August 28, 2007
by: Serdar Yegulalp
BANG! POW! BWHOOM! Yep -- the Gunsmith Cats must be back in Chicago for another round of shoot-'em-up.
Manga Description: Rally Vincent and Minnie-May Hopkins run a gunsmith shop in Chicago by the day... but they have a side business as bounty hunters, and there are none better than they are. That's rare for two girls in their late teens! But you can bet Kenichi Sonoda will make you want to believe it.
Printed in original Japanese right-to-left format!
Content: (This section may contain spoilers.)
It’s amazing how educational some manga can be. By the time I finished the second volume of Gunsmith Cats: Revised Edition, I knew how to take out an antitank gun (aim for the ammo box), outfox a police roadblock at the mouth of an embankment, and perform an end-run around a posthypnotic suggestion reinforced with drugs. Not that I’m expecting to use this knowledge anytime soon, but it’s nice to know it’s all socked away for a rainy day.
And so once again I’ve returned to the over-the-top action-movie world of Kenichi Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats, a classic manga now reissued for a whole new generation of readers in a lavishly remastered set of omnibus reprints. It’s also one of the few but apparently growing manga that seems to be at least as aimed at Western readers as it is its native audience. This sort of thing was mostly unheard of ten years ago, when GC was new, but today it’s not nearly as outlandish—look at Black Lagoon, which I’m betting dollars to doughnuts was crafted with at least some prospects of being an export item. Sonoda’s unquestionably got a burgeoning love of American pop culture, though, and it shows up throughout GC in details both big and little. (Look fast for the license plates that say THX 1138 and USS ENT.)
The set-up for GC is of the purest Hollywood variety: girls and guns—except this time, the girls are wielding most of the guns. Rally Vincent, the Chicago-area gunshop owner, also runs a bounty-hunter business on the side, collaring criminals on the lam and bringing ‘em back alive. Her sidekick, Minnie May Hopkins, is a bit of ex-prostitute jailbait-lookalike (she’s allegedly twenty, but let’s face it, Sonoda makes her look a lot younger) who also has a penchant for things that go boom. Small wonder her boyfriend Ken, whom she met last volume, is a demolitions expert—for, as she says in one of the book’s most deathless lines, “I need a man who smells like gunpowder.”
Most of the book’s plotting breaks across several smaller, more episodic arcs, some of which simply work as standalone adventures and don’t contribute directly to the plotting—for instance, the sequence that spawns that last quote, where Ken has to figure out how to extract Minnie May from a car in a junkyard without mistakenly crushing her to death. But over time, a bigger plot emerges from many little ones—and a new enemy, an ice-queen goddess of evil named Goldie (possibly from Ireland?). Goldie plans, among other things, to flood the streets with a new designer drug, Kerasine, that’s like heroin, crack, LSD, and PCP all rolled into one. When she gets word of Rally messing up one of her plans, she develops an obsession with the bounty hunter—one bad enough for her to try and destroy Rally’s mind with a generous dose of her product. Other characters from the first volume also make appearances—especially Bean Bandit, the driver-for-hire who is neither Rally’s friend nor her enemy but some weird nebulous in-betweener (although he’s leaning dangerously close to being her friend; he’d better watch himself). And yes, Rally’s poor Shelby GT 500 gets trashed again.
The sheer size of the book (460+ pages) lets them pack a remarkable amount of plot between the covers, although by the end Goldie hasn’t been so much neutralized as simply held at bay—which, of course, means still more awaiting us in the third reprint volume. Along the way, Sonoda drops a number of other interesting bits and pieces. We also find out, almost by accident, that Rally’s dusky skin and dark hair are not simply arbitrary character design decisions: she’s evidently of Indian descent (although it’s not clear if they mean Amerind or Bhârat). We learn that Minnie May’s skills for costuming (an outgrowth of her day in the “houses of red lights”) are effective enough to hide victims in plain sight, but only so effective against the trained eyes of criminals who can even buy out the cops. We also learn—more than once—that Rally’s dirty little penchant for disabling an enemy’s gun by, say, shooting out the hammer can be useful at the most unexpected moments. See? Highly educational stuff. And to think your mom said comics would just rot your brain.
Gunsmith Cats © 1991 Kenichi Sonoda/ KODANSHA LTD. All rights reserved. Click for more examples of Gunsmith Cats' art, courtesy of Dark Horse.
After snaring one runaway, bounty hunter Rally Vincent gets wind of another, even bigger fish to fry.
Art: Kenichi Sonoda’s probably best known for his character designs: he was responsible for the look of the seminal Bubblegum Crisis, Gall Force and Otaku no video, among others. What’s most striking is how his art style has changed relatively little over time: I compared the material in this book to the more-recently-created first volume of Gunsmith Cats: Burst, and I saw more similarities than differences. His designs are sharp-edged and sassy, and he contrasts his detailed machine and architecture designs with his characters’ cute faces (the second short story in this book is one of the best examples of that). Sonoda also blocks and frames his action with great vigor—the way he plays off his complex stunt-style action sequences is terrifically solid. Finally, Dark Horse did justice to this title with the quality of their repro—no moiré patterns on the tone or any other distracting low-end production problems.
Translation: Dana Lewis, Toren Smith, and “Studio Cutie” have all done a great job: the book is unflopped, with text translated cleanly and seamlessly, and with sound effects annotated unobtrusively on the frame. Incidentally, Smith is one of the pivotal figures in the American manga industry—he founded Studio Proteus, the outfit that translated the first wave of manga under the Dark Horse imprint, and has made many friends throughout the industry. (Pick up the recently-reissued Gunbuster, and you’ll find he’s been namechecked if not downright cross-immortalized: one of the characters is “Smith Toren”.)
The Bottom Line: If the first book tickled your tastes for gunplay and girls, the second delivers more of the same with equal pizzazz. That and this series constitutes one of the better bargains for your book dollar out there—for $16.95 list, you get what feels like three books worth of plot.