Week of August 20th-27th
Gangsta. finally comes into its own this week, with an episode fittingly moody and more noir-ish than its previous entries. Of course, the week in general was of lower quality than usual, so Gangsta.‘s eighth episode–titled “Evening Dress”–was by no means fantastic, just better than everything else.
“Evening Dress” delivers a simple plot that’s hidden away half the episode, adding a level of intrigue that’s otherwise usually missing from the series (save for flashbacks). That being said, I’m going to spoil the story line of “Evening Dress” in t-minus… As tensions escalate between Twilights and the normies in Ergastulum, the head of the Christiano family covertly sets up a party with the discreet goal of smuggling a number of Twilights out of the city and drawing out members of the anti-Twilight movement in order to deliver unto them considerable beat downs at the hands of Nic, Worick and countless other vigilantes.
Gangsta.‘s best outing so far takes the series to another level by making the best of its low budget and delivering a number of cinematic scenes that smack of the classic noir mood; a kind of sadness that lingers in the air, usually brought about by death, deception, longing or a mixture of the three. “Evening Dress” finally delivers what Gangsta.‘s setting has promised all along, though the femme-fatale is noticeably missing, replaced by Alex’s slightly clueless damsel in no distress. It’s Alex’s role in “Evening Dress”, however, that makes the episode an interesting entry in the series.
While Worick and Nic engage with others in beating up anti-Twilighters, Alex is left at the party thrown by the Christiano family, milling about aimlessly in the dress of the episode’s title. Like in past situations, Alex has been left in the dark, not told by Worick or Nic the reality of the party or the night in general. It takes a bodyguard of the Christiano family’s to outwardly explain to Alex the situation at hand. No sooner does she deal with this revelation than she is whisked away to the club’s stage, told to sing a tune for the crowd’s entertainment. This is indicative of Alex’s role in the series, and is what makes the episode truly tragic and noir-ish in its delivery; Alex will always be the source of distraction instead of the impetus for action. Sure, her song may be beautiful and it may entertain the crowd and keep their minds off of the arguably justified brutality happening outside, but Alex exists–much like Worick and Nic beside her–as a character who can’t escape the role the world has cast her in. Not only does Alex lack control of her own life, but even removed from the medication which once made her willfully subservient, she moves about her life at the will of other player’s hands.
This is made more poignant by the fact that not moments before she is plucked out of thin air to provide a song & dance routine for the crowd, she reflects on her moment of independence, sitting in a lofty window of the club and looking out at the city. Alex sits peacefully with a glass of wine, removed from the needs of Worick or Nic or the past pimps who molded her life. Yet she can’t escape it. Once someone of relative authority tells her to “hop to it”, she offers nothing more than a few contrary lines before falling in line and following orders. Her beauty and charm exist as a curse to Alex because she doesn’t wield them with her own power, allowing others to wield her instead. The fact that the episode’s name is simply “Evening Dress”, points to the fact that Alex is little more than a sexual object in the world of Gangsta., bottled down to her fashion choices rather than her thoughts, opinions or actions.
Of course “Evening Dress” is not without its flaws. Most noticeably, the revelation of last episode seems to go completely unmentioned here, leaving the audience wondering where the plot line so teasingly hinted at from the end of the seventh episode went to. Worick and Nic surely have others things on their mind, but the audience doesn’t. Their eventual move to help in the cleaning up of the streets from anti-Twilighters, is certainly fun to watch, and it pulls in an easy villain for the audience to root against in the name of Worick and Nic, but it does muddy up the waters set by last week. Normally, I’d be fine with dealing with a complicated narrative where the onus is on me to understand the complexity of the characters and their actions, but we feel too close to the end of Gangsta. for one-off story lines that don’t immediately evolve the characters–Worick and Nic specifically–especially after last week’s bombshell. Had that episode ended differently, Gangsta. would feel like a series aiming for one-off episodes, similar to the majority of Cowboy Bebop. As it stands, however, last week’s ending seemed to suggest that Gangsta. would become more arc-driven here at the end of its run. Maybe this episode will play into a larger narrative, but you’d think something from Worick’s confession would come up at some point.
There’s also the issue of Alex’s bust size existing as a go-to “joke factory” for the writers, as several characters this episode either feel her up or get all googly-eyed when she enters a room. I can’t say that the googly-eyed culprits don’t represent reality in some way–Alex is ridiculously proportioned in the vein of ecchi characters who jump around a little too much–but the groping isn’t necessary and kills the mood of the episode. I get needing comedic relief from time to time, but someone groping the heroine’s breasts is a cheap shot in that category and proves just how lazy Gangsta.‘s writers can be, when they’re in “zero fucks” mode. In some ways, this adds to Alex’s sadness, but only as a viewer who is outright looking for that. For the average viewer, Alex as eye-candy–and gropeable object–only exists to titillate and to widen the possible audience that the show is attempting to bring in.
Gangsta. was a more interesting watch this week–though the first half is notably devoid of substance–because of its renewed interest in using its resources to their fullest advantage. Much of the episode takes place in dark clubs or barely lit alleyways–helping to obscure the low budget animation indicative of the series–and Alex has finally reached her potential as a character by being a non-factor to the story overall, ironically enough. Maybe this utilization of Alex is coincidental, with the writers/director simply wanting a showcase for a buxom girl singing a pretty song, but it worked for me and allowed Alex to feel like a more three dimensional character after weeks and weeks of being sideline decoration. She’s still decoration here, but Gangsta. seems to endow her with an awareness of self that she–and the series as a whole–has lacked so far. Hopefully it means that Gangsta. will take itself more seriously from here on out. Okay, so Gangsta.‘s always taken itself seriously–too seriously in fact, at some points–but this focus on the characters’ present turmoil and their reckoning with themselves, has so much more to offer than over the top flashbacks. Let’s hope we’re over that bump in the road.
Runner-Up: Classroom Crisis – Ep. 8
Maybe Classroom Crisis deserved to be the “anime of the week” this week, but the series has risen in my expectations, so what once impressed me has quickly become old hat for the series. This episode definitely fits into that box, with a story line that deftly carries the series onwards while still building up the relationships that the show has become synonymous with. Nagisa and Angelina continue their trajectory of becoming more and more tied into the A-TEC family, while the crew as a whole finally reach their goal of fashioning a new engine just in time for the school festival. There’s also plenty of union shenanigans that continue a commentary on the political machinations of the show’s world–Classroom Crisis having fun with politics is about as good as it gets. In all this though, it’s the school festival, the A-TEC team’s new rocket and Kaito’s excited piloting of said rocket that really excel in this episode. In a series of snapshots, we see the entirety of the festival; citizens enjoying the festivities, other school groups showing off their abilities and the A-TEC crew prepping a rocket for launch, based around their newest engine. When Kaito hops aboard to pilot the rocket, we get the feeling that this new engine isn’t quite up to specs with the one destroyed in the pilot episode and yet it’s special. It represents all of A-TEC’s hard work in the face of adversity and their ability to come together as a group to still produce what they’re known for. The rocket–and Kaito–arc majestically into the sky on take off, and at the peak of the rocket’s parabolic climb, Kaito seems whole again, no longer leveled by the nickel and diming that’s come his way from Nagisa and the Karishina corporation at large in the last seven episodes. Behind him is a view of the festival and the city growing smaller and smaller, and for a moment I felt the excitement of flight and space travel that I tend to take for granted in our modern age. Not only is this a nice moment for the audience and Kaito to share together–seeing our hero fulfill a portion of his deepest desires–but it lets us into Kaito and the A-TEC teams world, showing us the sheer wonder of flight. The rest of the episode doesn’t quite hit as strongly as this scene does, but I’m looking forward to this last third of Classroom Crisis and what it has to offer in its multi-dimensional characters.
Biggest Surprise: Prison School – Ep. 7
There’s nothing particularly surprising about this week’s Prison School, but it is surprising that the series has been able to keep a level of quality this long, in spite of its trashier notions. “Trash” is the word I’ve probably heard thrown around the most in relation to Prison School, but that small adjective dismisses the story telling and character building abilities of the series, as well as not connoting the goals of said “trash”. By now, Prison School has been around long enough to give us a decent idea of where the series will end up in the anime lexicon. For those who take the time to check out Prison School on their own–versus taking “trash” at face value and moving on–the series will offer up countless, thought out characters, none of them likable mind you, but all of them fleshed out by their own desires within the world of the dystopic school. Compare this to other like-minded series–let’s just lope Prison School in with the ecchi genre, for arguments sake–and you’ll find series few and far between with even a fraction as much interest in understanding the needs of its characters as Prison School is. That character building is front and center in this episode, with the series whipping boy–Gakuto–taking a mental beating in the form of the show’s antagonistic heroines putting him through the paces of his figurine worship, all to try to make him crack. I won’t go into the hilarious and gross ways that the show’s femmes harass Gakuto, but it must be seen to be believed–and it should be seen, frankly. The best part of all, is that Prison School does an incredible job of keeping a straight face throughout its shenanigans, making the show that much more funny/cringeworthy. Where other series might have a character peek over their shoulder and look at the camera in embarrassment, Prison School sets crunched up faces of determination on its cast, each character’s motivations always driven by their needs and wants, rather than by the joke itself. Okay, that’s probably giving the show too much credit, but to anyone who dismissed Prison School early on for its abundant lewdness, I’d suggest giving the show a break and appreciating that its doing more interesting things than 99% of the series in its genre, if it even has one. For a great piece on the finer points of loving Prison School, check out Hope Chapman’s reckoning of the series over at Anime News Network.
Biggest Disappointment: No New God Eater
It’s almost funny how quick we in the anime fandom, have grown accustomed to the weekly release schedule of our favorite series. We’ve become fairly reliant on, and accustomed to, the simulcast streaming services that have only existed for half a decade or so–some of them shorter. Take for example the reaction to a series like God Eater, which has made a name for itself around the interwebs for its spotty release schedule as much as for its increasing quality. I’d like to think that I’m a patient fan, willing to wait for a series to put out strong, well made episodes instead of cutting corners to meet the next deadline. Maybe I am that patient fan to some extent, but I can’t deny that God Eater‘s continued delays–this being the second within a month’s time–don’t kill some of the momentum that the show has carefully built up over the last few episodes. Clearly the final product will speak for itself outside of whatever delays happened in-season, but with a vastly changing anime landscape–one that’s quickly morphing anime from series-length consumption towards appointment viewing–God Eater isn’t doing itself any favors in the here and now. More than that, though I’d hesitate considerably before calling it the best show of the season, God Eater‘s absence leaves a hole in my anime season bench. Here’s hoping that its sixth episode is well worth the wait. I’ll try to keep my expectations low, but those very expectations are the sort of thing that delayed scheduling happens to court.
Predictions for Next Week
It wasn’t the best week of the season by a long shot, but most of these series were still a decent watch. Monster Musume is starting to wear thin, both for its continued use of potential rape to lazily raise the stakes of the episode, as well as a lack of movement narratively. In spite of the fact that we’ve got the story telling potential of the monster squad now, Musume seems to languish in the same jokes that it made in the first half of the series. The show still has moments of creativity–like Su’s cinematic vision of her and Darling’s possible “meet-cute”–but it doesn’t save the series from itself and its endless “big boobs” jokes that were barely funny the first time around. Seiyu’s Life! continues to be a fun watch with a relatively sweet outing this time around, but the depth of the series really depends on the given episode, and this week’s felt fairly bubble-gum, in the grand scheme of things. I’d like to see more turmoil for Futaba next week, but something tells me that the show will only get more positive from here on out. Aside from that, my biggest hopes for next week are that Gangsta. can deliver another refreshing mood piece–or maybe something even better–Snow White with the Red Hair can figure out a way to delve into Shirayuki’s life in as interesting ways as it does for Zen this week, and God Eater returns better than ever, somehow. Either way, I hope to see you back next week for a look at the best–and the rest–in the week’s anime.
Survivors of the Week
Snow White with the Red Hair
Ninja Slayer: from Animation