2015’s hit-and-miss anime, Gangsta, should be given a second chance, even if only for its progressive portrayal of deafness.
The 2015 anime Gangsta has the very unfortunate legacy of being the last production of the now-bankrupt studio, Manglobe. The studio started strong, producing classics like Samurai Champloo and Ergo Proxy, but eventually, could not bear the financial burden of a series of failed anime, much like Gangsta’s adaptation, which had a promising beginning, but was soon doomed by a lack of funding. Thus, the anime never received a second season.
But this does not mean the manga Gangsta doesn’t have the potential to be an excellent anime if it is revived, especially given its very progressive portrayal of deafness.
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Gangsta is a seinen manga series by mangaka Kosuke. It tells the story of two “handymen” who live in a town ruled by four mafia factions. One of the handymen Nicolas Brown (or Nic for short) belongs to a special race called “Twilights,” decedents of genetically-altered soldiers who took a drug called “Celebrer” to gain superhuman abilities in exchange for a shortened lifespan. There is a high risk of disability within Twilights, and Nic is born with Deafness.
Deafness is not a common topic in popular media, and in anime, the only other notable portrayal of it is in 2016’s A Silent Voice. While that film shines a very important spotlight on bullying and disability, hearing loss is portrayed as a hindrance to the protagonist and causes some tragic events. In comparison, Gangsta’s portrayal of deafness is more encouraging, and it is simply treated as just another character feature, rather than the defining trait of the character.
While Nic is Deaf, he is also one of the fiercest fighters in the series. His Deafness never slows him down during fights, and he actually has heightened eyesight, much like Marvel’s Daredevil — except in reverse. Nicolas can speak, but generally, he uses sign language to communicate, and most people around Nic can use sign language as well. Nic is also an expert lip reader, and he’s actually able to know what people are saying from a very far distance. He does not publicize his Deafness, and his close acquaintances don’t treat him much differently. The matter-of-fact way his Deafness is portrayed in Gangsta is endearing. Nic even mischievously uses it to trick people he meets.
But deafness is also not treated lightly in Gangsta, it is very important to Nicolas’s upbringing and his relationship with partner Worick Arcangelo. As a child soldier and a Deaf Twilight, Nic is constantly abused by his birth father and other soldiers, causing him to become emotionally stunted. When Worick, who is also abused by his father, discovers Nic is Deaf, he starts teaching Nic writing and sign language, and this is how Nic regains his humanity and earns his lifelong friendship with Worick.
Besides the great deaf representation, the series also features a large group of socially fringed characters along with some very pertinent issues. One storyline that revolves around prostitution, drug use and PTSD could be explored much more in-depth should the anime be revisited. And the entire race of Twilights is a clear allegory for racism and slavery, a topic that is always relevant, but perhaps now more than ever. Given the right studio, Gangsta could become a fan-favorite series that spurs a lot of interesting discussions.
Gangsta’s anime ended on a very depressing cliffhanger that left many audiences disappointed. Most of the storylines are far from resolved and some very powerful characters were only starting to be introduced. Based on the manga, if the series receives a second season, there will be plenty of thrilling action, shocking conspiracies and tragic developments to come.
Ideally, though, the series should get a complete reboot by a new studio. While Manglobe did an adequate job in earlier episodes in creating an atmospheric world and a retro, European visual style; the poor animation quality, and the rushed pacing in later episodes did not make for a great viewing experience. The anime could also do much more with Nic’s Deafness, maybe by using some clever sound design and better sign language representation.
Considering the manga’s dark and violent nature, a studio like Shuka, which produced the original mafia anime 91 Days, or Madhouse, given its experience with the Black Lagoon series, would be ideal candidates to produce a Gangsta revival. Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.
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