Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: Ikebukuro West Gate Park

Original Run: October 6, 2020 - December 22, 2020
Number of Episodes: 12
Genre: Crime, Drama
Based on the Series Created By: Ira Ishida

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Ikebukuro West Gate Park. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Ikebukuro has a reputation as a rough town. However, like most places, the people living there only want peace. And when the authorities fail to adequately provide that function, many look to the G-Boys, an influential street gang.

Whenever more nefarious organizations try to plant a foothold in the town, the G-Boys stand in their way. To help them in this mission is Ikebukuro’s resident troubleshooter, Makoto Majima (voiced by Kentarou Kumagai).

When people are looking for assistance, they often come to Makoto first. And if it is in his power, he will see to it that the citizens of his beloved Ikebukuro are well cared for.

Series Positives

I thought Ikebukuro West Gate Park (IWGP) was pretty damn good. I didn’t have the highest hopes for this series going into it (for completely unfounded reasons), so, yes, it easily exceeded my expectations.

That said, for those who know, I am aware of IWGP’s history, which, for the record, is quite extensive. The franchise began in 1998 as a short story written by Mr. Ira Ishida. It is a series that is still ongoing with 15 total installments thus far. IWGP also saw a live-action TV adaptation back in 2000 and a four-volume manga run between 2001 and 2004.

And no. I have not read or seen any of them.

Therefore, any changes the anime version made – be they better or worse – I am ignorant of. I can only tell you what I saw, and what I saw was well worth a look.

I don’t believe it is too off the mark to say that many people who come to Japan do so because they are anime/manga fans. Sure Japan’s history, culture, and natural beauty also have their admirers. Still, there is a reason why a place such as Akihabara – arguably the holy land for gaming, anime, and manga – exists. For those who don’t know, I actually in Japan. As such, I have met plenty of visitors (and have needed to answer questions from back home) that have a particular perception of what they think the country is like.

These perceptions are often formed by anime.

Although Japan is a peaceful country and I love living in it, we can never forget that it is like every other country in the world. Crimes exist, drugs exist, gangs do roam the streets of cities. There are social problems; life can be difficult. Every image you have of a rough American neighborhood can apply to Japan, too. I would say minus the guns, but though you’ll most likely never see them, people can (usually illegally) get their hands on firearms here.

Only on the rarest of occasions will you see any of this depicted in anime. And that is part of the reason I enjoyed IWGP; this series did have these elements, and it presented them in a very grounded way.

This show was at its best when it focused more on human stories. For example, episode one took place within the illegal drug trade. Another great episode shone a light on immigrants struggling to make a living in a more affluent country and facing neverending, racist-fueled condemnation by highly nationalistic segments of Japanese society. And my favorite was when our main character, Makoto Majima, helped out a young woman as she struggled to cope with the stigma young, unwed, single mothers face.

Believe me, Japan has and will always have a special place in my heart, but it is not a perfect place. There are areas where the country excels and leads the world through its example. However, there are many, many areas where it is embarrassingly – sometimes frighteningly – behind. IWGP, at least, acknowledged this reality.

On a less heavy note, IWGP managed to maintain its high engagement level because of its characters, specifically Makoto Majima.

Makoto didn’t have a carefree life. He knew what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck. He knew there were places where the system was inefficient to help. His world could get violent, maybe even deadly. Nevertheless, he knew that most people were just that – people; people who were trying to live a safe and happy life.

I’m glad Makoto wasn’t an official member of the G-Boys. Although the gang and its leader, Takashi “King” Andou (voiced by Kouki Uchiyama), were looking out for the people of Ikebukuro, they were often on the wrong side of the law. By being an independent force in the city, Makoto could see the much larger picture. Raw emotions never compelled him to act without thinking. He was often the much-needed voice of reason for people who would fight on a blatantly false assumption rather than be swayed by reality. 

But Makoto wasn’t naïve either. He never did anything without accepting that something could go wrong. He would give people the benefit of the doubt until there was enough evidence to suggest otherwise. Consequently, this attitude made IWGP’s climax immensely satisfying.

Lastly, and I thought this was a nice touch to his character, Makoto would avoid violence when possible, but was not opposed to using violence when necessary. After all, when dealing with muscle-bound hotheads incapable of listening to reason, a plea to their better angles didn’t always work. If shattering a kneecap was the only way to get the point across, then so it was.

To make a long story short, IWGP was a pleasant surprise that had a lot more power than I had initially thought I would give it credit for.

Series Negatives

When this series strode away from the Ikebukuro gang scene, that was when it was at its most compelling. Territorial disputes, street fights, and criminal activity were entertaining when they happened. Unfortunately, IWGP would sometimes take this to a ridiculous level.

For instance, there was this ninja-assassin-for-hire that moved faster than bullets and practically a one-man-army. Yes, this character was insanely cool, and he fit in the gangland aspect of this show. However, he (and elements like him) clashed with IWGP’s less flashy features, i.e., everyday people’s struggles.

These two elements complemented each other enough to make the series work overall. But speaking for myself, there was always an apparent disconnect when the show jumped in between these extremes.

IWGP also had a habit of relying on quirks as a substitute for real characterization. Luckily, Makoto broke out of this, but he enjoyed a hot bowl of ramen piled with tons of fruit. Why was this a thing? Yeah, he was a fruit vendor, but this seemed unnecessarily silly.

There was also never any sense of tension. Here was the downside of Makoto’s levelheadedness. He was so reliable, and things went so often his way that whenever a problem arose, there was never any doubt he would solve it. The show’s satisfying climax was so because it played out exactly as I thought it would.

I don’t know. I think it might have done IWGP some good had there been at least one minor failure.

Of course, you might be sorely disappointed with this series if you go into thinking it will be some sort of heavy crime drama. Although IWGP does play around with this idea slightly, ultimately, that wasn’t what this show was. If you want a story filled with gang-warfare, you are in the wrong place.

But, if you want something with a more human-focus, then IWGP is the perfect fit.

Final Thoughts

I’m not going to lie. I thought this was going to be some intense mystery series filled with street violence. I’m glad I didn’t have my heart set on that because what I actually got should be considered a hidden gem of the 2020 fall season.

It was nice to see a show paint Japan in a more actual light; there were themes that don’t often get brought up in anime. This was no idyllic slice-of-life series.

And if you want some action and thrills, they do exist in this story. However, that shouldn’t be the reason why you choose to watch. But watch it, you should.

Therefore, Ikebukuro West Gate Park has earned a recommendation.

But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Ikebukuro West Gate Park? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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