Whether it’s The Godfather or The Soprano’s, media about organized crime has always captured the imagination and fascination of anyone who explores such a seedy underworld. Maybe it’s something about safely exploring such a dangerous lifestyle? Perhaps it’s because, through media about the mafia, viewers can live out power fantasies? Whatever it is, shows and movies about the mafia are here to stay because, unfortunately, organized crime is here to stay. There are plenty of shows that can scratch that mafia itch for anime fans, and here are five of them.
If one joins a crime family, expect to be someday betrayed, and that is the entire premise of Gungrave, which mixes science fiction and crime drama. Following the exploits of Brandon Heat and his friend, Harry MacDowell, two small-time criminals who become part of Millenion–the largest crime syndicate in the world. Everything seems exquisite at first. Brandon and Harry rise through the ranks, make a lot of money, meet beautiful women, and soon become significant figures in the family. All of this changes, however, when Brandon is betrayed by Harry and ultimately whacked. But Brandon is brought back due to a cutting-edge scientific process called “necrolyzation” and lives under a new moniker, “Beyond The Grave.” With his new life and powers, he quests for revenge against the same syndicate for which he has shown so much loyalty.
The greatest strength of Gungrave is its style. Everything in Gungrave oozes a kind of sci-fi bombast where the nature of the mafia is turned up to eleven. But just because it shows a strong sense of style does not mean that it loses a sense of substance. The plot is a build-up and spans several years so that the viewer grasps how meaningful the relationships between the members of Millenion are, making the subsequent betrayal all the more tragic. It is also a cautionary tale about how crime doesn’t pay and how revenge does more damage than bringing peace.
Baccano! is the Italian word for ruckus or racket, and that is the perfect word used to describe this anime. It is a commotion. To explain the plot of Baccano! would be a feat in and of itself. Still, to put it all together, it is about a series of events that revolve around various crime families in the Prohibition Era of America. Oh, and there is alchemy involved which makes some of the mobster characters immortal–can’t leave that out.
Baccano! is a bloody good time. And the word bloody should be taken literally because this anime is violent, very violent. Amidst the buckets of blood, there is also a jovial nature to the whole show, with characters rip-roaring through the turbulent time of the Prohibition Era. Bootleggers, smugglers, assassins, heists, extortionists, and general mafia mayhem flowed through the story at a breakneck speed, told through the eyes of several different characters, some good and some very bad. Baccano! also features one of the most fun villains in any medium: Ladd Russo. Ladd alone is worth the price of admission, and his Joker-like antics and penchant for mayhem are a real treat.
Technically, in most of the anime’s first season about anthropomorphized animals, organized crime plays little in the story. It is when the viewer gets into the second season that the plot about yakuza lions takes off. Beastars is set in a world where humans do not exist, and anthropomorphic animals run the world, with carnivores and herbivores living side by side. Even though the eating of herbivores is illegal, the carnivore black market is an open secret. And who runs such a black market? The various crime syndicates of this world, the most prominent being The Shishigumi, a yakuza-styled syndicate of lions who provide just about any illicit product that money can buy.
Beastars is a well-put-together series with enough intrigue and shifts in the story to make the viewer come back for more. While prominent only in the third act of the first season, The Shishigumi shine strongest in the second season, and everything from how the lions dress to their mannerisms exudes a style reminiscent of the yakuza, a class of Japanese mafioso who is known for dangerous swagger. Introducing the seedy underbelly of this anthropomorphic world through animal crime syndicates gives Beastars a dark edge.
91 Days takes place over, well, 91 days, and much like Gungrave mentioned before, it is another story that speaks of the futility of revenge. Set in the Prohibition Era, this anime follows the exploits of Angelo Lagusa, whose family is killed due to a mafia dispute by the Vanetti Family. To obtain his revenge, Angelo must use all of his cunning and wits to not only join the Vanetti family but claw his way to the top. His mission is to rise in rank to become close to the Don of the Vanetti Family, Vincent Vanetti, and kill him.
This anime feels closer to a Francis Ford Coppola production, akin to The Godfather Trilogy and less like an anime. The plot is a slow burn and more melancholy in its way of telling a story. There are more moments of conversation and introspection than fighting and exaggerated action scenes. A copious amount of mafia politics also are exhibited in fine detail. But when the fights start, they are brutal and carry a sense of realism that makes the whole anime more tragic. The life of a mafia member is violent and sad, and 91 Days exemplifies this axiom with a skill that can rival most live-action dramas.
The viewer will get exactly what is paid for when watching a series like Gangsta. No punches are pulled, and the world of this anime is brutal and dark. Set in the fictional city of Ergastulum, Gangsta follows the lives of two “Handymen” named Worick Arcangelo and Nicolas Brown. A Handyman is someone who takes on a job that neither the police nor mob can handle, and in a dirty town like Ergastulum, they are a valuable asset.
In the world of Gangsta, nobody is pure. The mafia runs everything; cops are beyond corrupt, and drugs and prostitution run rampant. This is the kind of series where anti-heroes and villains are the main leads and they do it all with a dark suaveness that is appealing. Even the art style has a vulgar kind of beauty to it. Character designs are rough around the edges yet cool and smooth looking at the same time. The setting of Ergastulum is run down and lacks color, making the whole environment feel as if it is crumbling under its corruption. Amidst all of that, Gangsta has some fantastic fight scenes and a sardonic sense of humor that makes the corrupt world it takes place in seem a bit more fun.
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