Gun X Sword: Volume 1 Review
On the oddly named Planet “Endless Illusion” where Armour Riders decide the outcome of war, a lone wandering swordsman named Van roams the plains seeking revenge for the death of a loved one. When he arrives at a town called Evergreen he becomes privy to a gang known as “The Wild Bunch” who for some time have been pillaging the land. It’s here that he saves a young girl named Wendy Garret, who is looking for her missing brother, with all but his gun in hand. Having seen Van’s handy work in effortlessly despatching villains she begs of him to help her clean up the town and find her brother, but Van has little interest in doing so. She offers to marry him in exchange for his service, which freaks him out even more, yet he can’t seem to shake off the insistent girl. But of course he ends up lumbered with her and together they set out on adventure, fleeting from town to town and squaring up against some of the strangest bad guys ever.
If you’ve seen one anime you’ve seen ’em all right? Well, perhaps half a dozen or so at any rate. It’s not that Gun X Sword isn’t entertaining per se, but has a general “seen it all before” kind of aura about it. It doesn’t want to restrict itself to any single genre, taking onboard strong leanings toward science fiction and spaghetti westerns, detailing plots of revenge and throwing plenty of humour into the mix as well. It rallies together so many familiar elements, or perhaps the word clichés would be more apt. There just isn’t a single ounce of originality about this production, and yet for some reason it’s entertaining all the same. The storyline is fairly formulaic, following a baddie of the week routine, featuring outlandish villains who have just as many odd quirks as the heroes themselves, from obsessive lucky types to moustachioed weirdoes. It unashamedly throws in a mish-mash of familiar imagery, obvious throwbacks and character archetypes and ultimately just runs the gauntlet with them.
There’s plenty going on; it’s certainly briskly paced if a little light at this early stage. See, volume one merely sets up the characters and motivation. It doesn’t even really have a proper opening as such, being that the hero just suddenly appears in a little town and saves the day. We get the appropriate feeling that something has already started and that we’ve been dumped in just in time for the exciting part of the adventure. My only concern is that the series needlessly takes on more than it can chew. Rather than just sticking with characters on relatively normal travels the science fiction trappings tend to work against it; the anachronistic touches of walking machines in the wild west feels out of place and the whole Armour Rider concept is counter productive and one of the most downright lazy aspects of the show. The reason for this is that time in and time out Van uses his armour to save the day, but not before various characters have been put through obviously hopeless and rigorous trials. An air of predictability sets in quick when we realise that it doesn’t matter what anyone else does, whether or not they succeed or fail at a given task because Van will always turn up and make it right. It kind of negates the need for companionship in a sense; we never truly feel that Van depends upon Wendy in any way, and she tries so hard to show him new things. But perhaps these problems will correct themselves at a later time. Getting back on track, whenever the mechs (particularly Van’s, which looks suspiciously like an EVA unit) do arrive it’s all so contrived as it goes into odd super sentai mode, spending five minutes or so in displaying epically boring battles, when it could be moving the story forward in less time; episode three manages to work thanks to a successful emotional build up, but only at the expense of almost discarding Van and Wendy altogether. I get the feeling that we’re looking at a series with a storyline that could easily be wrapped up in thirteen episodes, but chucks in a lot of fillers.
But when Gun X Sword gets back to its laid back western approach it can offer plenty of fun. There’s that good old fashioned movie feeling with Van being the stoic stranger who wanders into town - the model archetype set by Clint Eastwood as it were, and at times the score even channels a little Morricone, while throwing some contemporary Jazz stylings into the mix. Each episode sees Van and Wendy arrive at a new town that’s usually suffering at the hands of looting gangs or megalomaniacs who have an aversion to barbers and they’re usually straight forward affairs. In terms of protagonists we have three key players and this is where the bulk of interest lies. First of all is Van who brings with him more than few quirks: a tall lanky man who wears a tuxedo, has a passion for food topped with a variety of condiments and always forgets the names of people he meets (including Wendy); in confrontational situations he usually apologises for his actions prior to flooring a foe and is generally considered to be a nice fellow. The fun part about his character is how just about every experience is new for him (even with something simple like a bank) save for violence, of which he detests. And of course he has that mystery element relating to his past, his armour and the mission he’s on. As for Wendy she’s your typical young teen, not quite wise to the world around her she heads out to find her missing brother with the aid of his gun that carries a single bullet. Her outlook on life seems quite shallow: she’s willing to offer herself as Van’s bride if he helps her, which makes for some awkward situations and she even carries the stock diminutive pet - a tortoise type thingy known as Kameo. And then there’s information broker Carul Mendosa, or Carmen 99 as she insists on being called, on account of her 99cm bust line and hidden secrets. She’s sexy, has a strong attitude and only appears in episode two when Van and Wendy arrive at Bridge City. But she’s a recurring character with an impressive yo-yo and we learn that she and Van are old acquaintances who share common interests in helping each other out.
Of course there is a point to Gun X Sword’s narrative and that’s with its revenge story line. Four episodes in however and it’s clear that it’s barely scratching the surface. The only antagonistic character that bears any relevance at this juncture is The Man with the Right Hand Claw, while a mystery fellow who turns up at the end of episode four remains ambiguous for now. With the acknowledgement of a central baddie we do learn that Van is seeking him out because he killed a woman he once loved named Elena. And it really does appear to be that simple. There’s nothing else to elaborate on in this teasing first volume, which gets off to a hampered but welcome enough start.
Ep. 1 - Tuxedo Blowing in the Wind
When a mysterious Tuxedo clad man named Van rescues a young girl named Wendy from the members of a notorious gang known as “The Wild Bunch” he inadvertently sets himself up on an adventure he never saw coming. Armed with a heavenly suit named Dann he journeys from town to town, seeking out a clawed foe who was behind the death of his beloved Elena. With Wendy in tow his mission isn’t going to be as simple as he’d hoped, but perhaps this new relationship might just open his eyes a little to the world around him.
Ep. 2 - Funny Stream
Van and Wendy arrive at Bridge City and book a hotel room for the evening. There they run in to an old acquaintance of Van, an adventurous woman named Carmen 99 who works as an information broker. They soon discover that the bridge leading out of the city has been closed for five days and that people need to be taken across the sea in small numbers. Baron Mayer, “The Moustache Baron of Reason” informs the city that two hundred women will be allowed to travel first. And so Carmen 99 and Wendy set foot on ship, leaving Van to do as he pleases back on land. But it soon turns out that the Baron has an evil plan: with the help of his ship “Metal Guru” he will create an independent nation, his ideal utopia, and that the women on board will serve as the bearers of a new generation.
Ep. 3 - Heroes One More Time
In the town of Gloria a young woman named Yukiko and her partner Franco run a quaint little restaurant that once belonged to Yukiko’s grandmother Chiziru, who was once an Armour Rider. Four elderly men: Barrio, Nero, Jose and Carlos reminisce every day at the restaurant about their young fighting days alongside Yukiko’s grandmother, but the locals are tired of their war stories and refuse to believe that such a weapon existed in the town, let alone be piloted by such a group of men. When Van collapses of hunger Wendy takes him Yukiko’s place and there he regains his energy. Meanwhile a mad scientist named Bucci has been experimenting on what appears to be an armoured suit. When he threatens the town’s peace Barrio and company bring back a relic from their past and prove to the people that there are still heroes amongst them.
Ep. 4 - And the Rain Kept Falling
On a rainy night Van is struck down by a fever; a strange marking appears on his chest and he tells Wendy to go back home. In a delirious state he utters the name Elena and Wendy sets out to find the nearest doctor. She eventually comes across a small clinic run by a disabled doctor called Denehee, who informs her that he recognises the marking she describes. He gives her some medicine to take back, but when she returns she finds Van missing. And then a stranger pays visit to Denehee…
Gun X Sword is given a 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation, which despite being a standards conversion from the Geneon release is an overall very clean and colourful transfer, ranking up there as being one of the best looking anime series on DVD. I couldn’t detect any halo effects or obvious banding, while aliasing is kept to a bare minimum; everything is handled quite delicately. Colours are bold and often striking across the board, down to rich black levels and a solid contrast balance, which compliments the attractive animation from studio AIC. Still, no matter how good this looks I’m not going to score it any higher than what you see. No NTSC-PAL conversion is worth that.
MVM spoils us with three audio options: Japanese 2.0, English 5.1 and Japanese 5.1 DTS Surround. Not one to get heavily into the differences between dubs I’m going to focus solely on the 5.1 tracks. Both are similarly impressive, offering robust surrounds ranging from immersive heavy rain fall to thundering robot action, the latter of which benefits from some bassy sub-woofer tweaking. A variety of subtle ambient noise steers its way across the soundstage and livens up smaller situations, while dialogue is nicely forwarded mainly to the front speakers; situations involving louder crowds tend to spread bits and pieces across other areas.
Optional English subtitles are included in the release, as standard, and read very well. Again MVM employ the yellow font, which is respectably timed and free from error.
A couple of neat bonus features grace this volume one release. The intro and ending sequences sans credits are a standard edition to the volume, as is 3 minutes worth of almost identical TV spots. There is also a small art gallery consisting of 11 pictures, which are unfortunately surrounded by a huge border. The best feature though is the inclusion of “Gun X Sword-san: Ep 1 & 2” (English and Japanese audio option) These are three minute comedy rounds featuring cel-shaded hand puppet versions of Wendy, Kameo and Van. The characters basically talk complete rubbish, from discussion on what makes a model wife to wondering what unemployed people do with all their free time. Though short they’re very funny little skits that don’t outstay their welcome and there should be plenty more to enjoy in future.
On the basis of having seen the first volume of Gun X Sword I’m a little conflicted towards the series; it’s stylishly animated, certain parts of the story work well and the central characters are largely fun, if not entirely original creations, but other areas such as the mech battles are unimaginative and considerably dull. Time will only tell if the series improves from here on in, though I suspect the foundation has already been laid and we can see more of the same in future.