GANGSTA. – Episode 11: “Absence”

That’s about as apt as an episode title can get.

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A whole lot of characters see screen time this week, but this one’s defined more by who isn’t present than who is. Alex spends most of her time in a fugue state off camera, her brother Emilio is heard but not seen, Erica’s the topic of much discussion but never shows her face, and of course the Handymen themselves are absent altogether, and barely even mentioned by the other players.

Coming on the heels of last week’s post where I named the main trio as GANGSTA‘s greatest strength, this one went and proved me right mostly because, despite all the action and bloodshed, it didn’t feel like there was much at stake without our protagonists around to serve as the emotional fulcrum. Honestly, given that we’ve only got one episode left, I think this shift in focus was a mistake. While an episode like this would have been right at home in the middle of a two (or more) cour series, giving us some time to get to know and care about the supporting cast  as we made our way into Act 2, here it feels more like a lengthy footnote before the concluding paragraph: Enlightening, maybe, but poorly situated, serving to slow down the pacing rather than rev it up.

"It's funny because 'Twilight' is a time of day and I am murdering them."

“It’s funny because ‘Twilight’ is a time of day and I am murdering them.”

So, despite the sheer amount of Stuff that happened, this one was a bit of a slog for me. But personal enjoyment aside, there’s still plenty we can talk about, so let’s start with all that Stuff in our Bullet Point Rundown:

  • Delico and Yang are looking for Erica. This is technically not allowed since Tags aren’t supposed to act without their contract holder’s order, but none of the Monroe men seem interested in stopping him.
  • The currently attacking hunters are: Sig (eyepatch girl), Colt (black jacket guy), Beretta (cigarette lady), Striker (Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist), and Alex’s brother Emilio. The hunters also explicitly declare their allegiance to Uranos Corsica in front of Gina, effectively declaring a war among the Four Fathers.
  • Connie’s been kidnapped(?) by Beretta, whom Marco seems to know.
See, this is what happens when you have cute romantic moments right before the big battle.

See, this is what happens when you have cute romantic moments right before the big battle.

  • Gina Paulklee and Ginger are lovers. This isn’t really plot significant, I just thought it was a nice bit of representation to add to our already delightfully diverse cast.
  • Galahad is making his slow way to Guild HQ, which has become the center of the hunters’ attack. Because of a Guild “rule” about not accepting help from Normals, he specifically orders the Normals to not only clear the area, but to actively ignore any injured Twilights they may find.
  • Poor Doug’s run-in with Colt proves fatal.

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In terms of general impressions, let’s start with that last bullet point. Doug’s death was easily the most affecting moment of the episode, largely because we’d spent some casual “down time” with him before and his prickly kindness made him a humorous, sympathetic member of the cast. His death wasn’t a surprise but it did carry weight, and raised the stakes of next week’s showdown by showing that the author is more than willing to kill off people we might care about.

The talented Yoshino Hiroyuki makes the scene all the more unsettling and painful through wordless wheezes that nevertheless manage to convey a range of emotions, and there’s an understated poignancy to Galahad’s lie about the Guild having already driven the hunters away. It allows Doug to die more at ease than he might have otherwise, secure in the knowledge that his “family” will survive even if he won’t. It’s these sudden, quiet bursts of kindness that have always kept GANGSTA‘s world from devolving into mindless gore or bleak nihilism, and so it is here as well.

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Aw hell, looking at this screenshot made me sad again.

With all of these story lines suddenly up in the air, it’s hard to know exactly where the show’s going to go next week and how everything can possibly be wrapped up in 25 short minutes. About the only thing I can say with certainty is that Delico’s on a collision course with his sister, although even he doesn’t seem to know what he’s going to do once he’s found her. He tells Heather there’s “no coming back” for Erica and that he wants to “stop her,” not “help her,” but the camera may suggest otherwise.

In a nice bit of artistry, when Heather says she was “supposed to protect her sister,” we see Heather reflected in Delico’s yellow eye and a memory of his younger self in the blue one. Delico feels a kinship with this young Tag for obvious reasons, but that sense of duty he feels to protect his own younger sibling may also serve as foreshadowing for what’s to come. I like Delico and Yang’s easy friendship, and I like the quiet conflict building between Delico’s desire to help his blood family without endangering his found family. There’s good stuff here, don’t get me wrong. I just wish I knew we had more time to explore it.

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As for our main trio? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. Alex’s break with reality comes at a curious time, suggesting that the reunion with her brother may end up getting delayed (and not happening in the anime at all). The Handymen have been almost completely removed from events to the point where it’s difficult to tell how (or even if) they’ll factor into the final confrontation, since Nic’s still on the mend and Worick may not even be able to act given the “rule” about Normals keeping out of Guild business.

And speaking of, that rule both Galahad and Connie mention is the most interesting bit of world- and theme-building we get this week, as it not only further demonstrates the us/them divide between Twilights and Normals, but shows that the Twilights have created their own laws to widen that gap, too. GANGSTA‘s directors have a recurring love of window and doorway shots, but “Absence” is particularly full of them, either to highlight the gap between factions or to suggest a passageway to connect them, I’m not sure which yet. Given the way Gina Paulklee simultaneously represents the Twilights and doesn’t seem to actually care about them, it could very well be both.

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I’ve said before that the Handymen’s neutral “bridge” position may serve as the solution to the current assault, and more and more that’s seeming like the only valid option here. If the Guild can’t or isn’t willing to work with the Normals who could help them (Monroe and Cristiano, yes, but also the local police force), then the hunters will continue to pick off Twilights one by one until they’re extinct or nearly so.

Ergastulum is a labyrinthine city of walls, cutting people off from one another and making it easy to ignore or simply fail to see something happening just one short street away. But even so, there are still windows, doors, and alleyways where people can slip through and mingle. We’ve seen the city’s many individuals and forces navigate those gaps during past conflicts. They’ll need to find a way to do that again soon, before this genocide gets any more brutal.

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