January 30, 2020

No Guns Life

One of the things that anime consistently does well is take an outrageous premise and play it straight but not too seriously. Girls und Panzer posits that high schools engage in war games as an extracurricular activity using real WWII-era tanks. High School Fleet takes the whole concept up a notch with actual warships.

In the case of No Guns Life, the main character is a gun. Or, rather, a big guy with a gun for a head.

No, really.

Back during the last world war, soldiers known as "Extended" were cybernetically enhanced with specific battlefield capabilities. In Inui's case, those enhancement are impossible to ignore. His head was replaced by a revolver. And, yes, his appearance weirds out people who don't know him too. He's a literal "gun for hire."

And yet it works so well the weirdness soon feels right at home.

Although No Guns Life could be easily retconned into the Ghost in the Shell universe and shares several plot points with the Arise series, it is far more a homage to hard-boiled Golden Age noir classics like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep and Detective Bureau 2-3.

"Resolver" Juzo Inui (perfectly voiced by Junichi Suwabe) is a cyberpunk version of Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe, the wry and weary PI. In a dark and gritty world of wise guys and dangerous dames and cops who shoot first and ask questions later, however he shows his cynical side to the world, he'll do the right thing in the end.

Inui's specialty is handling the cases of the Extended. Inui himself is an "Over-Extended," a rare breed of soldier enhanced with deadly weaponry. Besides the gun in his head (which paradoxically requires a third party to fire), he has another embedded in his right hand. His body has accelerated regenerative powers when injured.

One downside of all these enhancements is that he has to chain-smoke a special brand of cigarette to keep his synapses firing in the right order. (Because smoking is what hard-boiled PIs in Golden Age noir films do.)

He needs those synapses working to stay a step ahead of the heavies hired by Berühren Corporation, the biggest supplier of "enhancements," while keeping on good terms with the yakuza-run black market and the State Security Bureau. The latter is run by Olivier Vandeberme, his Lauren Bacall, who sends Inui jobs on the sly.

When she's not busting his chops for breaking the myriad of laws governing the Extended.

Berühren Corporation will do pretty much anything to keep a competitive edge, including experimenting on its own employees and their children. One day a robot shows up in Inui's office with a kid in tow. It turns out that it's the kid who has the robot in tow, and he hires Inui to keep him out of Berühren's clutches.

The kid, Tetsuro Arahabaki, has enhancements that let him to hack into the "sub-brain" of any Extended, making him a valuable property that Berühren wants back now. In a convoluted storyline worthy of Raymond Chandler, Inui finds himself dealing with warring parties above and below the table, each with their own deadly agenda.

Amidst the rampaging robots and shoot-'em-up action sequences, No Guns Life sticks to its pulp fiction roots with intriguing mysteries, a PI willing to pull out the stops to solve the case, and a cast of eccentric side characters to provide the comic relief (when Inui himself isn't cracking wise through a haze of smoke).

I noted above that No Guns Life lives in a similar story universe as Arise and especially the Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell. As such, it's a good guide to what Hollywood gets wrong about the genre, namely the inability to acknowledge its own outrageousness and that pervasive and gloomy air of self-importance.

(Speaking of which, the Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell seems to have relied entirely on Mamoru Oshii's adaptation, which is far more somber than the original manga or the excellent Stand Alone Complex series. The success of Deadpool, by contrast, is certainly due to its gleeful treatment of the material.)

Even though Inui ends up exploring his own past through the cases, they are not about him. The client comes first. The mystery must be solved. And so the season ends with an hugely enjoyable riff on the Golden Age trope of the troubled young heiress that Inui wraps up the just way you'd image Philip Marlowe would.

If Philip Marlowe was a cyborg in a trench coat with a big revolver for a head.

At this point, we've got our Scooby Gang running on all cylinders. Along with "cyborg whisperer" Tetsuro, there's Mary, a cyborg doctor who's set up shop next door, and a wayward droid known as "The Hands." But the story has only gotten started. Thankfully, No Guns Life will return with a two-cour second season starting in April.

Related links

No Guns Life
Arise (NF Fun)
Girls und Panzer
Detective Bureau 2-3

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# posted by Blogger Matthew
1/31/2020 8:17 AM   
Good show.