My father is a total car guy. There is no getting around that fact, it is just a truth of natue. His first car was a 1972 Z28 Camaro. He’s managed to hold onto the car for all these years. He had the car restored in the early 90′s, it is now all original in every way including the odd color scheme. Less then 100 Camaros were made in 1972 with his color scheme of Golden Brown with white racing stripes and tan interior due to the GM strike that year. A vivid memory of my early childhood was going to the shop where they were restoring the car every month or so and looking at what they had done. People today regularly comment on how it looks like it was just restored a few months ago or something. Every summer my dad takes his Camaro to dozens of car shows, it is his pride and joy after all. And I accompany him to many of these events over the years. There are always car buffs at these shows, many of them my father’s old or new friends. And so I’d like to think I’ve picked up a little something about cars, just by being around them and people who like them all my life. Although if you ask me to change your tire or tune up your engine you’re out of luck because I haven’t the slightest clue of what to do. But I can wax your car something wicked! Now what’s all this got to do with anime you may ask? Well I think Kenichi Sonoda is just as big of a car buff as my dad and his friends.
Gunsmith Cats is about the exploits of the owner of a Gun shop in Chicago, Illinois who moonlights as a bounty hunter with her friend and assistant. The owner of the shop is a gun maniac named Rally Vincent. Rally is incredibly skilled with a gun, but she’s not a superwomen. She’s vulnerable at times, isn’t very lady-like to her dismay, and sort of clumsy and awkward. Her partner is the cute as a button, explosives export “Minnie” May Hopkins. Minnie May is more feminine then Rally and also more experienced with men. While no one doubts her abilities with explosives (grenades and smoke bombs being her favorite), she is a bit dangerous and way to quick to resort to using them. Sure she’ll blow up the bad guys, but also half the house with them! Together they are the Gunsmith Cats! They rely on a stingy, greedy, and yet charmingly geeky information export for much of their work, named Becky. The series is based on Kenichi Sonoda’s famous manga of the same name. When the series starts off an ATF Agent named Bill Collins is using a little old fashioned extortion to get the Gunsmith Cats to assist him in a complicated case involving gun runners and a criminal, Jonathan Washington, who Rally and Minnie May just captured for a bounty. Bill Collins drags them down into this case, which leads to gun slinging action, adventure, explosions, and great car chases. The plot is well written involving a possible mole at the ATF (which is not entirely unrealistic considering their checkered history) and many other interesting elements at work at the same time. To get into the plot too deeply however would spoil the fun. This 1995 OVA, rather then start adapting the manga from page 1 or choosing the very best of Sonoda’s stories, decided to create an anime original plot. The characters, ideas, feel, look, and tone of the manga are all here, but with an all new story. This approach is one I like, as it gives fans of the original manga something new to enjoy, while also allowing people to go back and read the manga and not have to sit through the same stuff they just saw. The anime is a tad less risque then the manga, but I am fine with that.
Much like the wonderful Riding Bean, this is much more a Hollywood movie/tv show with gunslinging action scenes, car chases, and traditional police elements, then an anime. And the fanservice here reflects that. The fanservice is actually the good kind: sensual, not creepy, doesn’t take away from the plot, and actually helps develop the cast. And this actually spices up the show. And the show has a sense of humor that works (at least for my tastes). Rally’s car is the famous 1967 Shelby GT 500, and it gets as much attention as any of the main characters do. It is a wonderful car, a joy to look at, and incredibly fast. Clearly this is a car Kenichi Sonoda likes, since it is also featured in Riding Bean. The anime has some excellently animated and well choreographed gun fights and car chases. These are action scenes done right, where we care about the results (and they just look cool to boot). I love the artwork style and presentation of it all. It has that high quality 90′s look that I just eat up. The backgrounds are photorealistic, and really help to bring the city of Chicago to life. Still to this day few series look as good as this (well maybe another gun-porn anime, Gunslinger Girl season one, looks as good). The character designs are a little cartoony, but not entirely unrealistic. There was a lot of attention put into their clothing. Not to mention the girls are easy to look at. The budget must have been through the roof on this series. The music is exciting, and has an American rock/jazz feel to it that wouldn’t seem out of place on an American cop show of the same era. The opening is easily one of the best of the 90′s. And I have to mention that the sound effects for Rally’s car are actually recordings of a real 1967 Shelby Cobra Gt500!! Blows the mind!
The dub is another great ADV job done in Houston, Texas. The dub has brilliant casting, excellent acting, a perfect script, and divine directing. This is the kind of perfect storm of a dub that is rare, but ADV often manages to pull off. In this dub everything comes together to give you one hell of a show! This is one of the best dubs of the 1990′s by far. It showcases Matt Greenfield’s excellent ADR talents, more proof he is one of the best directors in the business, and is another reason why he needs to direct more dubs today. While the script is a little loose, it never changes the intended meanings, and in fact makes the show more authentic. It is made more American, more “ chicagoan” if you will. The slight changes in the phrases said or jokes being made make it more natural and more western. Amanda Winn-Lee plays Rally and gives out another stellar performance worthy of her reputation. She fits the character very well, and her acting is spot on. Kimberly Yates’s voice may be a little high pitched, but this is the only voice that would ever fit Minnie May. Tiffany Grant plays the greedy Becky, and this is not at all who I would expect in that role. But she gives a wonderful, if unconventional for her, performance here. The star of the dub however may very well be Rob Mungle as Bill, the sleazy, unsavory ATF Agent. He has an aspect to his voice that I can only describe as “middle aged grit”. So I don’t need to mention how perfect he is for this role. It’s a shame he’s been sidelined to background voices and smaller roles over the years, as he has a real talent and great voice for these types of characters who spring up in anime often enough. In Gunsmith Cats his performance often has a whine to it (“Buuut RALLLY!?”) that seems very genuine, and his acting is top rate. Many of the other characters are cops or tough middle aged guys but they all sound great. Oh and watch out for the Matt Greenfield cameo in episode one!
What is interesting about this show is the girls are the stars and the villains. The guys take a back seat to the colorful female cast who do most of the work. And boy do the girls rule! For such a “manly” show that’s pretty much gun-porn and car-porn, we have a strong female cast of characters that make the show very original. The OVA is highly researched, with thanks given to the A.T.F. , The Chicago Police Department, Cook County Sherifs Office, the Chief of Police,2 homicide detectives, ordinary street cops, and plenty of others. The anime team made multiple trips to the United States to scout locations and photograph the city of Chicago and surrounding areas. They also became familiar with firearms while in Chicago, since guns are nearly outlawed completely in Japan (except for the police), this is their only real opportunity to get an up close experience with guns of all types. The anime crew did a lot of work before even starting on this show, and it all paid off completely. You can easily see the care Takeshi Mori and his team took to put this all together. The only problem with the show is it is too short!
ADV Films put this out on DVD twice, originally in 2001 and then again in 2004 under their Anime Essentials product line. I have the original DVD release, since it was cheaper to buy new at the time. Both DVDs have the entire 3 episode OVA series, with dub and original Japanese audio with subtitles on it. This show is long out of print, and scalpers on Amazon seem to be asking a pretty penny for both releases, but used copies are more reasonable. I’m just glad I got this brand-new when I did. But it is really worth tracking down this classic. ADV’s DVDs tack on a 40 minute extra feature at the end of the show. The extra feature is about the making of the OVA, which is partially dubbed/narrated by Amanda Winn-Lee. This extra has interviews with the animation’s staff, the original mangaka, features their home video recording of the staff’s trips to Chicago, and plenty of other goodies. This is the kind of extra we rarely get anymore but is really interesting. Dark Horse Comics put out the manga and that’s worth looking into as well.
*Here’s a bunch of pictures of my dad’s car taken at various car shows over the years if you’re interested.
Positives: Fun, action packed, good story, great characters, looks amazing, sounds great, gun and car nut paradise, Hollywood inspired.
Negatives: It’s too short!