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by ADV Films

The very popular Gun Smith Cats series has come to DVD, and the package is much better than many of the anime releases we’ve seen. Often, anime DVDs tend to be pretty sparse, packing just a couple of episodes onto a disc with little or no extras beyond the same trailers any otaku has seen a thousand times. It always struck me as odd, too, that anime DVDs would be like this – after all, anime videos are famous for omake (extra) sections. Either way, there have been a few great discs released, and Gun Smith Cats: Bulletproof is one of them.

For those new to the series, Gun Smith Cats is a manga by Kenichi Sonoda, serialized in the Kodansha’s manga anthology, Afternoon. It has been wildly popular in Japan, and the manga is collected into five volumes which have sold over 250 thousand copies each. The story translates well, and since AD Vision (now ADV) released the first US version of the OVA (Original Video Animation) series in 1995, the anime along with the manga have become favorites of American otaku. Gun Smith Cats: Bulletproof collects three episodes of the OVA series. "Neutral Zone," "Swing High," and "High Speed Edge" form a 90 minute trilogy that takes us through one major adventure with the Gun Smith Cats. In addition, ADV has included a modified version of "Gun Smith Cats Chapter Zero," which was initially released as an omake on the 1995 videotape. The modified version expands on the original, and is now imaginatively titled, "The Making of Gun Smith Cats". This making-of documentary is a riot for all the wrong reasons. Sure, hardcore fans will dig hearing the details of how the anime was created, and I’ll be using some information from the documentary in this review, but it is campy. And I don’t mean just a little bit funny – I mean Plan 9 From Outer Space style campiness all couched in a strange sense of seriousness.

Gun Smith Cats is all about Rally Vincent, a gun dealer and bounty hunter, and her barely legal partner "Minnie" May Hopkins. Rally is a sharpshooter and weapons expert, while May is the bomb and demolitions queen. Add to the mix some wacky bad guys, wacky good guys, witty dialogue, and a healty dose of panty flashes, mix well, and you’ve pretty much got the story – sexy gun toting heroines do good and break a lot of stuff. That’s the episodic story that carries the manga. In the three episodes on this DVD, the story centers around the Cats being strongarmed into helping an ATF agent bust a ring of gunrunners and figure out the leak in the bureau.

That’s right – they are helping an ATF agent. And while Japan has plenty of alcohol and tobacco, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many firearms, which means your assumptions are correct. Gun Smith Cats takes place in Chicago, Illinois, USA. This is a definite source of attraction for American audiences. First of all, the creators of Gun Smith Cats the anime do a very good job representing the city. They made trips to LA and Chicago and shot reference material to create backgrounds that are recreated in the animation almost verbatim. Rally drives a Shelby Cobra GT, and at various times there are sly jokes to remind you they are American, such as when May comments about Japanese tourists.

Of course, the biggest aspect of Gun Smith Cats that suggests America is the use of firearms. After watching the making-of documentary, it becomes very apparent that Kenichi Sonoda is a gun nut. What makes that very interesting is that the Japanese gun nut and the American gun nut are slightly different. In Japan, guns are a research project – you might buy models, pictures, and posters, but for the most part you spend your time reading about guns in a book. In America, while many gun fans also read about guns and love posters and toy guns, the whole point of becoming an enthusiast is to collect guns. The documentary also underscores something that I’ve read over and over in essays by Japanese who have come to America – in a way it is a thrill for Japanese visitors to America to walk down the street imagining that everyone in the US is armed to the teeth just under their coats. Every violin case or newspaper-wrapped fish is a potential weapon. Certainly this works the other way, and I’ve heard from Japanese friends studying in America that their mothers warned them to not look too hard at strangers on the streets of America. And I’ve never actually met anyone who was, at the moment, afraid or excited by the potential firearms wandering down the streets hidden from view.

What’s the point of this? Like I said, Sonoda is a gun nut. Each gun in the episodes is an accurate representation of a real gun, and as one of the two (count ‘em, TWO) Gun Designers on the staff says in the making-of documentary, Gun Smith Cats could virtually serve as an encyclopedia of firearms. While I’m not really into guns in real life, I enjoy them in my anime, and the attention to detail extends beyond the weapons. Vehicles, environments, and characters are all rendered beautifully, making the animation very engaging. The DVD transfer looks phenomenal, so all the colors pop out.

The dialogue is the other high point in Gun Smith Cats. It is witty, sharp, and textured. Characters are drawn quite well, with different motivations and behavior patterns. Although Gun Smith Cats isn’t going to twist your mind like Perfect Blue, there is plenty to grasp. It is a bit weird coming into the OVA series with no knowledge of the manga, but once the story gets going, which happens quickly, the lack of foreknowledge is no problem. It’s worth noting that the story of this trilogy was created specifically for the OVA series, not taken directly from the manga.

Overall, Gun Smith Cats: Bulletproof will blow you away. It should be on the list for any anime collector or fan. The edginess of the dialogue and action is enough to let you feel like you’re watching a cartoon made for adults, but not so freaky that you would have to shut it off if mom came in. This is a classic set of OVAs, and it is great to see them on DVD with plenty of extras. Rent it or buy it right away.

Shawn Rider   (01/07/2002)


Ups: Really funny; great animation; nice making-of documentary; classic anime.

Downs: Please, sirs, may we have some more?

Platform: DVD