Sunday, December 21, 2014


You'd think that licensing violent seinen manga would be just as much of a safe bet as supernatural shoujo or harems, and yet the track record for them has been spotty at best.  Still, this title could only be an improvement after something like Terra Formars.

GANGSTA, by Kohske.  First published in 2011, and first published in North America in 2014.

Ergastulum is a dirty city full of dirty people, the sort of place where the cops can be just as crooked as the criminals they chase.  Still, there some jobs in the underworld that not even they can tackle, and the only people who can are The Handymen, Nic and Worick.  Their latest job leads to them crossing paths with ex-prostitute and moll Alex, who ends up joining their motley crew.  The more time she spends with them, though, the more questions seem to pop up, whether it's about Worick's mafia background or Nic's mysterious strength and his own shady background.

Gangsta feels at times like someone crossed Black Lagoon with Sin City.  There are similarities in both content and tone to both, but in spite of its best efforts Gangsta never seems to connect with its audience the way that Black Lagoon did.

I suspect the biggest cause of that is that the audience stand-in character is such a blank that she might as well not be there.  Say what you will for Rock, but early on he had a defined personality that served as contrast to the less-than-legal goings-on around him.  Alex in comparison is passiveness personified.  She spends most of her screentime saying little and staring at whatever goes on around her.  She doesn't so much have so much as a single opinion about what Nic and Worick do or who they are, and we never learn anything about her and her life after her rescue. She simply accepts things as they come.  That's not an invalid reaction to all the violence and cruelty around her, but it hardly makes for compelling reading.

Instead what passes for development goes to Nic and Worick, and even then it's more about getting their backstories out of the way than anything else.  Worick is the brains of the group, a Mafia scion who teamed up with Nic in his teens and wields his charms and comparative good looks as a part-time gigalo.  He's very much a creature of simple pleasures, content to live life in the here and now with no concern for past or future.  Nic, on the other hand, is the brawn of the pair.  He's an ex-mercenary with strength far beyond that of a normal man.  He's a man of few words, mostly because of the fact that he's deaf.  Still, it's awfully convenient that he retains the ability to physically and coherently speak while still being able to sign and to perfectly read lips.  Still, it's rare to see anyone with a physical disability in manga, and so it's nice to see some sort of representation.  They do make a for a well-balanced team, each bringing something different while able to support and protect the other should things go south.  I just wish it was a little less focused on reiterating who they were and more on who they are now, because that part is a little underdeveloped.

Honestly, it's easy to forget that this is supposed to be set in some sort of alternate universe.  The crimes here are so mundane that's you forget that it's a universe where genetically modified mercenaries exist until the town's name comes up or until people start talking about 'tags.'  It's hard to say at this stage whether it's going to have any sort of major impact.  There's certainly plenty of violence to go around, and if you enjoy a well-choreographed fight there will be plenty of them to enjoy here.  I just wish it had more substance to give it all some sort of impact.

I will give Gangsta this much: it is a good looking manga.  The characters are distinct, lanky, strong, and yet seedy looking enough to fit in this world.  The proportions are grounded and the faces are expressive, if a bit grim.  This is doubly important for Nic, considering that Nic rarely speaks, so he must express himself through his face and hands alone.  Admittedly, sign language is a hard thing to capture in a still image, but Kohske doesn't help things when they draw it as a strange hand gesture with a few speed lines.  While the camera does like to linger on rather low angles when it's around Alex, there isn't a lot of traditional T&A fanservice.  No, the fanservice here is the extremely violent sort that is most often found in seinen manga like this.  Swords are swung, kick delivered, and punches are thrown with smoothness and even a bit of grace, and each blow is given a sense of bloody, visceral impact.  There's clear skill behind the artwork here, but the story lets it down to some degree.

Gangsta is violent and visceral with some great art, but unless future volumes invest more time and care into the cast, this series will never develop into anything beyond a string of flashy fights.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is ongoing in Japan, with 6 volumes available.  4 volumes have been published, and all are currently in print. 

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

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