Opening the manga, you’re presented with a rather basic rendering of a town, then thrown right into the middle of a pimp beating his prostitute for not gaining enough clientele.
This is the start of Gangsta, an on-going manga series written and drawn by Konske, which started publishing in 2011. This volume packs in five chapters, set in an alternate reality, in a city called Ergastulum (which we can agree is a mouthful for a name). The story revolves around Nicolas ‘Nico’ Brown, and Worick Arcangelo, two ‘Handmen’ that are essentially guns for hire, doing odd jobs for citizens, cops and mafia families; and their serendipitous encounters with the previously mentioned prostitute Alex Benedetto.
As mentioned, the first chapter throws us in the middle of Alex being beaten by her pimp, which pans out to be just across the street from the Handyman building. This first page sets the tone for the entire manga, in both art style and the gritty depths of the story.
You can easily see that the style is split between rather basic drawn lines for buildings, rushed, almost sketching lines for the characters. Generally, I dislike these styles, as I think them sloppy and rushed for a deadline, but here it adds another layer to the tone and setting. Buildings are basic in design, but with just a few lines here and there we see that they are all worn, rudimentary shells, squashed together with alleyways intersecting everywhere.
The character designs, as stated above, can come across as rushed, and with rather exaggerated propositions (hands, feet, noses, eyes, chests at times, and ears). A lot of black is used for each character as well, drawing the eye to the face of the characters. Bundling these all together, it’s a fantastic way to draw the reader to the facial expressions, which is a big plus, as Nico is deaf and we rely a lot on his expressions to judge his emotions and thoughts.
I started with the anime first, not actually hearing about the manga till about half way through the series. Becoming a little disappointed with the drop of art style in the anime, I decided to pick up the manga. I’m glad I did, as although the anime is rather faithful to the manga, the art style really carries the manga. The overarching plot is a guessing game, with a lot more questions than answers, yet it does not distract from the overall enjoyment, as each chapter you’re given progressions and character development.
The first chapter sees us introduced to the trio, and how Alex comes to work for them as their receptionist. We’re also introduced to a recurring character named Chad, an old police officer that has known the two for a very long time, and hires the Handymen to clean up the streets when police cannot get their hands dirty.
This is all an insight to Ergastulum, a large city that is a seedy underbelly with four mafia families that control the majority of it.
The second chapter gives us flashes of the past, with Nico and Worick having been together since a young age, and a whole lot of blood. We’re not given a lot of time to think it all over, as we’re thrown in an average day for the Handymen. Worick, a gigolo by day, while Nico does deliveries. Alex tags along with Nico, and during once delivery, is warned not to stay around the Handymen, especially Nico, who is referred to as a ‘Tag.’ At the end of the chapter Worick gives Alex a cryptic explanation of what a Tag is.
The third chapter sees the reader introduced to Nina, a child nurse that is close to both the Handymen, as she most likely patches them up a lot. She has a very strong bond with Nico, who acts playfully tender towards her, which is the opposite to his usual demeanor. We also learn that Nico is dependent on medication, which once again gives us more questions than answers.
Here they are hired by the doctor Nina works for, as a gang has been harassing him. We’re given more depth in, with Nico going off to doctors office to stop them, Worick and Alex team up, taking out some stragglers.
Nico and Nina meet the doctor, interrupting a conversation with the leader of the gang, and another person with tags like Nico. The huge man sizes Nico up, throwing out a letter as some type of power level, which Nico shows him to be completely off.
Of course the last panel gives us the insight that it’s some type of superhuman strength, fighting ability. The big question for me is why does Alex not know about them. Sure, it’s said and heavily implied that she is not from this city, but given the information we can discern, this city has many Twilights, and everyone seems to know about them/have an opinions about them.
Chapter four sees the two Tag/Twlights go at it, with incredibly amped up strength. Taking massive blows that would have down a man immediately. Dr. Theo, the man they hired them, watches on with cool eyes and a bored face. Another indication that brutality in this city is a daily occurrence, and no one bats an eyelid. Only Nina has a worried expression.
Alex comes across the after math of the fight, seeing for the first time Nico’s strength, and taken aback by it. She has a conversation with Nina, asking her is she’s scared of Nico (basically of what he is). Nina replies in a way that states that although he is different, he’s still human, and a good person.
Chapter five, we’re back at the Handman building, with Alex staying with them one again. She spies that both Nico and Worrick has marching tribal tattoos, another example of their connection to one-another. Nabbing a book on learning sign language, she’s found out by Nico, who seems more annoyed at the prospect of her learning then it being helpful.
Their day is filled once more with errands (I suppose it’s their main workload), meeting up with one of the Madia heads of the city, a former employer of theirs, asking if they’d like to rejoin the family. Politely declining, Alex is horrified at the setting, with their polite conversation going on while people are being executed, gruesomely before them. Once again, another example of the type of life in the city.
Afterwards, they quickly gather outside a brothel, one one of the main streets of the city. Now, this is quite bizarre, as beforehand, they was maybe three people seen in a panel, but now we’re given a lot more, and it makes sense as it goes on. I always thought it strange that for such a highly condensed city, there was hardly anyone around. Then it donned on me that they were always using alleyways, and mainly people stayed clear from Tags/Twilight, as evidenced by the expressions and comment people make towards Ncio, standing outside a building on a main street.
Worick’s reaction to this is rather blunt and aggressive, once again giving us a look into their relationship. Taken inside (even Nico), by the proprietor of the establishment, she relays that the drug Twilights use is incredibly harmful, but something they need to sustain themselves. Given that and their penchant for being incredibly strong, their viewed in an incredibly negative light in the city.
The deliveries are for the drugs Twlights take, and by Worick’s reaction, the mixture is extreme. A Twilight staying there is essentially on her last legs, and it seems both Worick and Nico know the woman, with Alex spying a clipped scene of a woman’s hand touching Nico’s face.
Cutting away, we’re shown a factory, where the Tag defeated by Nico begs for his life infront of shadowy figures, wishing to avenge himself and complete his mission, which is given a flippant answer, and a disparaging remark about Twilight before he is executed.
All-in-all, this first volume sets up a lot of the story, giving you a little taste of the each character and setting. I thorougly enjoy it, and had it not relied on copying scenes and bare drawing styles in certain scenes, I would have given this a much higher score.
The best thing about this manga though, is the tone. This is a bleak world, and as I’ve mentioned numerous times, life is cheap in this city. Brutal murders and crimes seem to go by each day and yet the average citizen seems annoyed or blank more than fearful of the violence. Definitely not a feeling/place generally represented in manga, or anime.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.