Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 16th 2006
As Van faces off with Gadved, a former friend with direct ties to the Claw, Wendy and Joshua come face-to-face with the Claw himself. The Claw isn't like anything they could have foreseen; he's far, far more twisted than any of them imagined. Ray breaks the meeting up with an all-out attempt to terminate the Claw. When the dust clears, Van and Wendy attempt to resume their trip. But before they can, they must earn some cash, which Van does the only way he knows: by fighting. His opponent is no pushover; Pricilla may be cute and really, really nice, but she's the Grim Reaper in tights once she boards her giant robot. Once on the road, Wendy and Van once again confront the Original Seven, this time in the form of a skilled pilot with a serious Oedipus complex.
There comes the occasional show that, after spending its first half nurturing pure entertainment, blossoms in its second half into something darker, deeper and more fulfilling than anything previous. With two past masters of this form, director Goro Taniguchi (Planetes) and scriptwriter Hideyuki Kurata (R.O.D. TV), collaborating on it, GUNxSWORD seems poised to attempt just such a turnaround, but so far only half-succeeds.
GUNxSWORD has always been successful as episodic entertainment with not-so-subtle dark undertones (as long as one can stomach its bizarre, jarringly incongruous sense of humor), and it has had sporadic but consistently occurring moments of brilliance throughout, but the whole is nevertheless a little underwhelming, and the spark of true creativity is conspicuously absent. The metamorphosis attempted in this volume doesn't fully rectify this situation, but it does give the overall quality a much-needed boost. As Van's quest for vengeance leaves the realm of speculation and finally becomes a definite, and grim, possibility, his obsession takes on a murderous immediacy that was missing previously (communicated exceedingly effectively via the careful animation of his crazed expressions). The final episode on this disc is far and away the best episode to date, utilizing a crisis of faith to illuminate Van's motivations. For the first time, we understand not only the horror, but the tragedy of Elena's death, making the extremity of Van's drive for vengeance fully understandable, and in the process lending him an emotional depth that he hadn't before.
Yet for every moment that thrills to the core, there is still at least one that fails miserably. The entire episode with Pricilla is a monumental waste of time, complete with a preening villain and primary motivation for Pricilla born straight from the worst impulses of Hollywood sapfests. Joshua continues his winning streak as the world's most unnecessary supporting character, briefly confronting his brother before (thankfully) being sidelined for the remainder of the disc. And while most of the battles are reasonably exciting and well-staged, particularly Ray's assassination attempt, any tension wrought by Van's battle with Gadved is bludgeoned to death by their endless—and pointless—conversation.
As always, GUNxSWORD looks absolutely spectacular. It has its share of staid compositions and the occasional short-cut, but it is also full of thoughtfully utilized and flawlessly executed camera movements, arresting images, and an animation budget cannily spent. Action is one of the show's selling points, and the emphasis is plain to see in the animation; the most active and fluid animation inevitably stems from the action scenes, be it an avalanche, explosions, or Van skydiving onto a descending Dann. Backgrounds and settings are all rendered in detail, and, with an unusually high level of interaction between characters and the surroundings, they are never mere backdrops. As evocative as the background art is at times (especially the abandoned town Van and Wendy spend episode 16 in), the real stars is Takahiro Kimura's idiosyncratic character design. His male designs, with their varied facial structures and body-types are instantly memorable, and unusually masculine. While the female designs are distinctive, the emphasis on attractiveness restricts them to a more standard, and consequently less interesting, overall look. In comparison to Van's long face, whipcord physique and slouchy posture, Wendy, with her great limpid eyes and ridiculous pigtails, is positively mundane.
Goro Taniguchi's taste in music has always been, to put it nicely, odd. As such, those turned off or puzzled by the synth-hop of Infinite Ryvius and the big-band jazz of s-CRY-ed will be happy to know that GUNxSWORD's music is mainstream in comparison. The music is generally pleasant, and fairly unobtrusive, only emerging from the shadows during select scenes, as in a robot battle underlined by the chant-and-grunt instrumental opening theme, a climactic duel that ends in a nearly tribal flurry of drums, or a moment of personal revelation set to the sound of a delicate, crystalline aria. The ending theme is a melancholy pop ballad that sometimes insinuates itself into the ends of the episodes.
There is very little to nit-pick about the English dub, and on occasion (i.e. the railroad promoter in episode 14 and Wo) it is actually superior to the original. The cast is uniformly excellent, many of them perfect matches for the originals, and others (Van) doing interesting variations of their characters. It's a dub that even die-hard sub fans should give a spin, if only so they can choose which version suits their tastes best (I myself prefer the original apathetic interpretation of Van).
Extras for this volume are a third trailer, a second collection of Japanese TV ads, a collection of artwork, Geneon trailers and two more amusing, deeply stupid episodes of the 3D omake "Gun Sword-san."
GUNxSWORD is transforming from episodic fluff into a continuous, more involving story as the gears of Van's vengeance begin to turn. The transition is far from flawless, and the end result won't convert those who previously despised it, but Van is finally emerging as a sympathetic lead, the rising stakes add essential tension to the action set-pieces, and it's all just as shiny and pretty as it ever was.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Exceptional technical merits; improved story and characterization; good dub.
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