Retrospec: Gunsmith Cats Pt 1
Around these parts we believe in practicing what we preach. So what better time than after an article espousing the virtues of deeper analysis is there to do some deeper analysis of my own? In this series, I’m taking a retrospective look at Gunsmith Cats, the three episode OVA based on the eponymous Kenichi Sonada manga. Considering its length, I’ll be going through the work, episode by episode, pointing out composition and plot elements that I think contribute to its brilliance – all in the name of better understanding the work and what aspects of its craftsmanship we can appreciate and recognize in other works.
NOTE: While I’m a firm believer that first impressions don’t have to be lasting ones, and they most certainly don’t have to be exclusive, I am a believer that they are important. As such, I’m not going to focus on elements that don’t enrich the first viewing if I can help it.
The original manga, which ran from 1991 – 1997 in “Afternoon” magazine, was spurred by Kodansha editors’ interest in early illustrations of Rally and Minnie-May. He was asked to develop a concept for said characters and drew inspiration from the police drama Taiyō ni Hoero!, gun action films such as the French Connection and the Blues Brothers and American TV shows such as Bewitched and the Fugitive.
The OVA, whose first episode was released in late 1995, was produced by OLM studies and directed by Takeshi Mori. The OVA features an original story, but has some references to the manga. The production crew made numerous trips to Chicago to scout locations and get some hands on research with real firearms. A Shelby Cobra GT500, the model Rally drives, was recorded in Hollywood.
One of the first things you’ll notice when watching the opening is the limited color palette. That’s not to say it’s visually unappealing, It’s quite the opposite. Kenichi Sonada is revered for his attention to detail. He’s also a gun and car otaku to the core, so you know you were going to get highly detailed renditions of both in the manga. This is carried over into the anime opening.
A lot of manga is black and white. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s mostly because of the paper and the white is actually just negative space. The opening selectively replaces some of that whiteness with solid colors, which adds some flair and highlights some important items in the scenes. The use of selective coloring, a small color palette and highly detailed renditions gives the opening the feeling of an animated manga – an animated Kenichi Sonada manga. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Color scheme aside, there’s a clear focus on a small handful of elements throughout. At any point in the opening you’ll see some combination of the following: Minnie-May, Rally, firearms, grenades or one of three fast cars (likely a ‘67 Shelby Cobra GT500, ‘96 Viper and ‘68 Corvette C3). Whether it’s explosions, gunfights, car chases or the charming main characters, the opening doesn’t offer anything the anime or manga doesn’t deliver.
There’s a few moments in the opening that I think act as great primers for the characters and the series proper. There are multiple instances of the two main characters posing with their weapons of choice. They obviously aren’t to be trifled with. However, the above two pictures do a good job of displaying that they aren’t all business. They do have a playful, fun side despite their combat prowess – with Minnie-May providing a bit more of the sex appeal than Rally.
What the previous two images do for the characters, this segment does for the series itself. The image alludes to what the series is all about: action with a bite or two of cheesecake. Truthfully, they could’ve ended the opening with this and it would’ve been perfect (though the iconic jacket is good too).
All of this is capped off with the splendid opening theme itself. It’s a jazzy tune that carries some energy, but is lighthearted and fun. There’s no vocals to create any kind of narrative (it doesn’t need one), but it’s punctuated by the pull of an ignition pin and gun slide at the beginning and the roar of the Mustang on the tail end. It’s a theme that serves its purpose well.
So What Should We Take From This?
Openings are the wrapping for their respective anime. As such, an opening should convey something representative of that. Whether it’s presenting themes of the show, providing characterization or just running a preview reel of upcoming events, I expect to walk away with some inkling of what to expect from the show. Baccano’s opening is a beautifully interconnected character roll call. Bleach’s first opening blends fashion and youthful rebelliousness with a supernatural conflict. FLCL doesn’t even have an opening (but does have an ending), arriving unceremoniously and leaving all too soon like many a childhood. I think that’s a reasonably set bar.
Next time we’ll be taking a look at episode one.