Gangs, drugs, underground life, immigration issues, shady deals, single mothers trying to stay afloat, and many more. For a title like Ikebukuro West Gate Park (shortened as IWGP), surely it’s supposed to depict them. But what if you portray it in the most down-to-earth way possible while trying to stay serious? Well, you get another niche.
I’m sure not everyone stayed after keeping up with it this entire season. Many dropped this anime at the beginning since it started off with a flimsy beginning. As it went on, there are some moments, only to be told in a single episode. Is it a good thing? Yes. Most shows these days wanted to tell a narrative in a 12-13 episode span. Doing it this way is a nice change of pace. It’s so expected in a time like 2020 where if an anime can’t pull you in an instant it’s seen as not worth watching. I get that too. But it doesn’t give a chance to other stories who actually want to bring in a different flavor to the table each time.
Makoto the lone fruit vendor may not be the most intriguing protagonist out there, but it’s his interactions with the people of Ikebukuro makes it worthwhile. When was the last time you’d see an anime where every character acts like a person going through real life problems?
Since all of the individual cases involve ordinary people, there are the big corporations. Gang members and police are doing their roles as usual. There is nothing grand nor too ambitious of what they do. The most common sentiment they all share is they find ways to get by. Social commentary is touched upon but only through a mention. Each episode acts like you’re in Ikebukuro for a day and you wanted to know what’s happening around you. From time to time you’ll get sucked into the middle of a conflict until it gets resolved. Once it’s all over everything wraps up like it’s another day in the city. Sounds monotonous, yet I still vibe to the overall presentation.
The best way to compare this show is another medium entirely: Japanese live-action. As in live-action J-dramas broadcasting on primetime television. The very first adaptation of this series was a J-drama and it had liberties compared to what we’ve got. If I could describe, the first one was more in your face, at times eccentric, and you can feel the time period when it was released back in the early 2000s. I didn’t want to complete the drama since the first few seconds alone felt like another series entirely even if they’re the same story. From what I’ve heard things do settle down until the main story kicks in.
What is different is how they present it. A typical J-drama is mostly episodic where the main character does things to other people he or she interacts to. A conflict arises then settles down until the credits roll while you see a B-roll of a Japanese street. The anime does that, literally by the book. And if you want a taste of a J-drama, try Midnight Diner.
I find it brave of Doga Kobo, the studio behind it, to break away from their usual brand and take a risk. You don’t see this all too often now. When tensions arise they kept it to a more grounded approach in fight scenes. Most of the action comes in fist fights, sometimes with weapons of their choice. The dialogues or expositions may make or break to some, but it works. And a number of individual cases get intertwined in the most laid-back manner. You see where I’m getting at?
When this anime is finished I expect it would be rarely talked about or never mentioned. This niche is understandably difficult to get people to get into along with the cultural barriers too. At least we get a taste of this once in a lifetime. I do want more anime with this kind of direction and having some focus on its setting to make it more alive. IWGP has the setting for crying out loud, yet it’s underutilized for most of its run except for certain episodes.
Just like real life, character/s comes and goes. Makoto’s closest friend King isn’t always in the spotlight, his only mother is too busy with the fruit store, the Red Angels have other arrangements in mind. Even all of the supporting characters who appeared for a single episode were there to settle personal ties. Sometimes you do not know what they are going through and it’s best to do your job. The town they grew up in may change as time goes on, but their own spirits won’t be leaving anytime soon.