Summer Season 2015: Initial Impressions – Gangsta, Charlotte & Overlord

[HorribleSubs] Gangsta - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.29_[2015.07.11_20.34.38]

 

Gangsta

[HorribleSubs] Gangsta - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_20.30_[2015.07.10_22.08.09]

“In the city of Ergastulum, a shady ville filled with made men, petty thieves, prostitutes on the make, and cops on the take, there are some deeds too dirty for even its jaded inhabitants to touch. Enter the “Handymen,” Nic and Worick, who take care of the jobs no one else will handle. One day, a cop they know on the force requests their help in taking down a new gang muscling in on the territory of a top Mafia family. It seems like business (and mayhem) as usual, but the Handymen are about to find that this job is a lot more than they bargained for”

I remember laughing the first time I read the above press release, thinking the person behind it probably had watched Bugsy Malone a few too many times. To be fair though, it pretty much sums up the show, with everyone being one caricature or another. Sneering thugs, scowling cops, busty hookers, crazy-eyed assassins – from dialogue to action, Gangsta wears its exploitation-flick roots all over its blood-soaked sleeves.

This is mostly a positive thing. Having an adult (hey, remember them!) cast strut around while chewing up scenery and generally acting larger than life is a pleasant change of pace, even if the swaggering and cool postures make some of the more unsettling depictions in the city start to feel glib and unearned. Again, it’s what you’d expect from grindhouse cinema, but you can always push the bar too low and end up with something as repulsive as the Sin City franchise. Thankfully, Gangsta hasn’t crossed that line yet, but I’m slightly trepidations over how it will treat potential subject matter in the future.

Aesthetically, the comparisons (which I assume there have been many) to Black Lagoon are fairly obvious, from camera angles, to lighting, to straight up character designs (Alex looks just like Lagoon’s Benny, minus an eye and after a prolonged spell at the gym); although personally, I found similarities with Jormungand to be more apt. The dry, somewhat deadpan humour and shit-eating grins the show embraces is definitely in-keeping with the latter, while the main cast are clearly presented as violent, borderline psychopathic, but still possessing shreds of humanity and decency, even if they’re expressed in peculiar ways. That’s definitely closer to how Jormungand tried to present its key players, as opposed to Lagoon’s genuinely sociopathic leanings. It makes a pretty big difference in how you view them. Gangsta wants you to see where its characters come from so you can empathise with them in the present. Lagoon showed you the origins of people like Revy or Balalaika so you’d understand that there was no coming back for them.

As a result, Gangsta looks like it’s going to work better as a character drama but will lack the unique vibe that previous examples had. I still think it’s pretty decent so far, but everything follows a set design to the extent that you can nearly see the character strings and cardboard scenery keeping everything together. Everything, from plot points, to dialogue feels scripted. That’s something Lagoon doesn’t get a great deal of credit for; that for all its’ crazy-eye neo-Nazis & torpedoing helicopter scenes, there was real gallows-humour wit to the dialogue (eg Revy & Eda’s conversation over what gun Jesus would’ve used: answer; an Israeli made model) and a simmering fury underpinning the entire show (I mean the final ED depicts 9/11 rubble to the theme of ‘When Jonny Comes Marching Home’!).

Sadly, I doubt we’re going get anything as unique from Gangsta, but at the very least it’s shaping up to be a pretty entertaining action romp.

 

Charlotte

[HorribleSubs] Charlotte - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_03.41_[2015.07.11_20.30.47]

Whoo, an original anime for a change! Let’s see here… by PA Works. Ok, so they’re mostly known for making cutesy melodrama like A Lull in the Sea and Hanasaku Iroha, but they’ve also responsible for two of my favourite shows in recent years (The Eccentric Family & Shirobako) so I guess it just depends on the source material or staf… script and character designs provided by Jun Maeda and Na-Ga from Key. Fuck…

Honestly, I had every intention of not writing anything about the show, instead making a post promising to offer up my soul for a second season of Shirobako. Turns out Charlotte decided to pre-empt me by actually starting out pretty damn good.

It begins with the main character, Yu, discovering that he has the power to take over bodies for some reason, proving you can take the writer away from the Visual/Light novel, but never the other way round. However, it immediately distinguishes itself from most shows in this mould by making him a gloriously manipulative and unrepentant jerk. I’m sure Geass comparisons have been used a thousand times by now, but the connection is so blatant that I’m surprised Sunrise isn’t weighing up their legal options. Yu is essentially the unholy spawn of Lelouch and Light Yagami, with the looks, powers and flamboyant mannerisms for the former (his eyes literally glow and he does the same hand-to-face movements), and the genuinely sociopathic attitude towards mankind of the latter. If you ever wondered what would happen if either of those two used their powers for simple, greedy real-life desires, you’ve come to the right place. He’s repulsive, but genuinely fun to watch, mainly because he’s doing all these horrible deeds to a bunch of cardboard cut-out characters in a completely artificial setting. It’s like watching a schoolyard bully play with dolls.

Unfortunately halfway through the show, Maeda remember what he was supposed to be doing, and the show switches back to business as usual mode. At this point we get a transfer to a secret school for those with magical powers (tick), an array of archetype fellow pupils/magic users (tick), and an adorable/insufferable imouto (tick, tick, ti-stabs table with the pen!).

Normally I’d shrug Charlotte off as simply turning into the show it was always meant to be, but the way it suddenly tries to make Yu into a sympathetic character following his fall from grace, really bothered me. This was a kid who from the get-go, used his body-swapping powers to molest fellow students, beat people up, cheat his way to top grades, & finally cause a potentially fatal road accident in order to seduce a girl through deception. You can make me interested in a complete and utter asshole, but there’s no amount of sad backstories or sweet interactions with family members that will actually make me feel sorry them.

So yeah, by the end of the episode the show strips away nearly everything of interest it set up, exposing its treacly, melodramatic roots. To be fair, I don’t think this going to be as bad as his previous visual novel works, but if you’ve seen Angel Beats, you’ll probably have an idea what to expect, with standard high school antics eventually giving way to sad music and tears. Personally, I don’t think I’ve got the stomach to make it that far.

 

Overlord

[HorribleSubs] OverLord - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.16_[2015.07.11_20.32.38]

Well, one more in the pile of trapped-in-the-game’ anime super popular right now.

You know, despite how generic the vr-mmorpg premise is starting to feel, I genuinely found myself immersed (so to speak) in what Overlord was going for, something that Sword Art Online, or even Log Horizon failed to do. I think the main reason for this was that it didn’t feel set up like another nerd wish-fulfilment series (yet!), where the m.c. has super skills making make him the object of awe and envy with those he meets (I know Horizon ended up being more than that, but still held onto similar tropes in the episodes I watched). However, the opener felt like a far more modest and genuine depiction of why people actually flock to those games. It’s less about being the coolest there is, while getting all the girls and accomplishments; in reality you’re just one person in a mass of players, with no real way to flirt without looking like a creeper, while half the rare mounts and weapons will have people thinking you’re just flashing your e-peen around (which isn’t far from the truth, tbh). Overlord seems to get this, focusing on the joy of what can be accomplished when people come together and work in a group to win or make silly digital items that would seem a complete waste of time to most people, but fills the player with an intense amount of pride.

Having become a regular participant in my first mmo, Final Fantasy XIV, these last few years or, it’s clear that the writer behind this show understands what makes them so important to people. He also gets the sense of dread in seeing their eventual end, with guild members and friends moving away from this brief escape from reality. FFXIV is still in its infancy, but I often wonder what will happen once people lose interest and the servers go quiet. Suddenly all those things I spent weeks, months and years on will vanish with no trace that they ever existed. I was honestly shocked at how much relatable Overlord ended up being.

I’m not really sure what else there is to say about the episode; I mean it was all set up so far, although effective at being that. The actual UI and interface systems were a great touch. They actually mimicked what a twelve year old mmo might actually look like on a pc today… you know, if you ignore the whole vr aspect. That said, the character designs are a little all over the place and suggest a real lack of cohesion or creativity in world design.

At this stage I still have no idea what to feel about this show and suspect it’ll take a few episodes before I get a clear grasp of what it want to be. Still, as opening episode goes, there was enough thought put into the concept that for once, I found myself excited to check out more. Hopefully it’ll stay consistent.

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