“Gangsta” began its run back in 2010 and, to this day, has 24 chapters under its belt. Unfortunately though Western countries haven’t had a chance to get their hands on it…until now. After fours years, fans of Manga outside of Japan can finally indulge themselves thanks to the people over at “Viz Signature” and Australia’s very own “Madman Entertainment”. With detailed visuals and a twisted mob-based storyline I found it hard to believe this didn’t make it to Western audiences earlier but we have it now and that’s all that really matters so let’s focus on that.
Set in the city of “Ergastulum” – a dark and twisted urban area filled with gangsters, thieves, prostitutes and everything in-between – the story of “Gangsta” follows two men; Worick and Nic working under the name “Handymen” who will do almost anything for some cash. From cleaning your gutters to killing your neighbour, the “Handymen” will do it…as long as you offer them the right price. Volume 1 follows the men as they enter into a mafia turf war, it seems as though a bunch of new “gangsters” have decided to call some of the already-occupied streets of “Ergalstrum” their home and the mafia family who’ve owned the the area for quite some time aren’t ready to back down. Between them and the cops, Worick and Nic find themselves between a rock and a hard place but this is just the beginning of the storm that’s stirring above “Ergalstrum”, one that will be remembered for generations to come.
That’s just the start though. What I found to be fantastic about “Gangsta” is that it doesn’t treat the audience like idiots, it doesn’t straight up tell you what is happening and how, it simply shows you what it needs to and lets you figure out the rest. The greatest example of this is Worick and Nic’s past, how they first met and how they came to be what they are today. There are plenty of mafia-based animes, mangas, tv shows and movies around, we’re in no “mobster movie” drought right now but it is storylines like the one within “Gangsta” that really rejuvenates a love for a classic sub-genre like the mob film. Within the world of “Gangsta” there are certain people who are referred to as “Tags”.
They’re called this simply because of the dog tags they wear which works as a kind of warning to those around them. These “Tags”, though almost entirely shrouded in mystery throughout the first volume, are said to be unimaginably powerful beings. To have character types like them in a seemingly normal/realistic storyline is something that I happen to be quite a fan of and something that I believes adds a certain “twist” or “spice” to what would usually be your standard storyline. As of the first volume nothing much has really come to light about the story as a whole but the foundation has clearly been laid out so I can only imagine the coming chapters and volumes are going to go above and beyond what we saw in this one.
I’m a huge fan of the visual style of “Gangsta” an I think maybe because it has aesthetics that are actually quite similar to that of “Fullmetal Alchemist”…though the two really shouldn’t be compared. I’ve always been a fan of the grittier-looking mangas as opposed to the more “cutesy”style we see an abundance of and “Gangsta” really has the art of drawing “grit” mastered, in my opinion. Character illustrations are fairly clean for the most part but all it takes is an intense situation to have the visual style change from clean to that of an extremely detailed and dark image. Kohske, the author/illustrator, clearly takes a great deal of pride in his work with the non-combat scenes being pretty much as well-drawn as the combat scenes which we all know is when a manga (and even anime) gives itself a chance to truly show how good it looks.
Something I think is both brilliant and daring about “Gangsta” is that Nic (one of the two main characters) is actually deaf so he spends most conversations communicating in sign language which is shown by both proper sign language movements but also by a black-coloured speech box with white wording. Nic rarely speaks but when he does the lettering and speech box are drawn to be quite rough with each latter varying in size, I fell like this was the perfect way to portray his, somewhat, inability to speak and the trouble he puts himself through to verbally communicate with those in the manga that cannot communicate to him via sign language. Characters have large features, most notably their hands, and it seems to work as an art style so damn well but I can’t exactly put my finger on it as to why it does. Aesthetically I cannot complain about “Gangsta”, it does everything it needs to be a good manga and sometimes it even goes above and beyond.
“Gangsta” Volume 1, perfectly kicks off the series. It not only gives you a glimpse at both the comedic and action-packed sides of the series, it also gives you just enough information to spark an interest in the past of these characters while simultaneously lighting a fire in your heart that is fueled by your want for the next volume. A good manga has to have two things; well-illustrated scenes and a compelling story, “Gangsta” manages to achieve both those feats in the first volume as it lays down as much as it possibly can in anticipation of the next release. Dealing with dark themes like organised crime, segregation, prostitution and violence, “Gangsta” is a pure mobster story with enough over-exaggeration to keep audiences glued to the page. What else can I say?