposed to. Could be it’s just a very fascinating backdrop for a story that’s not actually interested in addressing those topics, and really just wants to be an action-packed crime drama that also happens to have pretty well-developed characters.

      One thing I do want to make clear, because I’m worried I didn’t in my original post: I have no problem with the casual sexism and bigotry that runs rampant in GANGSTA in and of itself. In fact that’s one of the major elements that drew me to it, because it featured those elements and then seemed to be quietly challenging them by depicting the marginalized characters (Alex and Nic, mostly) as complex, sympathetic individuals who DON’T fit into the molds the other characters think they should.

      So I agree with about 90% of what you said, actually! But what surprised me this week was that suddenly those elements weren’t simply being played as “a part of this sucky world,” but for laughs. So, to quote from your comment:

      “And I thought that Connie randomly grabbing Alex’s boobs and talking about them being “real” seemed perfectly natural in the story. Was it awkward and weird? Was it sexual harassment? Yes, yes it was. But I think that’s how its meant to be taken, that’s the kind of stuff that seems like it’d be extremely common in the kind of place these characters find themselves.”

      This is where we diverge, really. The scene is drawn in a deformed style (anime shorthand for “not to be taken seriously”), which either means the series (a) actually doesn’t think it’s sexual harassment, or (b) thinks sexual harassment is funny in this context. And while that would’ve been annoying in any series, it really struck me as tonally inconsistent in GANGSTA, because the series has been very sympathetic and thoughtful in its treatment of Alex and the abuse she’s been through up to this point.

      So it’s not the stuff that happened, but the way it was depicted that felt so out of place for me this week. I really can’t think of any other moments in the anime that played the way so much of this episode did.

      Anyway, disagreements are fine! They make us think more about our own opinions, so I heartily approve of them. And I’m glad you enjoyed the episode! I just wanted to make sure we were clear on exactly where my disagreements came from, since it sounded like I might not have explained myself as well as I could have.

      Liked by 1 person

      • setsuken says:

        “So it’s not the stuff that happened, but the way it was depicted that felt so out of place for me this week. ”

        Interesting! That makes a lot of sense. I don’t think I philosophically agree with you on it being bad, just that it didn’t seem out of place to me.

        I think to me the whole “trivilizing” sexual harrassment didn’t seem like it was the show being insensitive, but rather presenting us with characters that thought that way.

        Given how backwards and kind of grim Estalbrum is, I suppose I wasn’t surprised with that happening as you were.

        But yes, I’m actually kind of glad that you didn’t find my comment too… strong or harsh. I wasn’t sure if I had been a bit too careless in expressing myself there.

        I do want to iterate that I really like reading your views, and then its just a second coming of awesome when I get to discuss stuff in the comments too!

        I haven’t seen the latest episode yet, but that should happen soon! :D

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