Two young women, guns, fast cars and America. The ultimate movie wet dream?
If that was the intention for this universally western-themed anime series, then Gunsmith Cats is just the ticket. Takeshi Mori’s anime adaption – an original story using Kenichi Sonoda’s characters from the manga – is painfully short at only 3 episodes. But that alone is testament to how good they are.
Rally Vincent and Minnie May run an illegal gun shop in Chicago – the titular Gunsmith Cats – and serve as bounty hunters by night. Rally is the firearm expert, while May is the explosives nut. Both are coerced into working with the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) to preserve both their business and livelihoods. The results are crazy and colourful cop-related action that is simply great fun to watch.
Some may recognise Rally from another anime one-shot Riding Bean, although with blonde hair, not the dark hair she has here. Both are indeed one and the same, and the character Bean Bandit eventually appears in the manga; Gunsmith Cats was created (and Rally altered) due to Sonoda not having the rights to Bandit for a time due to a dispute following Riding Bean. Sadly, his character is not in the anime. There is however a Kickstarter to release Riding Bean on Blu-Ray which has already achieved the initial funding required.
Both Rally and May are the very like-able anti-establishment protagonists who make it clear they are not to be trifled with. And boy can they back themselves up. Rally doesn’t have access to firearms just for display or own a Shelby Cobra GT-500 just to keep it on the driveway. The opening gun shop scene is a little play on America’s gun control policy – or 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.
The animation is crisp, solid, and certainly better than most anime series of that time. Visual highlights being the cars, guns, and the introduction credits with, you guessed it, more cars and guns. Production staff took research trips to Chicago covering gun shops and even a police academy just to get a feel for the real thing. In Japan, gun controls mean guns are off-limits, but on their visitsthey were able to both see and feel real firearms to aid research.
The soundtrack is a wonderfully westernised mix of jazz-rock composed by New Jersey jazz drummer Peter Erskine, particularly the extremely catchy theme tune.
Back in its initial VHS release in 1996-7, ADV Films (rest their souls) Gunsmith Cats was released 1 episode per tape with both subtitled and dubbed formats available. Being used to dubbed anime at the time led me to stick with that, but was pleasantly surprised that the majority was excellent. Only ATF agent Bill Collins’ voice just a bit too cheesy (or rather sleazy) to be convincing as the self-proclaimed Elliot Ness type.
In hindsight, with just a 3 x 30-minute-per-episode arc, Gunsmith Cats would have been better edited together into a movie. The biggest complaint of all is that no other Gunsmith Cats anime has been produced since. But don’t let that take away what it achieves, which is solid action, great characters, a tangled plot, a cracking soundtrack and a fitting homage to an American city. Definitely go check it out.