Reviewby Mike Crandol
DVD - Bulletproof!
Rally Vincent and Minnie-May Hopkins are the proprietors of "Gunsmith Cats", a small firearms shop and shooting range in the Chicago suburbs, but make their real living as the Windy City's top pair of ace bounty hunters. When the ATF begins to question the legality of Rally's extensive arsenal and May's penchant for explosives, they are coerced into helping the Bureau take down a gun-running syndicate in exchange for a Class-3 weapons license. But the investigation reveals some powerful officials behind the operation, and soon Rally and Minnie-May have a crazy Russian assassin on their tail. Rally's gonna have to use every ounce of her wits, sharpshooting skill, and drive her Shelby Cobra GT-500 to the limits if she wants to survive a confrontation with the fierce Natasha Radinov and take down the gun-runners in the process.
If you're new to the world of anime, or trying to introduce some friends to the genre, Gunsmith Cats is the perfect place to start. One of the few Japanese animations that is decidedly American in it's influences, style and storytelling approach, Gunsmith Cats is guaranteed not to induce Culture Shock. To many people unfamiliar with the conventions of Japanese culture, a lot of the foreign imagery, allusions, and comedy that abound in more traditional titles like Tenchi Muyo or Rurouni Kenshin can be downright confusing. Not so with Gunsmith Cats. Where many anime directors look to Shinto myth or Akira Kurosawa for inspiration, GSC creator Kenichi Sonoda's major influences are clearly American popcorn flicks such as The Blues Brothers and Dirty Harry movies. This is one anime that won't make newbies scratch their heads and go "huh?", and provides an insightful (and sometimes humorous) look at how our own culture is viewed through foreign eyes.
At first glance, Gunsmith Cats looks like your typical anime. The heroes are a pair of saucer-eyed young girls, and there is a strong slant on action and healthy helpings of fan service to go along with it. Look a little closer and one begins to see what differentiates it from other Japanese animation. Most obviously, the story is set in America, and all of the characters are American. The musical score was intentionally composed to evoke an American buddy-cop movie feel, and successfully smacks of Beverly Hills Cop or Miami Vice. A more subtle difference between Gunsmith Cats and other anime is in its storytelling approach. A common device in anime (and all Japanese film and literature) is to tell its tale in a stream-of-consciousness format: the story may jump back and forth between several time periods, not necessarily in a linear fashion. Some plot points may only be loosely defined, and others may never be explained at all. By contrast, Gunsmith Cats is presented in a traditional western linear style, and the tightly woven plot is neatly and thoroughly wrapped up by the time the credits roll. That's not to say Gunsmith Cats is an inferior work, just a different one.
The plot itself plays out like your typical episode of Magnum P.I. or the latest Tarantino retro action flick. Each episode of this 3 part OVA focuses on a different staple of the action genre: episode one features double-cliploads of gunplay, episode two showcases Rally's GT-500 in a high-speed chase, and the final chapter has the old showdown-in-the-abandoned-building between adversaries. There's really nothing here you haven't seen before, except this time it's animated. The simple fact that it is a "cartoon" is enough to give a completely fresh feel to a standard action film plot. There may be 4 Die Hards, but there's only one Gunsmith Cats.
Rally and Minnie-May's appealing characterizations also help this series to gloss over it's somewhat predictable story. Rally's the no-nonsense leader of the two, and May's the mischievous sidekick....a typical duo. But the girls' intense love of firearms, fast cars and high explosives is so convincingly portrayed they can easily be identified with by anyone who has a passionate hobby.....which includes most anime fans.
On the technical side of things, the animation is of standard OVA quality. The first two episodes accurately capture the look of Sonoda's characters, but the third episode employed a different character designer (for some unknown reason), and Rally and Minnie-May look somewhat off-model. As expected, the Japanese vocal track is of top quality, but the English dub is more impressive, and somehow seems more appropriate given the setting of the story. This is one of ADV's best dubs ever. ADV stalwart Amanda Winn, sometimes criticized for being overly dramatic, nails the character of Rally Vincent perfectly and turns in her best performance to date. Also to be commended is Marcy Rae, who provides convincing Russian strains as the murderous Natasha Radinov.
The one thing about Gunsmith Cats that truly makes it a standout work is the incredible amount of detail and accuracy the filmmakers poured into the weapons, automotives, and locales featured in the series. This is typical of Sonoda's manga version of the Cats, on which this OVA is based. Many anime feature generic, unidentifiable stock guns and cars. But Rally's gun is clearly a CZ-75, and there's no mistaking that Shelby Cobra. Every gun that appears in Gunsmith Cats is drawn off a real-life model, which would be impressive enough, but the filmmakers took it a step further by recording the actual sounds of the corresponding weapons being fired and incorporated them into the anime. This required the film crew to actually travel to America, as most of the guns featured are illegal in Japan! While there they also toured the real Windy City, which results in incredibly accurate background paintings not only of downtown Chicago, but also its suburbs. The crowning achievement of this trip, however, had to be the footage shot of a real 1967 Shelby Cobra GT-500 on a closed lot, which was rotoscoped into the actual anime. And of course the distinct sound of the Shelby engine was recorded and incorporated into the film.
If there's one thing to find fault with in this series, it's that it doesn't quite live up to the manga original. This is a moot point to someone who's never read the comic-book, but if you're already a fan of the printed version of the Cats' adventures you may be let down by the anime. One of the hallmarks of Sonoda's manga is dizzyingly complex gunplay that would put a John Woo movie to shame. While there are plenty of gunfights in the anime version, they are all pretty tame compared to some of the stunts Rally pulls off in the manga. For example, in the comics, Rally's trademark maneuver is to shoot the trigger finger off her opponent's hand (!) before they can fire back. She can actually aim where the expelled shells from her chamber will land, and can kick a magazine cartridge through the air into her gun with her foot. In the anime, it's all pretty much point and shoot. It would have been awesome to see some of those tricks fully animated, but their absence doesn't detract from the dramatics of the action sequences, and the final battle in episode 3 is a masterful bit of suspense.
Released here in the states by ADV Films, Gunsmith Cats: Bulletproof is a cut above the company's usual DVD offerings. Standard ADV discs have little or no artwork on them, but Gunsmith Cats features sharp, fully painted new art of Rally, Minnie-May, and the Shelby Cobra on the front. The menus are animated for a change; the Shelby Cobra drives by, bullets fire between the different menus, and Minnie- May blows you a kiss when one of the special features are selected. These are frivolous touches of course, but they make things a little more fun and ADV would do well to include them on some of their more popular releases like Evangelion or Nadesico. No complaints are to be had with the audio or video transfer. The prize extra on the disc is the 45-minute "making of" special that was not available on the previous Bulletproof VHS release. This includes an extensive interview with creator Kenichi Sonoda about the origins of Gunsmith Cats, talks with the Japanese voice talent and animators, as well as much of the reference footage shot during the research trip to Chicago. Location photographs are compared with finished backgrounds to show the level of accuracy achieved by the crew (even Rally's house appears to be modeled on an actual Chicago residence!), and visits with the Chicago PD and a local gunsmith shop are also of interest. Yes, the live-action Shelby Cobra footage is here too! This seems like an awful lot of stuff for such a small series, but who's complaining? For Gunsmith Cats fans, this is bliss.
In summation, Gunsmith Cats is an excellent introductory piece of anime. See this, then graduate to something a little more "Japanese". If you're an anime veteran, still pick it up. It's a solid piece of fun filmmaking, there aren't 15 volumes to buy, and can you really go wrong with girls, guns, and grenades?
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B-
Art : A
+ Good introduction to anime. Fun characters, fun story, and an amazing amount of detail on the cars and weaponry.
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