No Guns Life
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 15 of
No Guns Life ?
If there's one I've learned from my many years of science education, it's that you never want to put yourself in the position where “I used myself as a test subject” ends up being the way you have to introduce your backstory. Conversely, my experience with the written word has taught me to jump on any available opportunity to use the words “Chekhov's boob rockets” in a piece of critical media. This week's episode of No Guns Life gives me the reason and privilege to vamp on both of these axioms, and thus it finds itself in preciously rare company.
After flitting in and out of the past two episodes like a horrible Cheshire cat, Victor's presence drives the entirety of this third installment. The narrative eventually enters full exposition mode and follows his tragic arc from Mary's beloved older brother to the fanatic serial killer currently burying his creepy Swiss army fingers deep in Juzo's chest cavity. Before we get into the how and why of this metamorphosis, however, I want to talk aesthetics. From a design standpoint, killer Victor's cyborg Leatherface look is instantly evocative and recognizable, aided further by the giant centipede-like tentacles he uses to saw his victims apart, not unlike a cyberpunk Tokyo Ghoul character. It's terrifically edgy, and it made me reflect on how generally strong No Guns Life's character designs tend to be. Juzo is literally just a gun on top of a burly man's body, but it's striking and it works, thanks in large part to the way his naturally expressionless face fits his familiarly stoic archetype. Along those lines, Mega Armed's guady gold-plated head was a perfect fit for his two-faced villainy last season. Even the more down-to-earth designs are tend to be very good. Mary's tired eyes and prominent lip ring set her apart from your average anime female protagonist, and consequently she feels adequately integrated into the urban grittiness of the setting. Only Tetsuro's design is kinda boring, but I suppose that's why he's able to hijack other much more interesting-looking cyborgs.
Back to Victor, he emerges as another foil to Juzo, with their divergent character arcs both tied intrinsically into their experiences during the war. Juzo's still trying to outrun his past as a member of the Gun Slave Unit, an experience that robbed him of his humanity and autonomy. Furthermore, Victor reveals that Juzo alone had the role of “brethren slayer,” which I presume means he was tasked with taking out other Extended units—perhaps even other Gun Slave Units—when his commanders demanded it. That would certainly explain a lot about Juzo's current standoffish personality, and it also explains why a dismantler of the Extended would want to get a better look at what makes him tick. The two of them are, in that regard, a kind of brethren.
Victor's current state owes itself to his starry-eyed ambition to aid the war effort. I'd wager that Juzo might not have had a whole lot of autonomy to begin with when it came to joining the military, but Victor at least was wholeheartedly willing to pour himself into his research on remote activation. This is perfectly in line with Mary's memories of him, because he just wanted to make the battlefield safer by allowing people to control Extended infantry without putting themselves in danger. Of course, this is where the sentence “I used myself as a test subject” comes into play, and his experimental sub-brain turns into a homicidal dom-brain. I can't help but draw connections to the tragedy of Doc Ock and his semi-sentient tentacles in the (good) second Spider-Man movie but Victor's experience is distinctively colored by the trauma of war.
Regular Victor explains that his sentient sub-brain's seething hatred of the Extended is just a manifestation of the fear and horror engrained in him by his experiments on the battlefield. PTSD is indeed powerful and awful, and I appreciate No Guns Life's unequivocal anti-military-industrial-complex stance, but I also don't think a schlocky serial killer rampage is an appropriately sensitive venue to explore its ramifications. The ultimate point that Victor arrives at, however, remains salient: the Extended aren't the problem. Berühren and their influence within the government are the problem. Like young Victor said to Mary, Extended technology can absolutely be used to improve people's lives and relieve some of the burdens of injury and illness, but Berühren's monopolistic control has contorted it to solely benefit their own expansion of power. You can substitute these cyborg augmentations for any number of modern technological achievements. No Guns Life, as usual, straddles a fine line between celebratory and cautionary.
All this backstory and ethical musing make for a very dialogue-heavy episode outside of the opening fight scene. As an insufferably pretentious critic who has previously praised entire boring episodes constructed out of nothing but a pair of talking heads (hello there, In/Spectre), I'm fine with that. However, even my patience wears thin when No Guns Life gets a bit too precious with its long-winded explanations about sub-brains and their intended (and unintended) functions. Thank goodness we have Juzo there to speed the conversation along with a gruff “long story short.” And despite all the emphasis on Mary and Victor's relationship, the emotional beats of this installment feel stunted. The storyboarding beautifully frames Mary's painful decision to shoot Victor, but those feelings are immediately undermined by the real Victor chirping in and diving into full exposition mode. The most powerful component of that scene, for me, ends up being the unspoken yet complete trust that Juzo places in Mary. He's reluctant to let people touch his trigger, both because he's a large machismo-poisoned gun man with a fear of intimacy, and because it's a reminder of his past as a weapon of the state. This acts proves the strength of his bond with Mary, and that's the highlight of episode.
Oh, and the Chekhov's boob rockets on Mary were very good. Not at all tonally consistent with the rest of the content this week, but good nonetheless.
No Guns Life's less-than-stellar opinion of the cops follows through with this week's cliffhanger, as acting EMS director Avi Cobo pulls a gun on Mary and indirectly promises to reveal more about Victor's physical whereabouts next episode. I will not at all be surprised if it turns out that Berühren has a pretty big hand in Spitzbergen's affairs, using them to further whatever agenda suits their profits. At the very least, I'd wager Victor's chances of “death by noble sacrifice” to be approaching 100% in the near future. No Guns Life's reluctance to deviate far from the cyberpunk handbook remains a particularly bad shortcoming for a series trying to stand out in a dangerously crowded genre space. On the other hand, a little reliability can go a long way, and Juzo's reliably sardonic quips coming out of his expressionless gun face still manage to put a smile on my regular human one.
No Guns Life is currently streaming on FUNimation.
When he's not writing about sentient gun detectives, Steve can be found on Twitter probably talking about vtubers or something.
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