Nick and Steve revisit No Guns Life's dystopia of criminal bureaucracies, corrupt governments, and heartless capitalist running amok while citizens suffer in poverty. Wait, we're talking about an anime series, right?
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 episode reviews of No Guns Life here!
Nick, obviously we can (and probably will) talk a lot about No Guns Life and its conversation with cyberpunk conventions, but truth be told, I'm much more thrilled by the ways in which it's echoed the true prophetic voice of the 21st century:
Steve, I think you better check your loadout because you are firing blanks my man.
I have never been more on target and you know it.
Strap in everyone because we're not gonna get to talk about No Guns Life again until spring, so we're gonna be shooting off every terrible Gun Pun we can.
Puns: the most bulletproof jokes known to man. And man-gun. But yeah, the first cour of everyone's favorite revolver-headed Resolver (which are terms I've definitely never mixed up while writing my reviews) has almost fired its last round, so let's take stock of where we've been and where we'd like to go next.
Last time we talked about NGL
here, we'd only barely gotten a look at its bleak and moody cyberpunk dystopia. We'd met Juzo and his reluctant ward Tetsuro, and they'd just stumbled right into a fight with some adorable technomonster orphans.
I think I remember you and Andy wishing for a happy ending for Anne and Ende. Which, uh, didn't quite pan out.
Honestly, things worked out better than I was expecting at only a 50% tragic orphan mortality rate.
True! That's well below the genre average.
I think that aspect works really well as the show's real introduction to its core thematic struggle between how late capitalism commodifies our very existence, versus our ability and yearning to be functioning, compassionate human beings. Anne and Ende got dealt a shitty hand totally outside of their control, but they make the most of it, together.
God did you have to show me that scene again? That bit punched me in the gut and I'm still not recovered.
It's good! Like, this was still an early point in the show, so I wasn't completely sure yet where I was coming down on it, but here it exhibited some real dramatic competence. As you already alluded to, I'm not the hugest fan of killing female characters for the sake of our main male characters' sadness, but at least NGL goes through the effort to make Anne and Ende real characters with their own history, beliefs, and feelings.
It's also just a shockingly immediate bit of thematic legwork. Ende sees her Extentions as an alien appendage forced onto her, and it threatens to shatter her sense of self. And just as Juzo and Tetsuro so often state for themselves, Anne tells her immediately that no matter what, they're still sisters and her hand, regardless of its shape, is something she'll hold onto.
And that extends (pun intended) to how No Guns Life treats Extensions in general. Whereas a lot of cyberpunk bemoans the loss of humanity that comes with changing/replacing body parts, NGL is much more concerned with how its society treats and exploits those Extensions. And that's a much more interesting question, imo.
Plus, I don't need another piece of media telling me why it's bad to be a cyborg. Being a cyborg would rule.
Being a cyborg certainly seems to be working out for Juzo. Sure the whole amnesia thing sucks and having to chainsmoke to avoid seizures isn't great, but it turns out the ladies really dig the taste of gunmetal.
Olivier just really wants to pull Juzo's trigger, and while we could easily make more jokes about the two of them banging (including that one), it barely even scratches the weirdest kinds of horny we've been subjected to via this column. So I say to her: go for it, girl.
Words can't tell you how let down I was when it turned out she was talking about some in-universe technobabble thing here:
I trust the fanartists to fill in this crucial gap.
Besides being into steely countenances, Olivier gets the gang involved in the middle arc of this season, and it's decidedly more convoluted than Juzo's orphan rescuing adventures. Like it took a second viewing to make complete sense of the 5 different twists for me. Starting with a staged arrest and somehow ending with assassination over classified war crimes.
It's definitely where the techno-noir aspect of NGL
really starts to show itself, with Juzo actually doing some investigating instead of just punching very large objects. And in that regard I appreciated his very glib and hard boiled commentary.
And on that note, with one cour nearly down, Juzo's remained a fairly static character, but I still find his borderline-parody-private-eye personality endearing in its theatrical machismo.
Listen if you were able to deliver even the dumbest one-liners with a 100% straight face every time, you'd do it too.
Guilty as charged.
While Juzo hasn't really changed much over the show, what has changed is how both the other characters and the audience understand him. In between all the Schwarzenegger mic drops, he makes some genuinely insightful points, especially when he's confronted with the continued corruption of his superiors from the war.
He may not be a terribly complex character, but he's certainly a thoughtfully written one, and that's the key to NGL's
charm. For every over-the-top Black Lagoon-esque character design, there's usually a pretty well considered point of view on the myriad ideas the show keeps playing with.
Man is Tokisada ever a dingus even before it's revealed he's a war criminal. Even during the parts where we're supposed to believe he's an innocent target he comes off as the biggest gold-plated douche canoe.
He's unilaterally despicable, but that also makes him such a perfect character, because he so wholly embodies the two-faced nature of the military-industrial complex. He's the cheap-looking veneer hiding an institution full of war crimes and wanton abuse of power. And I particularly love the way his face continues to degrade as the arc wears on and his bullshit becomes more and more blatant.
His speech about why his war crimes are a good actually and exposing them is the real crime because it would threaten the supposed prosperity he fostered is just such exquisite bullshit. Don't you see, he can't face consequences for his wrongdoings, he's too big to fail!
No Guns Life is NOT subtle about its politics.
Most classic cyberpunk deals with dystopia, but NGL in particular feels attuned to the particular kind of capitalism-poisoned, forever-war-inundated dystopic present we find ourselves in. Greedy blowhards are ransacking our planet and telling us to our faces that they have a moral obligation to do so. It sucks! And it's nice to see media that's just as frustrated as we are.
My only real complaint for the arc is that, despite introducing and partially hinging on Olivier's involvement, she doesn't really get to do much in the grand scheme of things. Like her dressing down Tokisada is great! But I wish it wasn't the only contribution she got to make during the fight.
I hope we get to see her character develop a lot more in the second cour. She's fully integrated into this system that governs the Extended, and I wanna see more of how that conflicts her with her own beliefs. There's a lot of meat on that bone! But here, her beef with Mega Armed pretty much boils down to a rote arc about why you shouldn't poison yourself with revenge.
Which is fine, but NGL
has the chops to dig a little deeper.
Well, and I guess she gets one other moment in this arc but I think you've called dibs on talking about that scene.
The best part is Juzo's reaction after the fact. This dude can take getting thrown through a wall in stride but turns into Alphonse Elric at the thought of kissing a girl.
Thankfully, while Mega Armed gets sniped out of existence, Olivier survives, so there should be plenty of further opportunities for him to get used to a hot woman blowing medicinal cigarette smoke straight into his steel gullet
Though Olivier does have some competition coming, but we'll get there. First we probably need a breather from all these heavy, politically charged narratives, so how about we have a nice side quest about Mary and Tetsuro where they uh...checks notes
...debate the morality of terrorism.
Hell yeah dude, let's talk about class warfare, the oppression of immigrants, and monolithic corporations headed by soulless sociopaths!
What delightfully unfamiliar subjects!
Again, this is the show about a dude with a revolver for a cranium whose dialogue is at least 25% one liners from Commando. And somehow it's out here doing donuts around Terror in Resonance.
Oh man I wish
we had been doing this column when Terror in Resonance was airing. That would've been incredible. But I digress—Colt's arc brings to the forefront a lot of what we mentioned earlier about how capitalism commodifies our bodies. Like, this exchange about Colt's legs immediately reminded me of the recent articles about Amazon warehouse workers ruining their bodies due to the unholy conditions and quotas.
Berühren's deliberately crafted a society where people have to use their Extensions in order to adapt to these unreasonable conditions, just to barely survive. The game is rigged against people like Colt to begin with, so why wouldn't he try to strike back at them?
While we're not (yet) at the point where omnicorps are forcing factory workers to install proprietary biomechanics, stuff like what happens to Colt's mother hits closer to home than I expected from an anime.
Colt's justified anger brings a sympathetic angle to his motivations, but in a wider context, America has a long, despicable legacy of using marginalized people as test subjects without their knowledge and with no recompense. This is real and upsetting stuff.
And I appreciate that, while the series doesn't outright condone Colt's actions, it also acknowledges that he's not the sole aggressor. That perpetuating systemic poverty and hunger is just as much an act of violence as blowing up a train car, and simply telling people to take a theoretical high road isn't really a solution.
Yes! It's so good that neither he nor the show lets Tetsuro and Mary get away with the "but it's murderrrrr" argument for why he's in the wrong. What Berühren's doing is murder on a slower but much more far-reaching scale.
It's an incredibly nuanced take on a viciously complicated subject, and I'm still kind of in awe that it's in the show about a man with literal bullets for brains.
I especially like that Colt's motivation isn't simply revenge, but showing the rest of the oppressed class that resistance is possible. These are legitimately heroic beats applied to what we'd define as an act of terrorism. Like, damn, No Guns Life didn't have to go this hard.
And in all this it somehow manages to make this more
complicated when it turns out Berühren's hijacked the whole thing to frame Colt and his backers for the death of civilians, all for the sake of upping their own PR ratings.
It complicates the plot, but I think it chickens out thematically by turning the conflict into "let's save the orphans!", which doesn't quite possess the ethical density of debating when/whether an act of terrorism can be morally justified.
Fair, but also I can't say I'm shocked a late-night TV show couldn't fully dedicate itself to something that ambitious and controversial. And it opens up some interesting avenues to explore when it turns out Spitzbergen were using Colt to their own ends as well. I have no idea if or how that'll pan out later on, but it's a juicy loose end if nothing else.
Sure, it's still leagues beyond what I expected out of a show with this dude as the main character. My hat is off to NGL
for just broaching this subject in the first place.
Just before it ends (for this season anyway) this week, the show was brash enough to dive into another thorny topic, the generational divide, via a literal Young Gun.
The gun heads really give a different context to the phrase "OK Boomer"
mostly introduces Seven and Pepper to tease at future developments, but I appreciate it for taking the conflict of Extendeds as people vs tools up to 11.
It also teases us with some more glimpses of Juzo's past, when he apparently was
nothing but a tool to be used in the war, which explains a lot.
You know me, normally I'd be 100% on board with this, but tbh after Colt's arc, I wasn't ready for NGL
to descend quite so quickly back into pure schlock. But! This is certainly a show that contains multitudes! Including, apparently, ghost stories???
Hey, if NGL
wants to conclude the season on a robot ghost haunting I'm all for it. Especially if said ghost is haunting the WWE.
I sincerely love and support every cartoon that decides to interrupt its plot with a random haunted house episode, so I could not be more excited about this finale.
I'd probably be more disgruntled if we didn't know there's more coming, but as-is I'm down for whatever No Guns Life wants to go for. It's a unique, surprising series with way more bite than I ever would have dreamed it could have. Bring on that second season.
It's honestly so much better than I ever would've guessed, so I trust that it knows where it's going. And on the political side, as long as we get at least one more scene of Juzo dunking on cops, I'll be a happy camper.