The original IWGP started as a novel but is mostly known as a manga and then a really great and popular live action J-drama from two decades ago that threw several of it’s actors into the spotlight and helped them become some of the most famous Japanese actors for awhile (and some that already were, like the great Ken Watanabe as the police chief or detective, I forget which). The show and the manga basically lead the way for and inspired things like Durarara later on as well. Rather, the original novels did, but for the most part IWGP became a hit due to the manga and live action, so sorry for not typing all 3 every single time from here on out.
This new anime adaptation is interesting because right from the first episode you realize it’s very different from both the manga and the live action – I’ll use the live action for the most part for comparison throughout this as it’s what I have experience with and also is a much easier visual aid, I did see it a long time ago though so pardon anything I may be misremembering. That little disclaimer aside, differences are super obvious and very abundant right from the start. Smart phones in what was a 90s manga and show so they hadn’t existed yet, King being a perfectly groomed effeminate ikemen instead of, you know, a grungy dirty gangbanger. Here is King in the anime vs King in the J-drama. Personality wise they are also VERY different, as the anime version is a super professional who avoids conflict and is soft spoken, while in the live action he is a goofy, loud, reckless and very aggressive type who also literally cuts fingers off people for going against him – someone you could BELIEVE as a gang leader unlike the anime counterpart which doesn’t seem realistic at all and feels, well, super “anime”.
The gangs in general, really, being too overly bishounen filled while they went for a much more genuine grungy street type of look in the past. The lead ironically being anti-smoking according to his t-shirt while the original Makoto was a regular smoker. The bowling alley just not existing now. The gal girlfriend of Makoto who is raped and murdered by a serial, well, rapist-murderer in Ikebukuro is just entirely missing as well as the serious problem of rapists/sexual predators in Japan, but with her missing so too is most of the motivation for Makoto’s character who primarily is so heavily involved in the future mysteries and gang problems because of how far he has to go to catch the one responsible for what happened.
IWGP always dealt with societal issues, sort of like a Boogiepop minus the surreal or mysterious/haunting aspect of that, but looking at the darker side of Japan that most media and the news and even society as a whole tries to avoid. It was a show that delved into the gray of what people view as a serene country and serious topics that people could deal with themselves yet not really bring up. Not only that, but the J-drama especially focused VERY heavily on the inter-gang violence and politics, with loads of main characters (male and females both!) outright being killed by the rival gang regularly, while the show basically treats the gangs as nothing but best buddies.
This new animated IWGP replaces all that with social justice and progressive ideal peddling, some episodes feeling like they’re just CNN articles put into cartoon form or maybe giving it the aura of a “Netflix original”. I’m surprised they didn’t make King black.
An episode about nationalists being evil racist xenophobes and that goes out of its way to make sure the viewer knows the “fact” that Japan’s economy would have been completely destroyed if not for millions of immigrant workers!
Before that, an episode where they glorify a woman for beating her child and they even outright said she’s near the point where she would literally murder him, all because she’s not getting enough sex. Seriously, “I don’t have time to find someone or ‘have fun'” and this turned into her beating her child severely the moment a man came onto her because then the child was in the way of more dick and them even pointing out she was a good mother until she had a man in her life (men are evil note being thrown in there too) and the appeal of FAT COCK made her nearly kill her own child…and she was treated as a sad thing because she was “going through the plight of a single mother”. Not the child being the sad thing, not beating the child being bad, no, the moral of the episode was single mothers have a hard life and we should forgive them for all their shortcomings and treat them better.
And before that, there is an episode all about how illegals shouldn’t be treated poorly (not the same one as the one about defending immigrants), should get higher wages, and should be accepted as a fellow countryman and that it’s terrible to think of them negatively for being illegals in your nation as well as working illegally within your nation tax-free. Because, uh….oh, her dad in Beijing is sick or some shit, Makoto’s mom even adopts her while she continues to be an illegal prostitute, which, oh, right, prostitutes are great people too and shouldn’t be thought poorly of! So ILLEGALS ARE GOOD! IMMIGRANTS ARE GOOD! WOMEN WHO BEAT THEIR 3 YEAR OLD SONS ARE GOOD!
Beyond that, they’ve also added what may as well be Boogiepop-for-hire in the form of some ultra-fighter-man voiced by Fango who is also – based on his skin and overall look – a foreigner who is super “good and just” and simply kills people when he’s paid for it so he’s a good guy and now an ally who basically is used as a deus ex machina in every episode after his introduction episode coming in last second with no hints at all he’d be involved beating up the bad guys and saving the day because King called him in off-camera at some point. I do not recall anyone like that in the original, in fact they cut out Makoto, King, and the G-boys and the other gang being very violent at all in the anime which leads me to believe this is also tied to the progressive slant the show now has. They’re gangbangers but they’re GOOD boys! Instead they’ve made up this new character to take care of the violence for EVERYONE.
My point is they really fucked up and this wasn’t just a disappointment but also damaged the IWGP name as a whole. It pushes progressive shit that makes no sense for what it’s trying to do, it removes ALL legitimate mysteries and social commentary, it makes everything E-rated even when dealing with what are supposedly ultra-violent hardcore gangs, and it just completely misses every point it possibly could for what IWGP was created for. You could TOTALLY make a modern take of IWGP and still maintain the meaning, integrity, and value of the social commentary even if you really wanted to apply progressive views to it – but this just missed the mark in every way it could by dumbing it down, babying it down, and providing nothing but the most generic good boy characters doing good boy things. In fact, the live action itself even took liberties and changed a fair amount from the manga and novels to more better fit both the medium AND the at-the-time social climate to be more relevant, and it worked and still stayed fairly close to the original material while putting it’s own spin on it and adding/changing some characters a bit. It’s almost like a bunch of fujoshi-feminists were paid by Ikebukuro to make this show and make it look like a wonderful place where gangs will take care of your children and keep you safe among like-minded progressive individuals while looking like proper and prim male models.
This didn’t have to be so disappointing, but it is. IWGP has always had meaning and value and this exchanged that to make a vapid nothing mediocre-at-best waste of time. This serves as a perfect time capsule of how fucking trash our modern society is compared to just 20 years ago if you look at this versus the live action. There are 2 more episodes left, I’ll finish it, and while I usually wouldn’t review something I plan to finish the fact is nothing in those last 2 episodes could really change anything I’ve said so why wait?
The live action J-drama from 2000 is easily available and is only 11 episodes; I recommend it if this at least conceptually had you interested. It’s not one of my top favorites or anything but it’s pretty good and was an important piece for live action TV in Japan.