IKEBUKURO WEST GATE PARK REVIEW — WHAT IT IS AND ISN’T

The current anime season is coming to an end so this post might count as a recap, as well as my observations and general thoughts on the show. Today’s post won’t be coherent, so I should apologize beforehand. 

I have to start by saying that I had no idea about IWGP before I saw the PV. I didn’t research much after I watched it either, the premise looked fun and dynamic, so I just added it to my list. At least, I read that it was about gangs, so I knew there would be action. I certainly, for reasons unknown, didn’t expect it to be a popular franchise. IWGP is a series of novels by Ira Ishida, the first book being published in 1998. Then, it gets a live-action TV show in 2000. Then comes the manga adaptation. That’s a lot of adaptations and it made me think the series must have a decent commercial success to come that far. And now we even have an anime adaptation!

Since I got to know about the rest right before I sat down to write on the anime adaptation, I can only review this version. However, from what I saw on Wikipedia, anime version and the rest has stark differences between them. I understand when one has a certain connection with a franchise and the adaptation comes out so different that it leaves you heartbroken *coughs* currently watching True Beauty drama *coughs*. It’s hard to keep one’s thoughts about a show separate from the original material. That’s why I sometimes think “Ahh the sweet taste of ignorance!” because not having prior information to compare the current show is sometimes a nice feeling. Freeing, even. 

A tiny bit of summary. Makoto is a 20 year-old guy helping his mother in their store. Although he isn’t officially a part of one, he’s childhood friends with Takashi, the leader of the gang G-Boys. Well, he’s practically friends with everyone in Ikebukuro, be it the gangs or the police force because he’s famously known as the ‘capable troubleshooter’. You know, he’s one of those ‘can’t help helping you’ type of character we see frequently. Without further ado, here is my bullet list for IWGP, on what it is and what it isn’t.

WHAT IT IS:

  • Episodic anime on gang boys doing good things, but make it ikemen-ified. IWGP touches on some heavy topics however, they remain touched. How big or small the case Makoto helping is, it is resolved within that episode and everything ends on a positive note.
  • Did I mention ikemen? Almost everyone in this show is young and beautiful! Laced with occasional bromance moments to provide shipping material and bring joy to fujoshi, it’s a feel-good series. One character I couldn’t seem to figure out was the leader of the Red Angles. That guy really took every chance he could get to get half-naked and perform contemporary dance. Good for him, though. I’m all for free artistic expression.
  • I did say the show scratches the surface, however, I admired the topics they chose to tackle. My favorites were the single mother (Episode 8) and the father who’s lost a son five years ago and still searching for what happened (Episode 4). I want to comment a bit more on the single mother episode because of some comments I came across and felt uncomfortable. 
  • Has decent animation, nice character designs. I wouldn’t say there was anything striking with regards to music or backgrounds as well, however it’s not bad either!

WHAT IT ISN’T:

  • An in-depth look at gang violence, inter-group dynamics, and its relation to the police. I expected the series to have episodic cases for a while and to have one big case for the last 3-4 episodes but IWGP remained that way until the end. The series has a lot of big topics like immigration or abuse at hand but I have the feeling that it doesn’t try to tackle them, but to showcase the situation and a positive result. 
  • Again related to depth, the reason behind the show is scratching the surface is the characters. Be it the gangs or Makoto and his family, they are all good people who have a strong moral compass. Although they make sure to remind us that they will cause problems if you are to cross a line but that line is seldom crossed and everyone is living happily ever after. The police force is always there to help them with official records, and in turn, gangs provide inside info from the streets.
From right to left: police chief of Ikebukuro, Makoto and me.
  • This is a positive remark, the show doesn’t seem to glamorize the wrongdoings of the perpetrators. It’s the kind of shortcut that anime loves, giving them a traumatic backstory to work as an excuse and we’d sympathize a little along with the victim. The rightful side of the cast is too white but the victim/perpetrator side had some nice shades of gray. And their ‘excuses’ are never affirmed. 
  • More often than not, characters look goofy when, in actuality, they are aiming to be cool. Which is alright! I’d never say no to extra laughter.
!! Trigger warning for mentions of abuse and depression from here on. !!

As for episode 8. The story is about a single mother who tries her best to look after his young son, with his husband running off and she can hardly earn a living from working a night-shift. One day when she is outside, her son accidentally falls over the balcony while playing at home, alone. Thankfully he lands on a bush that cushions his fall and nothing happens, however, the online comments about the woman’s motherhood are devastating. She is usually seen at the park with her son, watching the Red Angels’ leader Ozaki dancing from the side, so Ozaki takes it upon himself to reach out to Makoto to look after the mother. We learn that she is struggling a lot to make the ends meet, and has a hard time properly spending time with her kid. She goes outside that one time so she could watch Ozaki dancing without having to look after her son. What’s more, she’s clearly backed into a corner and depressed, probably suicidal because the metaphor of her ‘being at the edge of a cliff and falling’ keeps being repeated. Makoto and his mother, empathizing with her struggles, try to help her the best they can.

This was a striking episode because it underlines a fact that is almost always forgotten: mothers are not endlessly loving, caretaking machines. They are equally human as much as the next person with their shortcomings, desires, dreams, and needs. Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t condone what she has done to her child. However, it’s not that easy to criticize a woman who has come to hate their own kid, turn their stress into physically hurting him because no matter what she does, it’s not enough either.

This desperation and loneliness make her an easy target for scammers later on in the episode. In the end, the solution they found for the mother is to help her find a job, carefully look for ways to get governmental support, and let another ‘home’ to take care of the son until she can get back on her feet. By home, I don’t know what they meant but it didn’t look like a daycare, so I’m guessing it was a service where he had to stay full time. We also learn that Makoto’s mother went through similar struggles. Again, I wouldn’t say she should be forgiven immediately or it’s all good now that she apologized. However, when such ideas on motherhood and womanhood are so normalized to a point where they crush one’s soul and makes one think it’s all their fault, it was nice to watch two women showing solidarity and understanding each other without harsh, patriarchal judgment.

The post turned out longer than I imagined. What I aimed with this is to give you a glimpse of what you can expect from Ikebukuro West Gate Park, because without the comparison to the original material and heavy expectations the series can certainly provide fun time and some side imagining of what could be done with such a setting and story. Hope it was fun reading as much as I enjoyed writing it. Take care of yourselves and don’t forget to thank the women in your life for just existing and making the world a better place ~

And maybe try not to piss off your local, sexy gang leader

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