No Guns Life
by Steve Jones,
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No Guns Life ?
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No Guns Life ?
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No Guns Life ?
No Guns Life's foray into its third arc has been a satisfying if not exactly novel development in terms of its characters and aspirations. Befitting of its genre, a seemingly simple job about apprehending an escaped prisoner has since escalated into a complicated web of military conspiracy, personal vendettas, and ghosts from the past returning to reap what's been sowed. It's also been a particularly Juzo-heavy arc, for better or worse. If your tolerance for his infallibly hardboiled persona hasn't already been tested, it surely will have been by this season's halfway-point. Still, cracks in his carefully-constructed defense do continue to let a little more light into what makes this large gun man tick, and the overall thematic thrust of the anime continues to bend in a good direction.
Gondry, both one of the very first Extended and the very first incarcerated Extended, is the focal point of this arc—an ex-soldier who went from a hero to a rogue cyborg who massacred his unit. No Guns Life uses his escape from Cyber-Alcatraz as a way to investigate and interrogate the relationship between the military, the police, the corporations, and the public. The EMS, for example, is a special law enforcement unit that deals with the weaponized Extended created by both war and illegal modifications. However, their apparent independence belies dependence on Berühren technology and oversight by military top brass, which ties Director Olivier's hands when it comes to either following EMS' duty through or getting the full story behind her father's death at the hand of Gondry. To these powers, Gondry isn't a prisoner; he's a liability that needs to be neutralized. The militarization of police and the awful perpetual machine of the military industrial complex are in sharp focus in our contemporary times, so it's good to see media continue to expose how corrupt and unconducive to justice these relationships are.
While we don't yet have the full story, it's pretty clear that Gondry's rampage all those years ago was caused by some flaw in his Extension that Berühren and the military are trying to cover up. We already have evidence of this with Ende, and there also seems to be a similar flaw in Juzo's modifications, which he's been treating up to this point with his special cigarettes. If Spider-Man 2 (the fantastic Sam Raimi one) has taught me anything, it's that needing an easily targetable external sub-brain to control your cyborg parts is conclusively a bad idea. But this also kinda works as a metaphor for war-induced PTSD and the lack of care government provides for veterans who need it. There's an understated but telling detail when it's revealed that Gondry's murdered squadmates included both a guy rich enough to own a mansion and a guy who was homeless. Hell, one of the guys is a walking piece of military propaganda parading around with a head literally forged out of gold as he does stunts for kids who don't know any better. His name is MEGA ARMED as he's getting a freaking statue. No Guns Life doesn't really deal in subtleties, but given America's current state of Forever War, the fetishization of the military is certainly a place where I'll allow your critique to be as obnoxiously obvious as possible.
Although I can't complain about the thematic framing of its material, I also can't help but think about how a show like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex covered extremely similar issues with variety, economy, and thoughtfulness. It makes it harder for a show like No Guns Life to carve out a niche within a niche, and while it certainly has a great hook (gun head), it needs more of an identity if it wants to truly distinguish and sustain itself. In that regard, Juzo is potentially the best or worst thing, depending on your perspective. His personality continues to lean so hard into noir stereotypes so as to become almost a parody, but honestly I get a kick out of that. I think a huge man with a gun for a head is someone who would and should take himself entirely too seriously, and someone the audience should laugh at whenever appropriate. There are legitimately great moments too, such as him glibly remarking about a one-sided battle in response to seeing a chalk outline of a body bisected at its torso. And to be fair, he does possess points of vulnerability, e.g. his defensive standoffishness and his dependence on cigarettes, which I hope we continue to explore. Most importantly, I think it's cute as hell that he has a cyberbarber across the street who cleans his gun on a regular basis.
The new characters introduced in this arc have been a mixed bag but a colorful lot. Gondry has a really cool design between his demon mask, double-face, and large swath of tentacles. He also emerges as a sympathetic character—a victim of military experimentation now targeted for termination, and, both sadly and ironically, still a puppet being used to enact someone else's nefarious agenda. Mega Armed also has a great and distinctive design, with his tastelessly shiny head acting as a symbol of his position as a foil for the broken and maligned Gondry. He is also immediately and obviously a bastard, and his betrayal at the end of episode 7 arrives with negative amounts of surprise. Kronen the cyber-acupuncturist exists because every cyberpunk story needs someone who's prejudiced against cyborgs. I like, however, how his antagonism with Juzo slowly morphs into a begrudging allyship and perhaps even a camaraderie between the two. It's a classic buddy cop arc and one I'm still a sucker for.
I continue, however, to be less than enthusiastic about No Guns Life's treatment of its female characters. Scarlet, the barber's clumsy daughter, hardly gets any characterization beyond a jumble of tropes and an overpowering crush on Juzo. Olivier, similarly, is almost immediately characterized as coming onto Juzo and talking about polishing his gun in an absolutely eye-rolling manner. Granted, at least in Olivier's case, it's clear that she's trying to get under our gun boy's skin (or, uh, metal) rather than actually flailing over him. Her adult flirtatiousness fits the show's noir tone, but she still feels overly sexualized given the severity of her role as the director of the EMS, and the seriousness of her desire to see the circumstances of her father's murder brought to light. I was also hoping that my first reason to bring up Christina wouldn't be a condemnation of the writing's casual transphobia, but here we are. It's 2019; let's please stop using queer stereotypes as punchlines.
Overall, this arc has been a slow burn, but it has stayed hot enough to hold my attention. While we haven't had any shocking twists, it's been neat to watch Juzo's investigation gradually unfold into an increasingly more personal story to him, to the point where he now finds himself gunfist-to-gunfist with his direct Extended predecessor. Speaking of, the action in the series continues to be merely competent, but not distractingly lacking. It's certainly not what I come to the series for, though, so I'm glad there's more emphasis placed on the hardboiled crime elements. In that respect, No Guns Life continues to be a solid piece of techno-noir with plenty of room to grow, even if it has yet to dazzle.
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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