No Guns Life
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 1 of
No Guns Life ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
No Guns Life ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
No Guns Life ?
A dingy neon-lit alley illuminates the man's broad shoulders. He moves deliberately and with composure as he watches some goons run away from the bar he just finished cleaning out. He strikes a match and lets the cigarette smoke waft lazily as he mulls on the War, this City, and the corporate lynchpin piercing its center. The dame behind him tries in vain to flirt, but he has no time for women, children, or humidity. He doesn't trust anybody. He sighs heavily. A muted trumpet crescendos in the background. The man's head is a gun.
This was the point at which I knew I was in for something special with No Guns Life and its blend of noir and stone-faced absurdity. The crime/police procedural has been a standard fixture in anime for decades at this point, so it's important for any modern iteration of this genre to have a good hook. The shadow of Blade Runner has also loomed large ever since its debut, and we've hardly had a shortage of stories about private detectives, robots, and the ambiguity of humanity. No Guns Life walks onto a very crowded platform, but I think what really sets it apart is its straightforward commitment to the noir aesthetic. If this show were any more hard-boiled, you could bounce that egg like a superball. With every labored cigarette puff, Juuzo slots himself perfectly into that brooding and masculine archetype of the reluctant hero battling against—yet inevitably tainted by—crime.
Also, his head is a giant revolver.
Like any respectable tech-noir series, No Guns Life has its own set of terminology to explain its history, but the background should feel familiar to fans of this genre. There was a war, during which many soldiers underwent cybernetic enhancement in order to become the Extended (which I'd like to add is a legitimately fantastic name with a lot of character). These upgrades were facilitated and managed by the über-conglomerate Berühren, which now reigns over the post-war city as its vampiric capitalist overlords. Former soldiers, now finding themselves both destitute and possessing sweet cyborg powers, have turned in droves against the law in order to make their livings. However, our good gun lad Juuzo, also a former soldier, has instead set up shop as a detective-for-hire specializing in Extended-related crimes—otherwise known as a Resolver (which is a terrible gun pun I have to begrudgingly admire). Thus, it would seem fair to expect a lot of cyborg-related crime and conspiracy as Juuzo navigates the dark underbelly of a city gone to rot.
This is, more or less, exactly what we get in the first three episodes. Shocking nobody, Berühren turns out to be pretty evil! They've been experimenting with augmentations on kids under the pretense of running and orphanage, and Juuzo gets mixed up with a runaway named Tetsuro who's able to hack into the mechanical components of any Extended. It's a powerful (and illegal) ability called Harmony, but the procedure also rendered his body mute and immobile, forcing him to hijack a giant robot body in order to carry his puny human body to safety. The first episode plays this with a surprisingly decent amount of pathos, and I was especially impressed with how the direction utilized the cyborg's noh mask of a face. Traditionally, these masks were used in theater to communicate a spectrum of emotions, which could shift based on the lighting and angle at which they were looked. Tetsuro looks large and frightening when we first believe him to be the kidnapper, but in the end, his slumped head looks tragic and resigned to his fate as a guinea pig.
Similarly, Juuzo's face seems totally non-expressive at first. It's worth emphasizing that it's not even an anthropomorphized gun—it's just a gun. Still, the anime manages to fit a lot of character into his presence, thanks in no small part to veteran voice actor Junichi Suwabe inflecting his low velvety voice with just enough grit to blend in with his surroundings. Juuzo also frequently goes into chibi-mode for comedic purposes, which both feels like cheating and works against the hyper-noir aesthetic the lion's share of the show aims for. I can certainly understand the desire to add some levity to your gun-faced protagonist, but I wish No Guns Life were instead more confident in playing itself straight and using the excesses of noir as a genre as its vehicle for comedy. I don't need a full-on parody, but when you've already committed to having a gun for a protagonist, I think you can stand to poke some fun at yourself. While the second episode gets at this a bit by throwing Juuzo into a desperate search for his favorite cigarette brand, the writing could definitely be sharper.
Conceptually, though, I love Juuzo. What better way to comment on the hypermasculine, violent, and morally grey noir protagonist ideal than literally making the main character a gun? Juuzo's inability to emote with his face slots perfectly into a genre where men pride themselves on their ability to distance themselves from their clients' problems. That's not to say Juuzo doesn't have a lot of personality, and to that end the direction deserves a lot of credit. There's a great beat in the first episode where he casually pushes his head cylinder back into place: a practical action that reads quizzically. The third episode has him loudly sip on some coffee as soon as a mob boss tries to stare him down. He's cool and collected in a delightfully over-the-top way, and it makes him a fun protagonist to follow.
Juuzo on his own might have become overbearing after a while, however, so I'm glad he's been given some partners to work with. So far the story has revolved around Tetsuro, whose youth and uncomplicated sense of justice create friction when paired with the older and more jaded Juuzo. It's a classic dynamic for a reason, but Tetsuro's decision to hijack Juuzo's body already blurs the boundaries of his morality, and I'm eager to see how that progresses. It should be said, too, that Tetsuro both looks like and shares a voice actor with Narancia from JoJo's Part 5, and that's been very hard for me to ignore. The third member of their motley trio is Mary, a back-alley engineer/surgeon for Extended who has a playfully antagonistic relationship with Juuzo. She's mostly been there to provide levity so far, but she's spunky and has an interesting character design (you don't seen an anime girl with a lip ring that often), so I like her.
Thematically, No Guns Life strolls along well-trodden ground, but while the novelty of its messages remains up in the air, it at least seems to be heading in the right direction. The most singular villain we have so far is the entire Berühren corporation, a towering monolith representing the culmination of the military industrial complex. In this world's late-capitalist hellscape, people are used as tools and discarded into the dregs of society when they're no longer useful, which is the cycle Juuzo vocally opposes. Of course, No Guns Life spices things up with nuns who strip into bikini-wearing gunslingers, and with giant spider cyborgs who shoot poison bullets, but the core of its message should be familiar to anybody living in 2019. When corruption and exploitation reign supreme, a man with a gun for a head hardly seems like the most objectionable thing. It's important, too, that Juuzo hasn't even fired his head revolver yet. Sure, he punched a train, but he's a person, not a weapon.
Overall, No Guns Life is off to a solid start—it's marries a familiar setting with a head-turning (or, I should say, head-revolving) protagonist, and the execution has been competent enough to match. I appreciate any commitment to an aesthetic that flies in the face of good taste, and I think having a gun for a head fits that bill. And gimmick aside, it's remained a decently entertaining mixture of both high-octane action and noir-tinged conspiracy. I wish the writing, both plot- and character-wise, were sharper, straighter, and funnier (intentionally or not), but there's room to grow. Most importantly for these early episodes, No Guns Life has established a unique identity for itself, and I'm eager to follow its trajectory.
No Guns Life is currently streaming on FUNimation.
Steve loves two things: writing about anime and retweeting good Fate GO fanart on his Twitter.
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