While researching this anime show, Judge Geoffrey Miller found that Gun Swords, much like mules, are infertile byproducts of crossbreeding.
It's the best mediocre anime money can buy!
Somewhere in the universe, on a planet called "Endless Illusion," there walks a man, a man who goes by the name of Van. He's on a mission to find a man with a claw hand.
He might just remind of you of someone—maybe a couple of people, depending on how much anime you've seen.
Van is laconic, almost to the point of being anti-social. Outwardly, he shows little affection towards anyone (except himself) and is disinterested in helping out others. Criminals and other assorted evildoers give little thought to this seemingly listless and ineffectual man. It's not until the very last moment—the point when it seems like the bad guys have got it in the bag—that he pulls out his oversized, phallic sword and does the standard ass-kicking routine.
So…essentially, this dude is Spike Spiegel with a hint of Vash the Stampede. But unlike those characters, which draw from the archetypes of American westerns, jidaigeki, and kung fu flicks, Van feels like a flat pastiche of Spike, Vash, and a few other, lesser anime protagonists—a copy of a copy, sans inspiration or originality. He just doesn't emanate the effortless cool we've come to expect from these sorts of guys. If you hooked him up to a Badass-O-Meter, the needle would barely make it into the yellow.
Somewhere along the way (i.e. the first episode), Van meets up with Wendy. She's a saucer-eyed pre-teen girl with enough moe characteristics to make non-otaku Westerners squirm. (In the first episode she offers to be Van's bride, and in the second she's shown in her lingerie.) Coincidentally, she's looking for the same man with the claw hand as Van; he kidnapped her brother. She carries around her brother's gun with her everywhere she goes. (She has a gun, and Van has a sword—thus, Gun Sword!) Wendy is eager to join forces with Van; he is not. Regardless, Wendy makes herself a fixture and tags along, despite Van's apathy (and occasional outright hostility) towards her.
The world this duo inhabits is modeled after the Wild West, except with many anachronistic elements thrown in: There are many instances of modern and even futuristic technology. It's not a particularly unusual setting in anime; there have been countless variations on it since the '80s. Like Kino's Journey (minus the philosophical navel-gazing), every episode takes place somewhere new, in a town or country with different customs, people, and culture.
Oh yeah, and did I mention there are mechs? For no good reason? Yeah, I guess they needed just one more cliché to round things out. They're called Armors, and Van pilots one called Dann. Most of the bad guys pilot one too. The show's typical M.O. is to throw in a big Armor battle at the end of every episode.
Gun Sword Volume 1 contains the show's first four episodes:
The first episode sets up the premise, then the second one, "Funny Stream," settles into an episodic groove. Van and Wendy find themselves in a city where the only bridge out of town is closed for repairs. There they meet up with Carol "Carmen99" Mendosa, a blue-haired, impossibly melon-chested friend of Van's who looks like a castoff from Dirty Pair. The women of the city (including Wendy and Carmen99) are lured into a trap by the most ludicrously absurd (and absurdly ludicrous) villain ever—an evil mayor whose weapon is his overgrown facial hair. (It works similarly to the infamous "naughty tentacles" of countless hentai titles.) Yeah, it's pretty stupid.
The third and fourth episodes are slight improvements. In "Heroes One More Time," a quartet of retired Armor riders makes a comeback to save their sleepy village. Each of their individual Armors combines to form one massive robot—a very amusing tribute to Voltron. "And the Rain Kept Falling" is the obligatory background story episode that starts to explore Wendy and Van's pasts and build the overarching story that will inevitably come to a head 20-odd episodes down the line. Little is revealed, however, besides Van having a mysterious ailment and yet another guy looking for the man with the claw hand.
There's nothing out of the ordinary about Gun Sword's art and character design: It's Generanime™ through and through. Animation is fluid and detailed, except for some horrendous CG sequences that should have stayed in the demo reel of some community college dropout where they belong. The score its moments—Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western guitar and porn-funk horns bump up against cheesy Japanese synths. Not much outside of the peppy, instrumental opening theme is memorable, though.
On the technical side of things, Geneon has done a superb job with the disc. The picture is widescreen, 1.78:1 anamorphic, and flawless. Audio is available in 5.1 for Japanese (DTS) and English (Dolby Digital) in addition to a Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese track. The dub would be quite good, except the actor for Van lacks the necessary presence or toughness. The best of the extras are two episodes of Gun X Sword-San, a series of comedic shorts starring a super-deformed Wendy and her turtle pal. There are also TV commercials, creditless opening and ending sequences, and an art gallery.
Gun Sword is competent—it has decent animation, a pretty good soundtrack, and a well-paced (if derivative) plot—but it's ultimately too shallow and hollow to be anything other than a forgettable timewaster. Although it's not a train wreck by any means, there's nothing here that you haven't seen a billion times before—most likely with more inspired execution. Of course, if you're the sort of person that goes nuts for anything in the "stylish action with a side of comedy" genre of anime (and I know there are many of you out there), then maybe the show warrants a look. Otherwise, you can safely put this one back on the shelf (and pick up Cowboy Bebop instead if you haven't yet).
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Scales of Justice
• Gun X Sword-San Episodes 1 and 2
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