No Guns Life
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 20 of
No Guns Life ?
In this week's meeting of the quasi-mechanical minds, the newly-iron-willed Tetsuro stares down the ambitions and philosophy of Professor Wachowski and his anti-cyborg terrorist cell. It goes poorly. However, in spite of the perpetual peril chasing our Harmony-throated lad, No Guns Life manages to use this confrontation to flesh out our understanding of this world and articulate some complex ideas about people and power. Like any piece of science fiction worth its salt, this story has a lot of things to say about our very nonfictional society. And whether we like it or not, we are most definitely living in one.
First things first, after being heavily telegraphed in the final minutes of last week's episode, Tetsuro and Juzo quickly reveal themselves to be working together to pull a fast one on Spitzbergen. I only think this is interesting insofar as the lengths No Guns Life now has to go through to account for Harmony. In the parlance of video games, it's OP as hell, and the story is reaching a point where it has to invent new limitations for it, lest it make certain conflicts too easy. That's not good, because it sucks up time and words that could be used for much more relevant things, but I do at least find it interesting from a craft perspective. The tension between a story's thematic ambitions and its own internal logic can sometimes be unfortunate.
Nevertheless, No Guns Life does propose some nice and thorny, if predictably cynical perspectives on political movements and progress. Tetsuro has grown, but he's still a mouthpiece for his youthful idealism and naïveté. This makes him a perfect counterpart for the visibly grizzled Wachowski, whose counterarguments resonate strongly with the evidence we've seen in 2020 America and beyond. Spitzbergen uses terrorism because it works. Berühren has so much influence over the government, economy, and media that there are no longer any “proper” channels for dissent. When power is consolidated so tightly in defense of an abusive status quo, the only avenue regular people have at their disposal is making a big, collective noise. Peaceful protests are violently suppressed and ignored by the media. Disruption and riots get attention. These are political tools as old as politics itself, leveraging numbers and willpower in defense against wealth and firepower.
However, I stop significantly short of drawing too fine a parallel between the concurrent demand for basic racial justice in America and the activities of this fictional cyberpunk terrorist group. This episode spends a great deal of its runtime exploring the evolution and contradictions of Spitzbergen. And, quite frankly, all iterations and interpretations of Spitzbergen suck. Its modern manifestation, Wachowski relents, is full of people prejudiced against anyone who utilizes Extended technology. These bionic bigots allowed the group grow to a size big enough to be properly reckoned with, but Wachowski admits that they've twisted his initial noble cause into a backwards crusade that puts already-disadvantaged people in the crosshairs. Even the professor's original vision, though, was self-centered and short-sighted. Restoring Berühren to what he called its “former glory” is mistaking a cause for a symptom. Its monopoly over Extended technology was always going to corrupt itself into a full-on parody of endgame capitalism, with an aging ruling class seeking immortality at the expense of everyone beneath them. You can't reform a vampire.
The episode both sympathizes with Spitzbergen as the lone organization big and dedicated enough to mess with Berühren, and condemns them as an unruly collection of bigoted fanatics led by a geriatric megalomaniac. While I can respect a dedication to the moral grey area, I'm at the point mentally where I appreciate political certitude so much more than even the most well-intentioned equivocation. Deca-Dence this week was able to come right out and argue the moral imperative for fully dismantling its fundamentally abusive system. No Guns Life, by comparison, still holds its cards close to its big-barrelled chest. This isn't a bad thing—Deca-Dence is going to wrap up in one cour, while NGL is an ongoing manga series, so the divergent way they pace their stories and thematic arcs totally makes sense. In my defense, though, it's been an exhausting year, and sometimes I just want to see Juzo drive his big beautiful laser beam straight through Berühren HQ already.
No Guns Life's sympathy towards Extended users also continues to clumsily run up against its schlockier elements. Again, this isn't to say it's impossible to hold two semi-contradictory thoughts at the same time, but it's super weird to see the humanitarian benefits of artificial limbs and other augmentations contrasted with the episode's same pulpy framing of Wachowski's transformation into a giant killer metal horse. This is, naturally, supposed to symbolize his own descent from lofty ideals into a dude desperate to get noticed by his former COO. However, I can't help but feel that these campy moments combine to undermine anything meaningful the show might want to say about the ways people's lives intersect with technology. No Guns Life is fundamentally campy, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't been dead serious about sensitive topics. Furthermore, that doesn't excuse its occasional fumbling of them in the service of hot cyberpunk action.
This episode's aims are loftier than its range, but it still manages to keep the momentum going long enough to carry us into next week's set of developments, whether they be intriguing or disappointing. I also have to confess a sentimentality for Tetsuro's character development, however cheesy it may be. He was able to humble himself and ask Juzo for help instead of stubbornly going at it on his own, and that's a satisfying arc no matter how many times I've seen it. Even if it doesn't end up being as politically bold as I'd hoped, No Guns Life remains a mostly solid sci-fi yarn told with an acceptable degree of noir-tinged finesse.
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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