After years in development limbo, LeSean Thomas' Cannon Busters has finally debuted on Netflix as a full-length anime series. This week, Nick and Steve break down the highs and lows of this ambitious action-adventure's first season.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
You can read our full review of Cannon Busters here!
Y'know Steve, I was worried when they announced a couple years back that they were planning to make another sequel to Gunbuster
, but I gotta say my fears were totally misplaced. They've really upped their game on this, and they've even assured us it's can(n)on!
You may be joking but I can guarantee you that I will bring up Gunbuster during our conversation.
Oh I'm sure we'll be making a lot of references when discussing Cannon Busters. Nobody can accuse LeSean Thomas of not wearing his influences on his sleeve.
And they're all mixed together into the colorful potpourri that is Cannon Busters
. For starters, it's just great to see that this finally exists? Through its almost 15-year journey, it started out as a comic, then it was going to get a pilot funded by Kickstarter
, but then it turned into a full series to be distributed by Netflix
. Clearly this is LeSean Thomas
' baby, so kudos to him for finally getting it out there.
Yeah, Cannon Busters has a lengthy production history, and the final product seems to be a thoroughly international production. Alongside Thomas, there's a ton of animators from all over the globe credited to it, and the whole thing feels like a love letter to the kind of action sci-fi anime that hit big outside Japan in the early '00s.
And I'm not just saying that because its main character is like Spike Spiegel if he never bathed.
Philly definitely graduated from the Spike Spiegel School of Bad Posture, Nicotine Addiction, and Big Hair.
Unfortunately for him, he doesn't get a Faye or a Jet, but instead got paired up with not one but two
Stun Gun Millys.
They're good robots, Nick.
Sam is fine, but I cannot abide Heybot!
Okay, so the elephant in the room for us here at TWIA is that Casey is voiced by the infamous Shiori Izawa
. And given my unforgettable experience watching Heybot!
, normally that would be more than enough to trigger my fight-or-flight response. But Casey is precious (and also I can just watch the English dub
Thankfully, Casey herself doesn't resemble that cursed children's toy Micchy infected this column with. Instead, she's just a helpful wisecracking robot who likes to fix things and also maybe wants to marry Philly's car.
I mean, who wouldn't want to marry this hunk of metal?
First point in favor of Cannon Busters: robot car that transforms into a big-ass minotaur when you feed it enough quarters.
Seriously, for as much as we can definitely go on about Cannon Busters
' influences, its own sense of style has its exquisite moments. It doesn't get much better than a giant pink convertible controlled by an old-school arcade machine that only takes quarters, with a special mode that transforms it into an even bigger hotrod-red bull mech. That's beautiful. The crew actually runs out of quarters often enough that they have to go digging in the car's upholstery to start it up and save themselves. That's relatable.
It's a fantastic idea, the exact kind of silliness I like to see in this kind of episodic action anime. It also does a good job summing up the general tone of Cannon Busters. It's a goofy fun time with a ton of sci-fi and magic world-building backing up episodic adventures, as our main trio make friends (and in Philly's case, enemies) around the world.
Oh, and sometimes they get kidnapped by cannibals who make human leather.
And that's why it's a good thing our main
Philly very much won the booby prize for special powers. While other people get to fire lasers out of their eyes or wield robot scorpion tails, his special skill is that a witch cursed him to be a human cockroach and just never die. And boy does the series like showing
off that power.
I love how much Cannon Busters
uses this element both for gross gory shots and for macabre slapstick. In one scene, Casey catches Philly in Bessie's hand, but she accidentally squeezes him too hard, which she just laughs off. Friendship means sometimes accidentally killing your friend.
It's also a good way to differentiate Philly from his character's most obvious inspirations. His only special skill in the alien wild west is getting mutilated, then waiting for his enemies to turn their backs so he can get in a cheap shot. Fittingly, he's a cynical dude with a chip on his shoulder who's willing to play dirty. And also steal food from dead people.
Come on, he's just saving that food from going to waste! But yeah, he's a fun anti-hero/jerkass with a heart of gold, and a perfect foil for the kind and naive Sam.
Sam's the perfect foil for Philly, naive enough to not catch all his sarcasm when he says he'll help her, but persistent enough that he winds up guilted into helping her anyway. And every couple episodes, she'll save their lives by firing a laser out of her mouth.
And so many different lazers!
Sam starts out pretty one-note, but likable due to how out-of-place she is in the rough-and-tumble badlands. I do appreciate that she picks up the art of the insult almost preternaturally after Philly teaches it to her. (It sucks that most of her best one-liners are dub
-only, so I can't show you via screenshot because of how Netflix
refuses to subtitle its dub
It's a cool take on the "robot learns to be more human" idea—instead of Sam having to learn empathy or something, she has to learn to act more like her own person. It also offers a great resolution to what could have otherwise been a creepy episode plot about her being mistaken for a sex worker.
Though on that topic, while I enjoy our primary cast in isolation, shows like Cannon Busters live and die on their episodic adventures, and in that department I found most of CB's first season underwhelming.
They weren't as consistent as they could have been, but this is a situation where I think the Netflix model actually hurts Cannon Busters. These kinds of episodic vignettes are much better digested week-to-week, in my opinion. The binge model works fine for serial-heavy shows, but there's definitely still situations where taking one bite at a time is ideal.
Eh, I agree to a point, but I also just found the scripts weakly written. They'll consistently introduce an interesting idea or set up an intriguing character, but it never feels like things get fleshed out enough to leave an impression. For example, look at the wonderfully named 9ine, who despite being featured in the OP, only appears in three episodes, one of which hints at him having a complicated backstory as an assassin before just sending him off without resolving anything.
I hear you. I would've liked some episodes to lean more insightful and less cliched. 9ine's case in particular definitely feels like a situation where they're banking on a second season to feature him more. Also, as you might imagine, I relate to 9ine a whole lot.
He's an interesting character! The drunk super-swordsman archetype is a classic for a reason, and he makes for a good complement to our main three's dynamic. But without more focus or time to spend with him, he amounts to a cautionary tale about binge drinking in your 20's.
I would have gladly traded another episode featuring 9ine for whatever that mole people story was.
Yeah, that one feels the most like a plot cul-de-sac to delay our group from getting to their destination. Thankfully, there are at least a couple cool side stories during the show's run, like Casey's pit stop in
Yoko Taro Land.
There's nothing I love more than
But yeah, that was a sweet story about Casey affirming her own identity and desires, much like the rest of the main cast eventually does. Also, it takes place in the same city as Battle Angel Alita
Yeah, there are a few times where Cannon Busters
toes the line between homage and outright lifting stuff. Like hey guys, I liked that part of One Piece
In general, there's a lot of stuff in the show that feels like it should be more. But maybe that's just me wanting a whole arc about Young Dio Brando here:
Oh, you could make an entire anime based on this
Honestly, I just want a whole five-minute scene of him very carefully trying to use a urinal.
I mean, aim is usually vital when using a urinal, but particularly so in his case.
But really, Jojo (yes that's his name) is a character with a ton of comedic potential. He's an old gristled hitman cursed to look like a 10-year-old school boy, who seemingly became a contract killer just because he wants to kill everyone who makes fun of him for his looks. It's a perfect foil to Philly's own manchild personality, and every second they were fighting were some of my favorites in the show.
Side note: he's also scared of furries.
To come back to our earlier point, I was expecting Jojo to have more of a presence, but he's just in one (very good) episode. I can't begrudge Cannon Busters too much for trying lots of different things, but it's a shame that this approach resulted in less time spent on its better aspects. Still, finger-guns crossed that there's a season two where Jojo comes back as a little blond
ball of fury.
Oh, the whole production screams "planned for multiple seasons", and I'd gladly check out more, but I think that also exemplifies its biggest flaw. Cannon Busters
is constantly trying so many different things that when it wants to get more serious with its "main" plot, the elements don't gel. I always found my eyes glazing over when we cut away from Sam or Philly to whatever the heck was going on with Prince Weenie.
I was about to say, we haven't even mentioned the whole magic kingdom plot surrounding where Sam came from, but that's because it's not as interesting as the goofballs' death-defying misadventures.
I wouldn't even say it's bad, so much as it's just not fleshed out like it needs to be, thanks to that plot playing second fiddle to the Badlands Rumble shenanigans.
It also feels more rote than the other half of the story. There's an evil wizard trying to capture the runaway prince, said wizard is the king's abandoned other son, and that's pretty much all we get. There's just not much to dig into, and nothing about that plot matters until the final two episodes anyway.
It's standard stuff, but if the main players had more time to build character or explore a story besides "walking to a place", I could see it working to ground the main cast's goofier adventures. And there are still hints of promise, like when Prince Kelby and Odin capture an enemy soldier and she explains why she's serving the evil wizard guy.
That's fair. I might also be more unforgiving because this character hardly gets to do anything.
Oh it's the ultimate tease that they show you a binge-drinking, smoking, sadistic android assassin with an eyepatch, and then give her two minutes of screentime across 12 episodes. I'm almost impressed at the audacity.
It was a pretty good two minutes!
In general, it feels like Cannon Busters
hasn't tapped into a lot of its potential. It's a fun and quirky watch with some intermittently fun adventures and a solid central cast, but nearly every new character design and world-building detail feels like it's begging for more depth, and I came away wanting more.
The character designs are unilaterally fantastic, and I especially appreciate all the big buff women.
Personally, I'm a fan of Dex's design. There's just something so disarming about her.
Yo I love Rayman. Er, Raywoman. I was also giddy with delight upon seeing Sam's transformation into her own giant magic mecha
. It looks like something straight out of Diebuster
, and I wish more anime took notes
Oh yeah, that whole thing about Sam secretly being a mythical WMD with a soul got dropped pretty late into the show's run, despite being in the title.
Maybe the real Cannon Busters
were the friends we made (and almost annihilated) along the way.
Yeah, that's the other thing that doesn't work for me. About midway through, we find out Philly's backstory—at some point, his family and home were destroyed by Kelby and his father's army, directly leading to his immortality curse. He's spent his life as a directionless wreck ever since, and at the urging of an Anti-Spiral, he decides to use Sam as an opportunity to get revenge.
I actually like the parts where the enemy berates Philly for wasting his life and his "gift" by just screwing around, because that's definitely a mood. But as far as motivation goes, this idea shows up too late and gets resolved too quickly. Though I also like that he's even an asshole when he's being conciliatory. It's a good idea, but it just needed more space to develop.
I like the idea in theory, that Philly is just following this vengeful path to have some kind of goal, and it makes sense that he'd eventually give up on it once he's done being stubborn. But again, it comes in between so much else that it never has room to breathe. That's more or less where I stand with Cannon Busters after this first season: tons of cool ideas, a slick package, but I'm still waiting for all the pieces to come together.
is messy for sure, but I ultimately had a fun time with it. Like you mentioned earlier, it feels like a late '90s/early '00s show they would've put on Toonami
, and those kinds of anime helped me become the weeb I am today. Plus, I don't think we can overstate the importance of an anime with a majority POC cast, created and directed by an esteemed black animator. LeSean Thomas
has a lot to be proud of.
Oh for sure. Cannon Busters is still a fun and unique work, and I'm absolutely down for more in the future.
Any anime that can make me fall in love with a Heybot!
-adjacent character is something special.
Until next time, Cannon Busters