Take one shiftless wanderer with a sword on a vendetta. Add in one young, wide-eyed innocent girl to follow him on his travels. Throw in a mix of other eclectic characters, both on his side and against him. Be sure to include mecha – called armor here. Mix well and place it all on a forgotten, semi-desolated world known as Endless Illusion. Let simmer for about 26 episodes and what you end up with is one of the better anime releases in a long time: Gun x Sword.
The wanderer in question is a laconic guy named Van (pronounced like “Vaughn”), who goes everywhere dressed in a beat-up tuxedo and cowboy hat, his hi-tech sword wrapped around his waist until needed – as when he calls down Dann, his armor, from orbit. He seems to care about nearly nothing, traveling with a bored expression, not worrying about his appearance or surroundings, and never remembering any one’s name. The one thing anime fans won’t be able to shake is how much Van is like another fan-favorite: Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop. Give Spike Van’s clothes and they would be identical twins, both in attitude and appearance.
Only two things can bring Van out of his torpor, the first being condiments. Yes, condiments – all of them. Wherever he goes to eat, that’s the first thing he asks for – all the condiments, which he then liberally pours in a soupy mess atop whatever food he’s eating. Only then will you hear him raise his voice with exclamations about his food. (“Spicy!”) The other thing that will get a rise out of Van is the reason for the series: Tracking down a man known as the Claw, who killed Van’s wife. It is Van’s rage for vengeance that leads him through his long journey, and in the course of that journey, he pulls in a wide range of supporting characters.
Seeming to orbit around Van is Wendy, the wide-eyed innocent girl, with her pet turtle Kameo, who hangs like a pendant around her neck. She follows Van from the first episode, dragging her suitcase behind her and carrying her brother’s pistol. She wants to find her brother who disappeared with – and was possibly kidnapped by – the Claw. Other well-drawn characters in the series are Carmen 99 (the nickname she wears with pride due to her 99 cm bust) who is a jaded, sarcastic wheeler dealer, the warriors of El Dorado Five – aging armor pilots who want to relive their glory days, and Priscilla, whose gymnastics with her own armor make her a hit in tournament battles. And even though Van is already somewhat of an antihero, he has a dark mirror in Ray Lundgren, who wants to find the Claw for exactly the same reason Van does. Ray lost his wife as well.
Director Taniguchi not only has a fluid, fun-to-watch style, but loads the series with great little details throughout. Things like when Van calls his armor Dann from orbit, it can be seen to fall onto a different area of the world each time, marking Van’s progress. Or when the female characters go to the women-only ‘Queendom of Missoghi’ (which sounds like the Japanese word for swimsuit), it’s no wonder they get pulled into an over-the-top, slapstick contest to become citizens and have the right to wear a bikini. Sadly the English dub tries to change the place to ‘Boukini’ for an attempt the same joke, even though the city is clearly visible on a map as ‘Missoghi’.
Another lovely detail is in the opening, where characters who we haven’t seen yet are only silhouettes with swirling dark colors, to be filled in as they are revealed in the story. They then go back to black silhouettes as some villains are killed. Also be sure to watch for Van’s ever-changing titles as he gets insulted in one episode then uses the insult in the next. For instance when he’s called a pretty boy from the dump, sure enough in the next adventure Van introduces himself as “Pretty Boy Van from the Garbage Dump.”
The episodes of Gun x Sword vary in content during the quest to find and defeat the Claw and his minions. They include sporadic, silly humor episodes as well as tense and emotional plot revelations. There is also plenty of mecha action and the characters all have enough depth that there’s something for everyone to like. The DVD set also includes an extra disc with 13 ten-minute episodes of Gun x Sword San, a comedy puppet show featuring Wendy and her now-talking turtle Kameo. This series will definitely have strong teen appeal, with many of the characters being in their age group. But there are a few bloody scenes as well as a couple racy moments such as the ‘bikini’ episode and a non-graphic-but-nude sex scene that would make it inappropriate for any but the adult shelf. I can still see teens seeking this one out, as both the concept and the execution of Gun x Sword should make it a popular addition to any library’s collection.
Gun x Sword: the complete series
directed by Goro Taniguchi
650 minutes, Number of Discs: 5, Season set
Company Age Rating: TV-MA