In the Retrospec series, I take a retrospective look at my favorite animes. I’ll be going through a 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.
Welcome back for the second part of the Retrospec series on Gunsmith Cats. In the previous part, we took a look at the opening. For this portion we’ll be taking a look at the first episode.
Rally and Minnie-May, owners of the Gunsmith Cats gunshop, catch a bail runner. They are then approached by an ATF agent, William Collins, “asking” for help in a sting operation to shut down a gun running operation connected to said bail runner. Rally, Minnie-May and their information broker, Becky, agree to buy the guns. When it’s time for the deal, Rally arrives to find out William has been snooping around and has been captured by the gun runners. Rally is ordered to kill William as a show of loyalty. Instead she frees William, leading to a gun fight. Rally and William are able to subdue the criminals with a little intervention from Minnie-May. Needless to say, things are rarely that simple and the episode ends with William sheepishly asking the two for further assistance.
The episode opens to a city skyline. It lingers for a second and then transitions through a couple different locations in what I presume to be downtown. Skylines probably don’t mean all that much to you, unless we’re talking about penthouses or whatnot. But in highly visual mediums like manga and anime, it’s a great way to establish existing settings. Those from the area are likely to recognize where the story is taking place. For those of us not in the know, the very last spot shown is an ornate business sign reading “Chicago”.
Afterwards, much the same happens for the two main characters. We’re whisked to the duo in the middle of a job. Minnie-May is making a fake “wrong number” call to see if the perp is in his room. Rally sits confidently in her Mustang. Assured that she has her man, she casually strolls down the hall and draws her signature CZ75. The music is a tad whimsical without a hint of tension in the world. In short: These two are no strangers to the game and this is just another notch on their belts. Just like the introduction of setting, though, we get an explicit introduction of the two when they apprehend the perp. And on cue, we are then greeted with the opening, which I gushed about previously.
This isn’t a major plot point, merely revealing where the duo works and acting as a title drop, but I love it nonetheless. As you can see, the “s” is bolted on. I love it because this is shown happening at the end of chapter one in the manga, so it’s safe to assume this story happens some time after that.
Remember how William “asked” the two to help him with the sting operation? Needless to say, he sorta kinda blackmailed them into helping – much to their chagrin. As you can see, the two’s reactions run the gamut. Rally and Minnie-May are very expressive and more power to them for it. Characters need to emote. An important part of personality is how you emote and why you emote.
Rally is the queen of improbable aim, a real crackshot. But it’d be a little drab to see her just pull off headshots all of the time. Rally is so dangerous because she varies how she applies her marksmanship. Center of mass, faces, gun sights, ammo magazines, firing hammers, your thumbs – they’re all fair game for Rally Vincent. And we’re all better for it. Rally puts her knowledge of guns and using them to savant level use. When I know that Rally Vincent once fired two shots off while held at gunpoint just so she could burn her captor with the spent shells or blew the backend off of a shotgun magazine in a hostage situation, I know I’m going to get interesting gunfights.
This isn’t about a specific moment in particular, but a rather the episode as a whole. The tone of the episode is pretty consistent. This anime is more lighthearted than it has any right to be. A show about young adult bounty hunters ought to be a bit more bleak than the Gunsmith Cats anime makes it out to be, but when it could get weird or dreary, someone is there to crack a joke or swaggers in with an air of confidence. But that’s great because that makes this a crime action show. It all plays out like the inverse of a hard-boiled detective show: witty young aces fighting crime with optimistic, comedic undertones.
There are two instances in this episode where Rally ends up in some form of undress – and both happen to be the major gunfights. I have a moderate tolerance for nudity, sexual themes, violence and the sort. Contrivances concerning said things? Not so much. Unfortunately, that’s what at least one of those two instances feels like. The first instance is understandable enough as Rally’s home is robbed while she’s in bed so she was in her underwear to begin with. The second time occurs when someone tries to bring the walkway she is on down with a crane, pinning her jacket and shirt to the twisted walkway The two are promptly removed. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it bothered me since the manga arguably does worse. But in the manga, the various forms of undress are utilized in line with the present tone of the moment. Some of the chapter cards are pinups featuring sole characters, so it’s easy to parse that as a bit of cheesecake for the reader’s sake. Other times, characters will actively sabotage or try to remove Minnie or Rally’s clothes and weapons to weaponize its vulnerability to their benefit. When you have the bounty hunter that can shoot your thumbs off and is known to carry hidden weapons, forcing them to forgo that resource when they’re at your mercy is pragmatic. The anime’s iteration seems to serve no narrative purpose other than to expose the heroines. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s noticeable.
Show, Don’t Tell – In this case, though, its more like “Show, Then Tell” or “Show AND Tell”. SHOW me as much of the locale as you can. Give me a chance to see your characters in action before you try to give me an infodump.
Continuity Nods – Though it isn’t necessary, callbacks to other parts of the work’s lore can show an understanding and reverence for the work that can enrich the experience for those in the audience with a little more background knowledge.
Emote – Have your characters react to what’s happening around them. You won’t compromise their defining traits by having them express a variety of emotions – even ones contrary to their normal demeanor. You’ll just flesh them out and make them more interesting.
Next time we’ll be moving on to episode 2.