No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 5)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Not the forward momentum that I was craving, but maybe this is a pause before a push toward the bigger things that must be coming.

The hyper-focus on the old pervert trope seemed to be the No Guns Life fan-service episode – or perhaps a critique of it – but I think it’s also clear that ‘x-ray eyes’ will be back, once he hooks up with Vincent and spills some secrets.

It was good to see Mary get fired up, but the highlight for me was another clue about Juzo’s past. I’m also pleased that the story is now bringing back a few characters that I’ve been curious about too.

Even if this isn’t my fav moment this season, at least the bloody nose exaggeration was funny. (There was also a refreshing change in the colour palette, as the greys and blues dominated the last few eps.)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 4)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Again, I’m doing only a couple of notes for this episode, as I’m juggling a few things at the moment.

First off – I’m pleased to see Juzo has recovered, but it was a fun surprise as to how, and so I feel like there’s a chance our heroes can move forward a bit now. For most of the season so far, the team has been locked into a reactive pattern, as they deal with and learn about important stuff, and stuff I wanted to know too.

But it’s nice to see that other key characters are being drawn back into the picture again, and I wonder how that will play out now that Tetsuro is being (sorta) blackmailed.

Here and there I’m noticing the occasional moment where the CGI jumps out a bit – usually when there’s less shadow to do the work of blending, I guess. And since this is a show I believe I’ll grab on disc one day, I’m curious to compare a few scenes.

Anyway, that’s a bit of an aside – once more, I must ‘suffer’ through an entire week before another episode 😀

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 3)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

More answers revealed this time around, and of course, more questions raised. While we didn’t check-in with Tetsuro at all, there was plenty going on with Juzo and Mary.

And seeing them face off against ‘Victor’ was quite satisfying, plus there’s a little comedic moment that I won’t spoil in there too. At this point, after getting that tiny morsel about Juzo’s past, I’m realising that I probably know more about the back-story of everyone else, so I’m ready for extra details in that department from the next few episodes 😀

What I continue to find (and not enjoy so much) is that even though I think I can comment, in the form of prediction/gut reaction, upon big picture things like ‘pacing’, is that it’s very hard. Ideally, before I attempt a series review of No Guns Life, I’d like to watch the whole thing in a few sittings first.

Glad that it seems Victor will take the role of significant villain (and ally, as it turns out) but when we no doubt visit Tetsuro’s storyline with the next episode, I’m hoping things start to surge forward.

It feels like the audience now has plenty of background, context and understanding around what’s happening and who is responsible for what – and once Mary (or someone else?) fixes up Juzo, I’m hoping it’ll be time to start drawing the main protagonists together!

So, how’s everyone finding the second season so far? (For me, each week certainly gets harder to wait for the next episode :D).

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 2)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Now that the recapping/tiny wrap-up bits from episode 1 are dealt with, it feels like it’s time to move the story along again! (Though right at the beginning, I like that little nod to possible audience impatience with Juzo’s voice-over interruption :D).

A bit more action this time around, and more Juzo – so I’m happy there of course, as he’s still a force no matter his injuries. In fact, I’m hoping he and Mary take a moment for repairs soon.

But since they haven’t, I believe that adds a touch more tension to the upcoming fight between he and Victor. And, like episode one, we’re given a few more answers that lead to more questions. Big questions, especially around Tetsuro, so I’m growing increasingly keen for No Guns Life. In fact, it’s getting harder to wait – part of me wants to ‘save up’ a few episodes so I can watch back-to-back.

One thing I mentioned in the first half of the season, I’m still wanting to get a feel for a ‘main antagonist’. And it’s interesting to speculate upon whether Victor will take that role, since he has a connection to our heroes.

So far, outside of flashback, he’s been shown as ‘unhinged with some cunning’ rather than just being ‘broken + destructive’, so I’m kinda hoping he’ll end up in the ‘main villain’ category or at least in the ‘untrustworthy ally’ basket. I also hope that the plot doesn’t essentially discard him too soon, as there have been a lot of players entering and exiting the stage too quickly… so far.

Further to this, I still don’t quite ‘feel’ Berühren as the villain of the series, even if the corporation clearly must be, based at least on their activities and general stranglehold on the city.

Still, plenty of episodes left to find out!

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 1)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Okay! Into the second half of the series now at last. It’s always tough to wait, but I’d obviously rather have the creators be safe, so in the end it doesn’t matter that the show was delayed, because it’s here now 🙂

This was a great ‘return’ with a focus on intrigue rather than action, and I got an actual answer on a few characters and their threads, one of which had been simply left dangling for a fair few episodes.

Several smaller hints have also been solidified here, and Vincent makes an actual (satisfyingly dramatic) appearance, so that was great. There are also two other characters introduced, and I’m keen for things to tie together to others who haven’t really returned (like Cronen) or other villains.

Still, watching + writing up weekly is fraught with issues for me – in the moment, what I think might be an issue with storytelling or pacing for example, turns out not to be, when things happen in a subsequent (or even the very next) episode.

So I’ll wrap this quickly and say I certainly enjoy the episode, but in the next one I’m looking for a bit more Juzo screentime 🙂

(and very quickly, I think I slightly prefer the older opening/ending songs and sequences).

Black Lagoon (Burakku Ragūn)

Black Lagoon (Burakku Ragūn) 2006

So! I was pretty certain I’d enjoy this going in, and I certainly did, and so thanks to everyone who voted back in April!

I could probably centre most of this review on the OVA in a way (and most of my criticism) but I actually want to stay with the series proper for the most part. All I really knew about Black Lagoon prior to going in was that the setting was non-typical for anime, it was violent and that Revy looked good in shorts. 

Somewhere around here at the Heap I’m sure I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of the ‘girls with guns’ genre, and I like action films and crime shows too, and so Black Lagoon had three ticks right off the bat. The fourth tick was the fact that it featured (on the surface at least) a ‘mismatched crew’ as main characters.

And the series does delve into the related idea of ‘found family’, something I also enjoyed – but the main focus is probably on shooting things. Bars and people mostly – sometimes vehicles too, but if you’ve researched the manga say, then that won’t be a surprise, as you’ll know that Rei Hiroe mentions being influenced by directors like Woo or Tarantino.

Here’s a quick summary from Wikipedia on the premise:

The story follows a team of pirate mercenaries known as the Lagoon Company, that smuggles goods in and around the seas of Southeast Asia in the early to mid 1990s. Their base of operations is located in the fictional harbor city of Roanapur in east Thailand near the border of Cambodia.

And that’s where I think I’ll move to first in this review – the setting.

Seeing Southeast Asia in anime is pretty rare, and obviously I was thrilled watching a show set somewhere other than a school, but also the clear blues and warm colours were so good too. You can almost feel the sun in so many episodes. There’s plenty of green, blue, and other bright colours too, and even night goes for yellows and purples a lot of the time. The city itself becomes an important character, and Rock critiques it in short monologues, while being aware that it affords him a certain amount of freedom too.

On the other hand, the series isn’t a nuanced exploration of another culture; it’s a story about various criminal factions and their competing interests in a fictional city, and one unlucky guy who has to navigate it all.

Black Lagoon is probably closer to a long action movie in some ways – so what you explore instead of another culture, is the lives of criminals and their shoot-outs. I think the rising tension in the pacing (and a focus on increasingly over-the-top action sequences) feeds my impression there, but the characters aren’t just shapes that happen to hold guns either. You will get to know the crew if you watch this, chiefly Rock and Rebecca, and even antagonist Balalaika.

However, I do wish I’d been given the chance to learn more about Dutch and Benny, who eventually became a little side-lined. And okay, I know that we all know that bare skin sells all kinds of media, not just anime, and Rebecca is an interesting character – no arguments there, but just a few more scenes on the background of Dutch and Benny would have been superb. (The manga doubtless does that, but I’ve not read it so I don’t know for sure).

Now, as I sometimes do here, I’m going to switch to dot points in an effort to curtail the length of this review – some of these are probably spoiler-y too:

  • You might like this show if you gravitate toward underdog stories, especially with Rock being sold out hard by his bosses.
  • To stick with Rock a moment, I found it interesting that he’s depicted as kinda disinterred in sex. Clearly, he’s surrounded by women he seems to find attractive but I wonder if his desire to stay in the ‘twilight’ helps keep himself at armslength from the interest he receives. Obvious counters to this could be Yukio or the possible implications in the OVA about him and a certain someone else… but I’m not sure.
  • The piece of music for the ending (and the footsteps) is really sinister.
  • Shenhua stood out because again, South East Asia in anime feels rare to me, and to see a Taiwanese character was great. She’s incredibly shrill, but setting that choice by the director or voice actress aside, I thought it was interesting that identity issues weren’t glossed over – you can see it play out a little between her and Revy in their back-and-forth.
  • Ginji needs a prequel series!
  • Seriously.
  • He does.
  • It was excellent to remember a time (via the U-boat arc) where neo-nazis were seen as actual villains, rather than described in some mealy-mouthed euphemism like ‘alt-right’.
  • The evil kids cliche + incest storyline felt a little off here, mostly because it occurs within the confines of a ‘shoot ‘em up’ basically, with no real time spent dealing with the horror the characters must have been put through prior to their appearance in the episodes.
  • Being an action/crime series, there are plenty of great action sequences, and even a few moments of humour here and there, but one of my favs actually comes from the OVA, where the intercutting POV shots and wider ones feel really fluid (during a scene in the The Yellow Flag with Fabiola).
  • Having talked a lot about the action, I want to quickly mention that the best moment for me is when Rock finally stands up to Revy and all her grandstanding bullshit. Close seconds probably occur more than once in the Yakuza arc.
  • And finally, Megumi Toyoguchi (who plays Revy) does an ace job with the whole ‘dead inside’ vocal performance, a sharp contrast from say, her work as Winry in FMA.

Onward quickly now to Roberta’s Bloodtrail, the OVA series that aired a few years after the second season of Black Lagoon.

So, the main series definitely has an ending, and plenty of chances to imagine ‘what happens next’, but ‘…Bloodtrail’ carries things on nicely. However, it once again sidelines Dutch and Benny for the most part.

The OVA is just as fast-paced and action-heavy as the main seasons too, but things are dialled up – from both violence to fan service and sexual violence too, so maybe take note if you were already on the fence about this show.

Roberta doesn’t get to be much of a character here, which is a bit of a shame, she’s mostly a Terminator instead. On the other hand, she actually takes some damage. I found that interesting, as if the nod to realism was almost ‘pushing back’ against a precedent Black Lagoon had set, where a character slices bullets in half with a katana for instance, and the focus is on stylish cinematic violence.

Reading around other reviews and comments, I see some folks didn’t like Rock’s development in the OVA and I am 50/50 on that myself. I think it’s more than reasonable that he’d be influenced by the villainy around him, but I wonder if the transition was handled a little bluntly onscreen?

I also wonder whether Balalaika almost became a little cartoonish for a moment (in episode 4 I think it was), but all in all I think the OVA is definitely worth watching if you enjoyed the regular seasons. It was interesting to see whether Rock’s gamble would pay off, and by the ending you’re left thinking he only got half a victory in some ways, perhaps a little more realism creeping in?

4 Stars

Gunsmith Cats: Bulletproof

Gunsmith Cats: Bulletproof 1995

Gunsmith Cats maybe still holds that ‘cult’ status now, even after the internet has no doubt introduced more folks to this mid-90s OVA. (So too, the Kickstarter campaign that funded a re-issue a few years back now.)

I love so much about this series but I’m torn when it comes to rating Gunsmith Cats.

And my main concern with the show is obviously Minnie May. I understand in the English language versions she is meant to be (technically) an adult and while she acts like one in some ways, she sure looks like a kid and so it’s creepy. In the manga, it’s worse than creepy.

So I can’t say this is a five-star work of art – even if the art and animation can be top notch, especially that car chase.

Obviously, if you’re a fan you’ll know that Gunsmith Cats and Riding Bean have a clear connection but I think the appeal of the show is the action rather than its links, especially the vehicles, guns and the way they’re both animated. I’m not one to rhapsodise over guns at all but the attention to detail throughout is undeniable.

The same goes for the cars – Rally’s Cobra is pretty amazing.

But not all of the action sequences are based on the road – there are a few tense moments indoors too, often fed by that classic action convention of ‘who can the good guys trust?’. If you like the type of US-style action films that bring stuff like Lethal Weapon to mind, there’s a good chance you could enjoy this despite the loli crap.

I’ve always found the story engaging and one of the antagonists is something a little different in some ways, yet so clearly ‘action film’ in others. It can be fun to spot those moments, and in terms of spotting things – it’s also clear that care was put into the setting too. Production teams spent a bit of time in Chicago and so what I imagine are a few key tourist spots or buildings pop up during the three episodes.

Ultimately, I think this is a key text in the ‘girls with guns’ sub-genre but it’s definitely not without an unpleasant flaw.

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (6)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2019

And now to the final in a series of ‘not an episode review’ posts – this time it’s episodes 11 and 12:

First thing I noticed was that perhaps this mid-point doesn’t have a really big cliffhanger to tide everyone over until April – but it still has me curious and maybe the fight will now be taken to Berühren? (Okay, that was actually the second – the first was that Pepper is extremely stable and regular :D).

Hoping so! I’m assuming also that Rosa will soon join the team.

So far I’ve been critical of certain threads feeling abandoned, and a reluctance from the story to give us a main, memorable villain rather than keeping it only as an Evil Corporation. None of the antagonists thus far seem impressive enough to be a mastermind; they all seem to be minions. However, at this point, there’s plenty of time and I remain plenty curious about how everything will go.

It’ll be tough to wait for the series to start up again but I’ll be there as I’m still enjoying the intrigue and the aesthetic, though I’d love a little more narration from Juzo to keep that noir/detective feel front and centre 🙂

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (5)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2019

Fifth in a series of ‘not an episode review’ posts – this time it’s episodes 9 and 10:

So far there’s been zero follow-up on Olivier and so I’m not sure what the show wants us to assume about her at this point, and the Colt storyline was still engaging to me but I’m hoping some of the bigger players start moving more visibly soon.

I’m finding it hard to keep some threads in mind as I watch each new episode, because sometimes it’s two weeks between viewing for me, so when I say now that I wonder if the storytelling is beginning to feel a bit choppy I don’t know how much of that is just me.

Having said that however, I’m excited to see Vincent mentioned in both threads from these two episodes because that might reveal some more pieces and possibly introduce tension between our heroes, or at least give me some much appreciated backstory for either Juzo or (more) for Mary.

As ever, I’m keen for the next episode! No Guns Life is one of only two seasonal shows I’m watching so that somehow keeps me extra-engaged.

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (4)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2019

The fourth of my ‘not an episode review’ posts focusing on this series:

I’ve only seen 1-7 now but the last two episodes definitely upped the ante. Happy to get some backstory for Olivier and also receive a few more answers re: Tindalos too.

Despite the deepening intrigue I think it’s the action that took up the bulk of my attention here, the struggle between Juzo and Mega Armed especially being great stuff – not in the least, when Juzo goes a little berserk there 🙂

I will say that it’s been so long for me between episodes that for a moment I thought Pepper was Karen, but I finally figured it out. That’s hardly a flaw in the show however, as much as the nature of watching something week-to-week and at the same time, watching so many other things. (I also see that Gondry will remain a pawn and that the ‘bigger bad’ is still a corporation rather than an individual.)

Big finish to episode 7 too, perfect cliffhanger really.