When it comes to manga, sometimes I buy certain series on a whim just because they sound good just from reading the description on the back. I don’t have to have known anything about the series beforehand or even known that it existed (like Ghost Hunt or Higurashi). If it sounds good, I may just randomly buy it.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, that’s how I ended up reading Gangsta. by Kohske (yes, the book really has a period in its title). I saw the book on the shelf, read the back of description and gave it a shot. It helped that I had some extra spending cash on hand and the fact the book is part of the Viz Signature imprint, which rarely ever steers me wrong. So, what did I end upgetting myself into? Was it worth my time? More importantly, is it good?
Gangsta. Vol. 1-2 (Viz Media)
Written & Drawn By: Kohske
Translated By: Katherine Schilling
Crime has pretty much overrun the city of Ergastulum (country unknown, although it seems vaguely Italian). The city is run by mob families, dangerous gangs, and other seedy folk. However, there are jobs that none of these people want to do or be easily connected to, so they hire the special team known as the Handymen. They are Nicolas, a deaf and an extremely powerful swordsman, and Worick, a gigolo who’s easygoing but not afraid to put someone down, both of whom have shady pasts. They’re both equally respected and feared for their capabilities, able to get done any job handed to them.
One day, they’re given a job from Inspector Adkins to take out a new gang leader and his entire crew, since they have been expanding quickly and into mob family territories that are supposed to be protected. During which, they (well mostly Worick, since Nic just goes along with it) befriend Alex Benedetto, a prostitute, and have her come work for them and get her off the streets. From there, the story takes off and things start getting interesting. Memorable characters abound in all shades of gray, dangerous and violent jobs, and this group of people known as “Twilights” who have some special powers to them…
Hmm, these guys might need to work on their teamwork a bit more.
We are looking at the first two volumes of Gangsta. and reviewing them both, so there’s a lot of ground here to cover. Even if I was to review them separately though, my opinion wouldn’t have changed much. I really liked what I read here. Both volumes are pretty much setting up the series and introducing all of the characters, concepts, and storylines that we’ll be following. The first volume is primarily focusing on developing and introducing our characters for the most part, while dropping hints on what is going on in the main story. The second volume continues character development, but it also introduces a wider and larger cast of characters and gets heavier into the series’ concepts and mythology, in particular what exactly the Twilights are and some of the story surrounding them. Volume 2 is far more action based and more focused as well, since it sticks to one storyline.
Even though they’re primarily setup, the story and subplots brewing here are fantastic and really do a good job of drawing you into the universe. It’s slow going in its approach, with one of the main storylines, about a mob family trying to extend its power, not really appearing until the end of the first volume. However, you won’t really notice or even care since the story is building its world and characters so well in the meantime. They feel like they have so much depth and complexity to them, even despite how questionable they may be. For lack of a better term, they come across feeling very human and real, but with a dash of eccentricity we’ve come to expect from manga to add more flavor. When the main storyline does kick in, it gets rather intriguing and makes you wonder how this will all go down, especially with the hints and ominous foreshadowing going on in the background.
This is a series about characters living in a world where everything is in shaes of gray, rife with loose morality and vicious personalities, so if you’re the type of person who prefers more white-knight, lawful good heroes, you may want to steer clear of this series. Nic and Worick (the main characters) are both shady characters to various degrees. Worick is the most likeable of the two, though he is the least developed at this point. He’s pretty much a “good” guy outside of his job, willing to help people out in various ways, and stand up for others depending on the situation. However, when he is on the job and/or a friend of his is put into danger, he is not above doing what it takes to stop or put them down.
Nic has the most complexity and is the most mysterious, with only little hints drops here and there about who he is or what his past may be (Worick gets more insight into his past in comparison). He’s much more ruthless, aggressive, and violent than Worick, though he has a nice side to him for people he likes or at least tolerates. What is most interesting about him is his relationship with a Twilight he knows/knew that we get very few glimpses at and the fact that he is deaf. I’ve honestly have not seen that before in a story and it does give a more unique feel than other characters.
Our other main focus here is Alex and she’s also interesting, along with being the second most moral character (that comes with her being younger and not as hardened as the Handymen are) in the series. We see the series and characters from her perspective a lot of the time in the first volume, while she gets less attention in the second. She gets the most character development over these two volumes, even with that lack of focus for a bit. Watching her try to grow beyond her past, spending time and bonding with the two leads, and learning more about the city and the people really helps flesh her out, especially with some of the events in the second volume.
The rest of the cast are not remotely as developed as the main three, but the writer does a great job at least helping them stand out and feel unique. There are the crime families and their men, with the Monroe Family getting most of the attention, especially in the second volume (the other families are there, but barely glanced at). There are police, including Inspector Adkins and a new detective Cody, who have nice contrasting personalities. There are the villains, who we still don’t have much insight into. Theo’s Clinic, featuring a rather memorable duo of Dr. Theo and Nina, the little girl nurse; and more who I won’t say much about it. Like I said, none of them get much depth outside of the Monroe Family to a certain degree, but they are all highly memorable with their own personalities and complexities.
The rest of the writing is pretty spectacular overall and it’s really surprising to see from such a rookie writer (she only wrote a one-shot story before this main series). It’s a very well-paced series; slow most of the time, but knowing when to move the story along quickly and give time to develop scenes. The tone in the book is pretty good most of the time, knowing when to have some humor or the characters act casual and laid back, as well as knowing when everything needs to be very serious and for the mood to change.
The dialogue is great and leads to a lot of enjoyable and serious moments, but it also knows when to let the art tell the story, never overwhelming the audience with so much talk. Speaking of which, that’s probably the best part of the book: it knows how to let the artwork speak for itself, conveying the mood and emotion of the characters powerfully. It has these great quiet moments, where there’s little to no talking or sound effects, that just really give so much depth and weight to what is happening. It really helps with the more mature feel and nature of the book, making it even better.
Kohske’s artwork is also very solid. The characters are nicely designed and look different enough from each other, though everyone is rather tall and some guys share some similar facial elements. The layouts are very nicely done and put together, making it easy to read and follow for the readers. The angles and perspective used in a lot of the panels and scenes also add to the mood and action in the book. The action itself is also well laid out, where you see and feel a lot of the energy in the movement and attacks of the characters. Though the weakest part of the artwork is that the background is often a white void with nothing in it and that the setting itself (at least how it’s depicted) looks awfully clean and pristine despite all the action with the gangs and the mafia taking place seemingly all the time.
Before wrapping up, there are a couple of minor things to mention. This is a rated M for Mature book, but the violence isn’t as harsh as you might think. It’s about around the same level as Deadman Wonderland, often going for just regular blood splatter instead of guts and flesh flying all over the place (there’s some of that, but it’s not frequent). It’s more rated M for its adult themes, like sex or sex being attempted at different points within the story. Just a forewarning for what to expect.
Both volumes have these nice bonus additions of maps of the city and of the Handymen’s home, which give you a good picture of what the setting looks like.
Is It Good?
Gangsta. is the best new manga series to debut all year. For a brand new writer, Kohske provides us with an excellent cast of characters, real depth and maturity in the story and its themes, and some great art. It is a bit rough around the edges in some areas, but there is also a lot of room for the series to continue to grow and mature as time goes on. This is a fantastic series so for and it comes highly recommended to anyone looking for something more adult and well-written in the manga scene.
Gangsta. is available from Viz Media. The third volume of the series is set to come on August 19th, hinting that it will be going more into the history of the Twilights and our leads. A spinoff series called Gangsta.:Cursed. EP_Marco Adriano has also been released, alongside a tarot card for the regular series. I’m guessing that the spinoff will be eventually licensed as well, so stay tuned.