No Guns Life
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 19 of
No Guns Life ?
Specters from the past waft like smoke from a gun barrel in this heavily expository installment of No Guns Life. There aren't many surprises to be found here, but in a way, that speaks to this story's thematic consistency. The factions we expect to be bastards still prove to be bastards, and our heroes' respective moral conflicts are still colored noir-grey. Perhaps the most shocking revelation is how much one of the storyboard artists apparently loves Mary's feet. While those may be interesting waters to dip our proverbial toes into, there are plenty of other facets of this episode to talk about first.
Almost every aspect of No Guns Life hinges on the events of the war, so it's reasonable to question why the show doesn't just take place during it. There's plenty of space for a narrative about a war escalated and ended thanks to an arms race over guns with arms, and that probably would have made for a more conventionally exciting and/or emotionally gripping story. I like, however, that we instead follow Juzo's journey through the shadow of his experiences as a soldier. It explores the slow, melancholic complexity of an entire society framed by postwar anxieties and the omnipresence of violence, now redirected inward and stretched like fetid skin over the entire city. In many ways, the “point” of No Guns Life is that the war never ended—not for its sponsors, not for its soldiers, and not for its citizens.
I incorrectly surmised last week that Edmund's/Theodore's partner Five went berserk, and that's why he betrayed him and went into hiding. In my defense, the Over-Extendeds we've seen in the show haven't had the greatest track record, and our most recent example was Victor, a guy who liked to wear a mask made out of human skin. I'm pleased, however, that the truth is a lot more interesting. Five turns out to have been a revolutionary, leading a rebellion against Berühren when they tried to “decommission” the Gun Slave Unit after the war. I imagine that the plan all along was to turn these people into collared supersoldiers and knife them in the back once their work was done, so I can also imagine the delectable corporate rage when the Noble Rot decided to assert their liberty and use their strength for themselves. If No Guns Life were to devote time to a prequel series, I think it would be most rewarding to follow Five's journey from apparatus of the state to rebel leader.
Of course, as we already knew by the end of last week's episode, Five's rebellion failed thanks to Juzo. A “brethren killer” installed as a failsafe in case something like this happened, Juzo executed the rebels and, presumably on his own, whittled the original Gun Slave Unit down to its current handful of survivors. Mary notes that those in the unit who died only did so after the war, not during it. Another twist of irony is that Juzo's partner seemed genuinely invested in treating him like a person instead of a tool of war. Juzo could only have killed his former comrades with the help of a Hands partner, but it's difficult to imagine that would have been the same guy who gave him his name. Perhaps that's why he's not around in the present. It's also revealing that Theodore, who gave up his partner, is still alive, while those Hands who allied with the rebel gun units were in all likelihood also killed by Juzo. We don't have a good picture of what horrors were exchanged between enemies during this war, but we have a clear and bleak picture of the grotesque injustices traded amongst supposed allies.
This fills in some of Juzo's gaps—why he took up work as a Resolver, why he doesn't get close to people, etc. It's nothing we couldn't have already guessed from context, but this search for atonement at least firmly cements his motivations in something solid, if thematically well-trodden. It also strengthens his connection to Tetsuro, who's similarly trying to grapple with murky terrors from his own past clawing at his present conscience. The advice Juzo gives him will almost certainly resemble a future flashback to advice given to him by his former partner, but I imagine these words are reassurances he's had to give himself time and time again in his new life. While neither of them can change what they've already done, they still have control over the choices they have yet to make. Even if atonement may be beyond their ability, it's better to devote oneself to constant improvement and personal growth than to give up entirely. Consequently, I have every reason to believe that Juzo and Tetsuro have one hell of an ace up their sleeve to play against Spitzbergen next week.
Speaking of Spitzbergen, Professor Wachowski, like any good villain, picks his moment to wax lyrical about his origin story while a presumably “captive” Juzo listens helplessly. This amounts to the weakest part of the episode. I can appreciate the attempt to draw parallels between Wachowski's past trauma and that of our heroes, but his motivations are rooted uncomfortably in his legs. No Guns Life, by virtue of its focus on cyberpunk body augmentations, has always been a story adjacent to disability, if not about disability. I think that's an interesting thematic facet, even if I'm in no way equipped to comment on it with any degree of insight. However, Wachowski's backstory hews way too closely to blaming his fall on his disability. I think NGL's heart is in the right place—it definitely throws an unsympathetic lens over the friends and family who valued Wachowski less due to the “inconvenience” of his existence. On the other hand, it lingers on his feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, and then uses his brother's injury as a blunt excuse for their mutual sudden derangement. I think the best path forward would be to firmly contrast Wachowski's internalized prejudices against people who live with Extensions as part of their quotidian lives. That might be too narrow a target for No Guns Life's propensity towards buckshot, but it's enough of a possibility for me to withhold judgment for now.
This week's episode ends with a lot moves made on the ol' cyber chessboard. Seven is gunning for a showdown with Juzo, which may or may not occur on Spitzbergen's terms. Internal politics threaten Wachowski's position as the leader and philosopher of the terrorist group. Tetsuro, in all likelihood, possesses machinations that have nothing to do with him being a cyborg. Even Cunningham shows his clown face again with a promise to Berühren's executive board that he almost certainly will not be able to keep. No Guns Life is definitely kicking up its tempo in the second half of this cour, and one way or another, it's going to jam.
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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