Gunsmith Cats Revised Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, February 15, 2008
Release Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Translated by:Dana Lewis & Toren Smith
What They Say
Rally and Minnie-May are two teen girls running a weapons shop in Chicago…but they have a side business as bounty hunters! Though their main task is to hunt down runaway criminals with bounty on their heads, they somehow always end up undertaking risky jobs and getting themselves into major messes!
Admitted staunch advocate that I am for domesticated manga mirroring their overseas progenitors, it’s surprising to find a US company has created a superior cover for their American release. Dark Horse’s Gunsmith Cats Revised Edition books retain only the front character portraits from the four Japanese volumes, which they set against a sharp background graphic carrying the series’ logo and additional textual information. Fidelity towards the source material is shown by maintaining color schemes and integrating minor design nuances, but what sways my preference for Dark Horse’s offering is how the character artwork—a casual, gun toting Rally Vincent for Volume One—has been set in the extreme foreground, completely dominating all other cover elements.
This bold look wrapping the meaty omnibus, clocking in at 464 pages, adds too a quality presentation but does nothing to make the paper brick any less unwieldy. Grasping it will likely be even more cumbersome for those trying to avoid spine creases, an issue I wish more companies would address by offering dust jackets for their larger-sized manga. These removable covers could at least hide any damage unfortunately incurred by too casual a handling, as nothing’s more annoying than crinkly weathered spines frowning at you from the book shelf.
Weathered imagery is one thing readers won’t see gracing this robust compilation. Repackaged comics have a tendency of finding themselves covered in attractive artwork, ill representative of a book’s undeveloped visual contents. Such situations, far more common with those volumes featuring the earliest portions of a series, can generally be ascribed to the evolution of an artist’s skill over time; once coupled with an understandable desire to exhibit the prettiest picture possible on the cover, a slightly deceptive product can easily find its way to store shelves.
Luckily, manga-ka (read: manga creator) Kenichi Sonoda had already honed his recognizable style during years of working on various animated projects. From page one, Gunsmith Cats Revised Edition Volume 1 showcases art befitting the talents of a professional.
Besides owning a somewhat enhanced bust as this volume’s toffee skinned cover girl, Rally Vincent sports an identical appearance throughout the book—testament to the solid artwork encompassing the series. Characters’ designs remain spot-on during their adventures about Sonoda’s sprawling black & white metropolis, where the detail lavished on every panel and his understanding of perspective create an urban sprawl that jumps off each page. Muscled thugs stalking mean streets, fast cars, pretty girls, and enough munitions to equip a personal army proliferate, with the author’s undeniable interest in classic cars and firearms blatantly displayed by the absolute precision he puts into his illustrations, at times appearing more like photocopies than hand drawn renderings. Only occasionally compromising the tight artistic consistency is a sloppy face or disproportioned body—symptoms more likely of the strict deadline demands on manga creators rather than a result of neophyte endeavors.
Originally published in a left-to-right Western format and harboring some visual censorship, these new editions correct matters, returning the series to its right-to-left reading orientation with completely uncensored artwork. Prospective buyers offended by adult themes take note: Volume One contains several instances of frontal nudity and features a minor engaged in strong sexual situations.
Gunsmith Cats epitomized what in the 1980s and early ‘90s was the stereotypical US description of the manga style: simplistic, yet attractive characters set against highly detailed backdrops, with clean shading and lots of speed lines. While the industry’s growth over the last several years has helped Americans cultivate a more extensive manga palate, Sonoda’s art remains engaging as it was back when the series first hit in 1991, with only wardrobe choices acting as telltale signs of the manga’s age.
Complimenting its retro attire, dialogue in Gunsmith Cats also feels a bit archaic in spots, although lines like “crazy dame” and talking about a girl having “cojones” are hardly representative of American vernacular from when the manga was first published. Whether such hokey discourse is a product of Sonoda’s possibly skewed vision of the US or a relic of odd translation work, I’m unable to say; regardless, readers should expect to sporadically get stopped in their tracks by a few clunky linguistic speed bumps.
With this Revised Edition, Dark Horse has again seen fit to mend certain portions of the text intentionally changed for the series’ original release. Mostly, these minor tweaks will only be spotted by those willing to take a fine-toothed comb over the book; the one glaring fix worth mentioning in Volume One concerns the age adjustment for the character Minnie May who—previously ripened to the legal standing of 18—is now back to her 17 year old self.
As a whole, the book reads smoothly and without issue. Most Japanese sound effects have English translations listed near them, but as was common when the series was first published, these translations can be rather large in an attempt to mimic the original Japanese graphic. While they’re nothing horribly distracting, the English sound fonts do periodically cover portions of art that otherwise would exist clutter free.
Welcome to early ‘90s Chicago, Illinois, where 19 year old Rally Vincent, a “crazy dame” with a ton of “cojones,” runs a tidy, unsuspecting gun shop. Selling bullets and altering pistols might be the day job, but her real source of income is bounty hunting. And she’s one of the best. Together with her sidekick/business partner “Minnie” May Hopkins, a deceptively childish looking explosives expert, she tackles Chicago’s mean streets, tracking down everyone from drug pushers to stone cold killers.
Point of entry for this manga is the case that persuades Rally to finally make May an official business partner, touchingly capped by a scene of the girls adding “S” to the end of the store’s sign, changing the name to “Gunsmith Cats.” Readers should prepare to hit the ground running with Revised Edition Volume 1—Rally’s already a well established business owner and bail agent who’s been teaching the trade to her diminutive protégé, May Hopkins. Eschewing lengthy introductions and excessive concept building to focus on the girl’s current life as active bounty hunters, these first 16 chapters are still immediately accessible, even without any major background material buffering the story. May does get a bit of light shed on her past thanks to a storyline reuniting the spunky bomber with her mentor and longtime love, though for the most part this volume is comprised of several loosely nit episodes used to introduce the cast and develop the world they inhabit.
Nabbing the highest page count are two separate criminal entanglements, the first kicked off when Rally inadvertently becomes involved with a nasty duo going by the names Bonnie and Clyde. The second lengthier pieces deals with Grey, a major drug lord using bombs to extort money from the city. Ample gun slinging, severed limbs, and high-speed car chases drive the various proceedings, but what binds these episodes together is the focus on Rally and May’s relationship, two young, parentless girls making a living off a job usually associated with rugged, burly men. No matter how cool the action sequences become, they never captivate like the energy flowing between the two female protagonists; even when merely bickering, their unique bond is what makes Gunsmith Cats such an enjoyable read.
We too often forget how rapidly time passes, until we’re blasted in the face by a pair of eternal darlings, looking fine as the first time they crossed our path. Reading Gunsmith Cats Revised Edition Volume 1, when scant feet away the same materials lives in both pamphlet and graphic novel form in a ever-so-perceptively yellowed comic book box, was a familiar—if not slightly bittersweet—treat, especially since I haven’t tripped through these early chapters in quite a few years.
Gunsmith Cats reminds me of why I became such an enthusiast of Japanese comics, back when strolling into my local comic shop on a new-arrival Wednesday meant riffling through an endless hoard of cookie cutter, spandex-clad clowns and a new breed of mainstream-independent books graced with copycat blood-soaked covers. In that post “Death of Superman” world, there weren’t many titles to be found like Gunsmith Cats, featuring strong female leads in a delightfully smart action story, minus the senseless carnage pervading many comics of the day.
The manga isn’t perfect, by any means. At inception, its female Starsky and Hutch exist in a 1990s seemingly envisioned by someone living in the ‘80s, with clothes, dialogue, and random graphic accoutrements creating a universe slightly off-kilter. Most Americans, in particular anyone who’s ever lived in a major city, traveled the broken sidewalks, waded through the constant current of human flesh, and learned to coexist with the eternal layer of grime clinging to every single surface and building, will immediately notice how ridiculously sterile Chicago looks as drawn by Sonoda—though I’d think some, like myself, will get little rush from seeing their own society depicted through a foreigner’s cultural filter. Even visually, the usually tight flow catches a hitch now and then, with scenes abruptly shifting or ending too quickly.
If we break Gunsmith Cats down into pieces, there’s nothing exceptional about its individual ingredients, but stew everything together and you have an intelligent manga with a lot of heart. Slipping into Rally and May’s bounty hunting existence and following the two brash, ballsy females as they shoot, explode, and speed through their dangerous escapades is legitimate fun, the kind that keeps you reading even when the violent-red numbers on your alarm clock scream, “Go to bed!” Best of all, the stories never feel overly forced—events progress logically from one instance to the next, as characters show natural reactions and make plausible decisions. Sonoda certainly entreats us to suspend a bit of disbelief for his youthful crime fighters and their flawless ballistic skills, such necessary artifice being a small price in exchange for capital entertainment.
Having the entire first Gunsmith Cats series collected across four easy to obtain volumes is merely icing on the cake. The Revised Edition books give new readers an optimal version of the series to collect, while the uncensored art, fixed text, and original page orientation severs as a worthwhile impetus for longtime fans to double dip. Though its modern setting dates the first volume, readers would do well to look past this inevitability, as Gunsmith Cats is a superb series worthy of just about anyone’s collection.
Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Dark Horse
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Gunsmith Cats Revised