The long hiatus is over ... was it worth the wait?
Writer/Artist: Kenichi Sonoda
Translation: Studio Cutie
Adaptation: Studio Cutie
What They Say
Back from hiatus, the long-awaited return of Gunsmith Cats continues in this fourth exciting volume! The road race may be canceled, but the gunplay continues, with our girls Rally and Minnie-May in the middle as usual. The bounty hunters and the rest of the Gunsmith Cats gang are in for lots more action as Kenichi Sonoda keeps bringing the goods in the book where T&A stands for triggers and ammo!
When the fourth volume of Gunsmith Cats: Burst arrived in the mail after an almost two-year hiatus since Volume 3, I wasn't completely sure whether I was looking forward to it or not. Gunsmith Cats: Burst was one of the very first things I reviewed for Anime on DVD, having somehow missed its predecessor series despite its apparent role as a staple of American anime and manga fandom during the late 90s. (Well, that's not completely true: during my days as an undergraduate, I walked in late to my university's anime club while they were screening the Gunsmith Cats OVA, catching the last episode or so. I wasn't impressed.) Despite high expectations for the manga, I had about the same tepid reaction to those first three volumes of Gunsmith Cats: Burst as I did to that last chunk of the Gunsmith Cats OVA; it was entertaining in spots, but not nearly enough to make me understand why American fans had placed the franchise on such a high pedestal. The intervening years as a manga reviewer have exposed me to things that I wouldn't normally have sought out on my own -- in many ways leaving me a much more cynical reader, but in some ways leaving me more open to genres I wouldn't have given much consideration before. So with the long gap between volumes in this series, I decided to take the fourth volume as an opportunity to reread all four volumes back-to-back, hoping to get a fresh perspective on the series.
Surprisingly, my "new" take on Gunsmith Cats: Burst is about the same as my first impression: although it can be a fun read when it doesn't take itself too seriously, it suffers from long stretches where Sonoda uses gun minutia, cars, or girls to try to cover up lulls in the narrative. I bring this up because Volume 4 is, in many ways, the epitome of the series's strengths and faults; I found the first half difficult to wade through but flew through the faster-paced second act in one sitting.
A lot of this comes from the fact that this volume acts as a long (arguably too long) transition between two story arcs with minimal plot connections. The first couple of chapters are dedicated to wrapping up the street race plot thread started last volume (and, in fact, most of the things Rally has been involved in up to this point in the series). Even at just two chapters, the closure feels like it drags on for much longer; there's also a lingering sense of finality that doesn't feel right coming in the middle of a volume, making me wonder if Sonoda had planned to use these chapters as a coda to the series before changing his mind and starting it back up. The out-of-place feeling certainly isn't helped by an awkward Tarantino-esque obsession with old movies that pops up out of nowhere in the second chapter before vanishing just as quickly.
After this odd wind-down, the remainder of the book is spent with Vincent and Misty getting into -- and subsequently shooting their way out of -- a situation where they both get kidnapped by a reintroduced villain from the original Gunsmith Cats series. (In the interest of not spoiling things for readers, I won't name the villain here.) Sonoda frankly spends too long setting up the convoluted scenario under which Vincent has to break into the villain's hideout with their permission; coming right after those wrap-up chapters, the slow uptake here is near-fatal.
Once things are finally set up, though, the shootout sequence that follows is a major improvement. Despite taking up nearly half the pagecount, the shootout features taut pacing set against excellent fight choreography. Sonoda's obsession with weapons -- and the fact that he doesn't shy away from adding blood where it's needed -- pays off big time, giving the action a visceral punch that so many other series never seem to pull off quite right. Again, the wrap-up at the end seems a little too neat for its own good (though it's fortunately much shorter); nevertheless, on the whole, the arc started being solidly entertaining once the first bullets started flying.
Gunsmith Cats: Burst seems to be another victim of the unspoken law that manga artists can apparently master either story development or action sequences but not both at the same time. The downtime here as Sonada switches between story arcs underscores how ham-fisted the writing can get when everyone's guns are holstered. The eventual payoff, of course, is great fun, but if not for my review I probably would've chucked the book away out of frustration before I got to that point.