Doing my best to get things back on track with another post, this time about one of my favorite anime/mangas, No Guns Life.
No Guns Life is a cybernoir manga that ran from 2014-2021. It was written and drawn by Tasuku Karasuma and adapted into an anime starting in 2019, with two seasons so far (not sure if there will be a third season at this point, though if I could wave my personal magic wand, they would do the whole thing). The series follows the adventures of Juzo Inui, an extended resolver who, as his title suggests, resolves issues with extendeds, or people who have had their normal human abilities “extended” via cybernetic implants. Secondary characters include his engineer Mary, who keeps him in top shape; his sidekick/partner Tetsuro, who has a much sought-after ability known as Harmony that can remotely take over extended implants; Olivier, a high-ranking official in the EMS (a governmental group that deals with extended); Kronen, an extended-hating, law-loving subordinate to Olivier; and, one of my personal favorites, Lefty, a cybernetic hand that looks like the cutest mouse you’ve ever seen. There are a bunch of others (Victor, Rinko, Christina, Wurzel, Scarlett, etc.) of course, but I’ll leave off there for now. The series’ central conflict revolves around Juzo’s ongoing troubles with Beruhen, the shady company that spearheads much of extension technology, though it also deals with Juzo reconciling with his own past. As an important side note which will come up later, Juzo became an over-extended (weaponized) “Gun Slave Unit” in the war that preceded the beginning of the series, but has since been set free from his position as “tool” to make a life for himself, with much of his character direction centering around this change. He doesn’t remember anything about himself from before the procedure that made him what he is now. Also, his head is literally a gun.
Also also, the opening song is a banger.
So, since this post is going to be long, I’ll try to keep things a little short here in saying that what I love about this series is, generally speaking, everything. In the interest of focus though, here are some highlights.
- Juzo. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m an absolute sucker for cool things, and if you’re looking for a cool guy, look no further than Juzo Inui. He’s got a cool coat, his face is a gun, he smokes (kids, don’t smoke; also, way less cool in real life), he’s strong and powerful, he basically bleeds coolness out of his very pores, he’s got a mysterious background, and, even though he’d probably rather not, he could also completely heck you up in a fight. If that’s not top-tier coolness, I don’t know what is. He’s also almost like an anti-Bond with women, in that he’s super awkward with them, including the somewhat frequent advances of the various women around him, which is both adorable and a relief for someone who can find that kind of thing super tedious and annoying. Huzzah.
- Mary. As mentioned above, Mary is Juzo’s engineer. She’s mumble-mumble-teen to twenty-mumble-something years old, but runs a tight ship where she competently dresses up extendeds and humans alike. And really, she’s the full package. She’s savvy, smart, and sassy, but not without feeling. She’s practical, thinks through and addresses her problems in a reasonable manner, and, most importantly, is well written. Given the setting and genre, one might easily expect the women in this series to fall into tropey, big-boobed, lusty nonsense. But not so. Mary (and Olivier) are smart, competent women who get the job done, and I love both of them for it. Also, Mary’s snark is the best. This is a hill I will die on.
- Tetsuro. Rounding out the trifecta of classic instant approval from Abby characters, we have Tetsuro. I’ll keep things brief here, but in sum, he’s the fiesty, good-hearted kid who instigates change. He brings out a lot in others, which is fun to see. Also, his character design is rad, making him a treat to see every time he’s onscreen (I mean, he carries a severed robot head on his hip for the first half of the series. What’s not to love?).
- The world. The world Karasuma has created is awesome. From the cybernoir genre fusion to the character designs and history, the various factions at play, and technological advances, and more, the series is a winner. The very premise of the series opens it up for a lot of excellent locations (ex: the mafia black market Kyusei pit and extended prison Wunder Bender), factions (mostly strung out along the spectrum of the cybernetic moral and ethical debate), character designs, and more, with the cyber part elevating and re-imagining all of the tropes one might normally expect and the grittier noir and post-war elements helping to keep it grounded and realistic enough to not be outlandish.
- Cover art. I’ve got a ton of other great things I could say about this series, but as I don’t want to write a novel here, I’ll rein myself in. That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely gorgeous manga covers, whose bright pops of colors, stark white space contrasts, and epic poses really make them standout volumes. The addition of color also makes the characters really pop and come to life, which is a real treat for loyal readers. I’d include a picture here, but as the lighting wouldn’t do them justice, just go look it up.
Despite my gushing above, even I will admit that this series, like everything else in this world, is not without fault. Though I can gloss over a lot for the things I love, a few that stick out to me include:
- Hit or miss characters or arcs. As with anything this episodic, there are going to be a few things that don’t hit the mark for every reader. For me, those include early Pepper, Colt, the creepy eye guy, and Valentine (who feels a little underutilized, to be honest, at least as far in as I am).
- Confusing panels. Given the unconventional or variable anatomy of certain characters, it can sometimes be a little hard to follow certain panels, particularly in fight scenes. There are a few speech bubbles that are a little weirdly placed too, though those are usually traceable in the end. Finally, there are also occasional panels with overlapping art which, while I think it would look rad in color, are a little hard to parse without.
- Variable character design. While in general the character designs are great, there are a few that, most likely purposefully so, are a little uncomfortable to look at for their body horror (I’m looking at you, Ende), and one in particular that really just jumps the shark for its silliness (I’m looking at you, leveled-up Seven). It’s not horrible since they’re often meant to look upsetting, but it’s also not my favorite to look at. Shrug.
- Missed opportunities. There are a few times (particularly later in the series) where certain locations, characters, or scenarios seem a little rushed or truncated. I noticed this a lot with Wunder Bender and Valentine in particular, though the first fight with Io had similar vibes. Given how much I love the story and characters, I would love to have seen some of the scenarios they find themselves in stretched out a little more, or at least to get more information about how the characters were responding to them, but of course, publications always have their deadlines and limits, so who knows if that was an author choice or a publisher one.
The secret sauce
As I was preparing this blog post, I was trying to decide what it is about this show that makes it so special for me. Problematically, however, I realized it wasn’t just one thing. While some secret sauces shine because of one trick ingredient or method, others shine by the well executed blending of various spices and flavors. That’s what this show is to me. It’s got gritty action but also humor. It’s got high drama and epic poses, but also heart and simple pleasures. It’s got sexiness without the sex, grit without the grim dark, and enough epicness and humor thrown in to always keep things pleasurable. As I recently told a friend, to me, it’s like comfort food. Safe, beloved, rewatch- and readable, and perfect to enjoy almost any time. That being said, as I hope that this blog can offer semi-teachable moments when it comes to featured stories, I figured I would take this space to point out two unique elements where I think the show really excels.
The first is in how the series handles tropes. Because let’s be honest, the series is chock full of them, from bachelor detective (and amnesiac protagonist) Inui to competent woman in a world of dangerous men Mary, scrappy idealist Tetsuro, airhead Scarlett, evil corporation Behuren, etc., etc., and that’s not even including the various gang members, Femme Fatales, and other on-the-surface cookie-cutter characters the main crew encounter. One of the earlier arcs even has a haunted house.
Where the series really shines, however, is in what it does with them. For example, while Juzo plays the classic noir hero in a lot of ways, the cyber setting puts a twist on things. His need for cigarettes is not driven by a need to look cool or the social norms of the day, but by his backstory and an inherent physical need. Olivier, who at first glance looks like just another Femme Fatale or booby sidekick to the protagonist, is a smart, competent, government official who regularly outsmarts the machinations of her superiors and is in charge for all the right reasons. Even the “ghost” of the haunted house introduces a pleasant twist. It’s great.
The other thing I wanted to point out is how they handle Juzo’s power. Now, as fans of Naruto, Dragon Ball, My Hero Academia, or any other number of shonen (heavily action-based mangas and animes typically targeted towards boys and young men) manga can tell you, one of the biggest problems that storytellers in this genre can face is how to handle power escalation. If you’ve got a hero that can punch a grizzly into space in episode one, well, where do you go from there? Ten grizzlies? A bigger grizzly? Punching them out of the solar system? It’s a problem that’s been handled in a variety of ways, but I think No Guns Life has some of the most skillful approaches to it that I’ve seen. Why? Well, because despite the fact that Juzo probably could punch a bear into space, most of the time, he doesn’t want to. As an over-extended (and therefore illegal entity unless he can maintain his licensed status), he doesn’t go around busting through walls when he doesn’t have to. Likewise, there are several physical restraints that restrict the characters, like sub-brains that can overheat or pain limits that can get surpassed with overuse. In some arcs, Juzo is physically injured or the tech he has available fluxes. In others, the need to protect friends or civilians comes into play. Remote control distances and technology also play a factor. The result is a character who, despite being able to physically tear Beruhen down with his bare hands, is smart and wise enough not to do so, allowing for a slow reveal of his abilities and varying levels of tension, action, and aptitude throughout the story. It’s a smart approach that colors the various epic panels and scenes with a depth and variety of emotion that the usual “just get stronger” approach doesn’t allow for, and I love it.
Anyway, if you’ve gotten this far, congratulations, and thanks for being a trooper. I’ve got a lot more writing to do, but I’ll talk to you all soon.
So, what about you? Have you seen or read No Guns Life? Like the theme song? What are some examples of genre fusions, well-done tropes, or over-powered characters that you’ve liked in the past? Let me know in the comments below (make sure to exit mobile-only mode on your phone if you can’t see them) and make sure to sign up for my newsletter to stay tuned for new posts.