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Old Skool Anime: Gunsmith Cats


Two Young Women, guns, fast cars, and the seemingly lawless American city of Chicago. This mid-1990s anime adaption of Kenichi Sonoda’s manga characters might well sound like the ultimate wet dream, but Gunsmith Cats is more gratifying than objectifying for all the right reasons. Gun-toting girls Rally Vincent and Minnie May love their weapons as much as each other. Unfortunately, so does the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and would-be assassins in this crazy, colourful, and altogether corking action-packed romp.

Rally and May run a gun shop in Chicago, USA – the titular Gunsmith Cats – but by night serve as bounty hunters. Rally is the firearm expert, while May is the explosives nut. Both are coerced into working with the ATF to preserve both their business, livelihoods and even their lives. Fear not, as both Rally and May are very like-able anti-establishment types who make it clear they are not to be trifled with. The lively pair are also not short on solutions to back themselves up either; Rally doesn’t have access to firearms just for display or own a classy 1967 Shelby GT-500 just to keep it on the driveway. Rally and May are assisted often by the bespectacled Becky Farrah, who plays the role of information hunter and prefers to keep herself out of the firing line, although often ends up in the action regardless.

The allure and projected power of cars, guns, and the acceptance of bounty hunters on a seemingly grand scale evokes a lawless Chicago fantasy, a world away from Sonoda’s native Japan with firm gun control in place. The opening gun shop scene feels like a playful take on America’s gun control policy – or apparent lack thereof – when a guy steps in for a gun following a known-contact’s recommendation. Rally assumes he’s a cop yet asks for no ID, or to even clarify the guy’s name! All’s fair in love and, well, guns I suppose. Such stereotyping exemplifies that while this is very much a Japanese production through and through, it looks and feels like an American production. And it is all down to Sonoda’s obsession for all things America.

The biggest draw of Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats manga is the author’s art style. Rally and Minnie are both in their late teens, and Sonoda’s ability to visualise attractive teenage girls who often end up in their lingerie became a big draw. Sonoda’s well-researched closeup shots of handguns, fast cars, particularly Rally’s Shelby Cobra, even props such as road signs, soft drink cans, and cigarette packages make the transition to screen effortlessly. Reportedly American magazines were the source for most products seen throughout. Anyone who has read the multi-volume series will note the anime is nowhere near as much a gratuitous piece as its parent, instead focusing on details that print can never replicate - sound. Oriental Light & Magic, who produced the OVA, had staff make several location trips to Chicago to perform principal photography of the city, visit gun shops, police stations, including the Chicago Police Academy. This allowed the team to inspect guns up close and ensure the handpiece sounds were recorded. The same applied to Rally’s signature Shelby. I’m no car nut, but it not only sounds authentic, but also fantastic.

Across this three-part OVA – roughly 90 minutes in total – it delivers the same high thrills the manga is famous for. Director Takeshi Mori is one that has appeared among many a credit across many productions that would fit the criteria of “Old Skool Anime”;
Otaku No Video, Giant Robo and Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water are among his directorial credentials, on top of his extensive storyboard work on other well-known past productions, such as Ranma ½, Rurouni Kenshin and Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. Together with series creator Kenichi Sonada, having already worked with Mori on Otaku No Video previously, also on board here as character designer, they prove to be the perfect match as they bring Chicago’s skylines, and Sonoda’s universe and characters, from page to screen effortlessly.       

Some may recognise Rally from another anime one-shot Riding Bean, Sonoda’s original creation, although with blonde hair, not the dark hair she has here. Both characters are indeed one and the same, the former merely a prototype for the more-refined character in Gunsmith Cats. The Bean Bandit character eventually appears in the manga, although Riding Bean came first; Gunsmith Cats was created (and Rally altered) due to Sonoda abandoning the unsuccessful Bandit manga and anime for a time. Sadly, his character is not in the anime, but the original OVA and a sequel have both since been released thanks to successful Kickstarter campaigns. Gunsmith Cats also earned its own funded release through Animeigo that is superb but now unfortunately out of print.

With its original VHS release in 1996-7, which came only four months after the Japanese release, AD Vision (rest their souls) released Gunsmith Cats on a single-episode-per-tape format with both subtitled and dubbed formats available. Both dub tracks are excellent, with the Amanda Winn Lee/Kimberly Yates-led English dub wisely retained in the Animeigo release, as it definitely holds up over 25 years on. In fact, that is one of the best compliments to grant Gunsmith Cats, a thrilling, funny yet exemplary meticulous production that absolutely still holds up today. Its amazing, and yet disappointing, that somehow there has been no further anime adaptions. 

In the late 1990’s the emergence of sci-fi efforts such as Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star most likely quashed any demand for any potential series. Sonoda revived the manga after a seven-year hiatus with Gunsmith Cats: Burst, which ended as late as 2008 and was fully translated in the West, yet the lack of any further development for any screen adaption has all but determined that any interest in pulp crime anime just isn’t there. It bears no reflection however on a near-perfect OVA series that is a joy to watch, and if you manage to have/get a copy of Animeigo’s Explosive edition set, treasure it.