Van, a lanky and apathetic swordsman, is on a journey to kill the murderer of his fiancé. The only characteristic he has to go by is that the murderer has a claw for an arm, hence the murderer being referred to as The Claw Man. During his travels, Van happens to pass through the city of Evergreen, which is defending itself from bandits who aim to rob the city of its treasury. It is in this city that Van meets Wendy Garret, a timid young girl who is looking for her kidnapped brother. When the city pleads for Van's assistance to defend it, he refuses, claiming it has nothing to do with him and thus leaves the city on its own to deal with the peril. Soon after, Van comes across the raiding bandits himself and they eventually tick off the swordsman to a degree where he takes action against them for his own personal vendetta. Surprisingly, Van learns that the bandits had ties with The Claw Man, and in kidnapping Wendy's brother for a reason they did not disclose. After the bandits are dealt with easily, Van and, much to his chagrin, Wendy continue the journey in search of The Claw Man. Little do they know, however, that The Claw Man is involved with something more atrocious than either could fathom.
Gun X Sword... There isn't much about this show that hasn't been done before, but then again you can say that to almost every anime made. So what if the plot is rehashed from many other anime. Anime is just like test driving a new car, "It looks real nice, but how does it drive?" As a matter of fact, it drives REALLY nice.
As i said before this plot has been done at least a good dozen times (in anime AND movies). Hard boiled desperado out to seek revenge for what was lost. Along the way he makes friends and enemies. But happens
to hit a few speed bumps along the way. Doesn't sound like much of a story but in all honesty, it was a fun trip the whole way through, from beginning to end. A good way they managed to keep it fresh throughout was that they managed to parody some classic action scenes straight from Hollywood. The ones that stand out the most are Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and even ROBOT JOX (you might have to IMDb that one). It really made some scenes pretty interesting, especially when you realize how close they actually imitated some scenes from their action movie counterparts.
The art and animation wasn't too spectacular. But as in any mecha anime, you will see all the detail get put in the mechas and the action scenes. They all run so smoothly and blazingly fast. Of course theres the usual cheap action animation but for the most part you'll see the fighters move with accurate fluidity. The character art is very average though, compared to the mechas. Although the art is very average, the settings are varied and vast to say the least. Everything from a barren wasteland, to a lush jungle, to a bustling industrial city are all present here. At first you would think this is a western style anime through and through, but you'll soon realize that is not the case.
Sound (Very Good)
Sound is one thing that is very hard to mess up on and the more sound added to a show the better imo. This show has it in spades. From the environmental sounds, to the flora/fauna/crowds, music and even the voice actors are all there. A wasteland sounds like a wasteland, a large train station sounds like a large train station every environment sounds exactly as it should. The music also sounds like it should, with the exception of the opening theme song. I laughed every time i heard the big band song come on when there was comedy scene. Nothing sounds over used and you'll even hear a few classic movie sounds if you can spot them fast enough.
Now there are a few unique characters in there but for the most part the main/supporting characters are direct ripoffs from other anime either in appearance or personality. Take that as you may but I found it to be a good decision considering how fun this show is to watch. Of course there are a few annoying characters. But overall its a very good cast of characters.
Well once you overcome how insanely plain the plot is and just watch it for what its worth, you'll most likely have a fun viewing experience. Its an audio visual treat!
My expectations were high, looming in orbit alongside the main character's personal mech. However, they soon plummeted to the surface just as quick as a giant robot can fall from the sky--which is to say, rapidly. What I discovered in Gun x Sword was a unique mix of unoriginal ideas with inconsistent tone and pacing, and a seemingly budget production.
The premise looked like it could cater to my very specific mech sensibilities, and I heard its praises from a trusted friend. Early on the show introduced several internal tropes which I eagerly anticipated seeing in each episode. However, after building up my formulaic expectations, it
betrayed them in the most despicable manner possible. I was led to believe that in every episode I would be treated to:
- Vahn summoning his robot from the sky to battle
- Vahn spinning his hat 180° when things get serious, a la Ash Ketchum
- Vahn receiving a new "Vahn of the ____" nickname
- Vahn using all of the condiments (Okay maybe not every episode, but every time he eats)
This falls apart rather quickly, as we're very soon subjected to episodes--get this--with no robots. None. If I had to single out the show's single greatest flaw, this would be it. I can forgive a great many mediocrities in the presence of robots, but the ratio of robot fights to episodes exhibited here is appalling at best.
Watching on Funimation's website, I only had access to the... challenging, shall we say, English dub. Nearly all of the dialogue was awkward and clunky, and while this may be attributed to the script adaptation, I get the feeling that it was bad to begin with. The characters lack subtlety in both their speech and designs. Motivations are either flimsy or absurdly rigid, and I often found myself asking why many of the characters were even present to begin with.
Speaking of characters, I hope you're ready to meet a lot of people that are never important again! Roughly half of the series follows an episodic format, which is not inherently a bad thing, but a disproportionate amount of time is spent developing these one-off characters in an attempt to build tension in each episode. To make matters worse, only a handful of them ever show up again, and when they do it comes seemingly out of nowhere. This misplaced focus left me feeling unattached to the main cast, and when they did take time to develop them, it was done in the most dreary scenarios imaginable (Again, I could stomach all of this if more robots were present).
A solid plot finally begins to emerge somewhere past the half way point, and with it comes some a huge net gain in robots per episode. Additionally, we learn more about the antagonists' plans and motivations in the last quarter of the series. The revelations are genuinely interesting and enhanced the conflict, which leaves me wondering: Where was all of this information early on? If we hadn't spent 13 episodes diddling around with a new person in every town, a truly compelling narrative might have unfolded, with rich characters to be invested in. Hell, if we had that I might even be okay with the exhibited fight to episode ratio.
The music is not all that exciting. In fact, I didn't even notice it most of the time. I had high hopes with Yasuo Uragami as sound director, but it failed to captivate. Admittedly, the opening is energetic and exciting, but I can't say the same for the ending theme. Japanese Tom Petty lackadaisically vocalizing over a horrifically bland instrumental just cemented how bad of a show I was watching at the end of every episode. Sadly, I even found myself agitated by some of the sound design. In an attempt to be either scientifically accurate or frugal, many of the scenes in space contained no sound effects. Even though I prefer space SFX I can appreciate a tilt towards scientific accuracy, but when later episodes fail to display the realistic effects of tidal forces it strikes me as a mismatch. Then again, we're dealing with a mecha series, and I won't even try to science that.
I also found Gun x Sword to be a bit of a challenge visually. A bulk of each episode is spent looking at largely static scenes of dialogue, sometimes rotating the frame, sometimes panning, and sometimes with a digital effect trying to lend some sense of motion, but we're still being shown what feel like colored storyboards. I get that animation money can be tight and sometimes corners must be cut, so I can look past sub-par people animation as long as the robots are good looking. Unfortunately, even a majority of the mech battles just look goofy, with sloppy line art and rigid motion.
What I think would fix all of these problems for me is a hefty dose of merchandising. For the amount that it attempts to deviate from standard mech fare, injecting a bit more product placement (And robots that actually lend themselves to toy production), as well as formulaic fulfillment would not feel out of place.
Unsatisfied with knowing what we're presented with and how I feel about it, I have to take a stab at why this show turned out the way it did. First and foremost, the concept is at least partially--if not wholly--derivative from other popular sci fi anime. It really wants to be one of the great space westerns like Trigun or Bebop, while also appealing to a wide base of mecha otaku and depraved waifu fanatics (Although the line between those two is sometimes hard to draw).
One of the first flags that alerted me to the game they were playing was the inconsistency in cockpit styles present in the series. We're shown everything from traditional seated, to motion capture, Sentai squad control room, and immobile-character-sits-in-front-of-digital-effect-mapping. Between that and the incohesive mech design, it became apparent to me that they were aiming to pay homage to all different styles of mechs throughout history.
This makes much more sense when considering it shares a director with Code Geass in Goro Taniguchi. Both series were an exercise in mecha fantasies and attempted to draw on many disparate anime demographics. Obviously he would be far more successful with Geass, possibly due to the enhanced feminine appeal. While the direction never seemed to bother me in Geass, here the "camera" work often felt flat, and cuts between shots left me disoriented and disconnected from the action. Perhaps I could only hyper focus on the production due to the lack of compelling characters, who knows?
I'm not sure what to make of the writing, because I've never seen anything else scripted by Kurata Hideyuki. Beyond the George Lucas level dialogue (read: awkward, terrible dialogue), I frequently wondered if the show was unaware of how absurd it was or if it was attempting to be cheeky and self aware. The situational comedy was often very contrived, and so my optimistic side hopes it was all done knowingly, but, this guy also wrote OreImo, so make of that what you will.
Part of me would like to chalk up the animation quality to this being a relatively early digital production, but I honestly think most of it was just lackluster line work done when visual assets were created. I also had to wonder exactly who their target demographic was. Obviously male, but what age range? Well given that the time slot was supposedly late at night, it's safe to say this was for the older fellas, which kind of adds insult to injury that they thought developed, adult people would just take this at face value.
So who should watch Gun x Sword? If you're expecting a baseline of robo satisfaction throughout like myself, you will be sorely disappointed. If you're feigning for another space western, are satisfied with intermittent robotics, like revenge stories, or just want something colorful to shut your brain off to, Gun x Sword might be for you.
What happens when you combine Cowboy Bebop and Trigun together but forget everything that made those two special?
The result is Gun X Sword.
Let’s see: it begins with a doomed love story and this story is centered on characters confronting their past (like Cowboy Bebop). It has the main characters aiding people on their journey and the entire series is set on an Earth-like planet with a Wild West feel to it (like Trigun). In essence, Gun X Sword is unoriginal but in this day and age practically every anime title has some aspects that have been employed before. With Gun X Sword, a quality storyline
could’ve materialized with the aforementioned foundation but injecting a mecha element into the mix seriously tampers with an already-fragile framework. With this series directed by Goro Taniguchi, the mastermind lording over the famous Code Geass, it is almost a guarantee that robots would be smashed into this show. Despite the obvious disaster that a Wild West mecha title would be, Gun X Sword might’ve redeemed itself if it had a different protagonist.
You see, the protagonist in an anime series exercises much more power than commanding a legion of action figures and/or body pillows from his or her likeness. A protagonist can single-handedly elevate an otherwise mediocre title into a memorable and worthwhile investment (like in Great Teacher Onizuka). A protagonist, a really well-written one, can transform a quality series into a transcendent title (like in Monster). However, Gun X Sword, seeking the “perfect” poster boy for their series, unfortunately chose Von. He is a complete replica of Spike Spiegel, from his long, lanky frame down to his nonchalant demeanor (Even Von’s actor David Vincent desperately attempts sounding like Steve Blum). It would be acceptable if Von was just another generic, overly cool loner but his entire personality revolves around Gun X Sword’s driving plot (finding a man with a claw for a right hand because he killed Von’s fiancée) and has no other purpose outside of that. Throughout his journey, our frustratingly passive-aggressive protagonist is labeled with a gamut of useless, unessential nicknames from those he encounters (“Garbage Dump Von”, “Pretty Boy Von”, “Nice Guy Von”, “Von of the Dawn”, etc.) that ultimately does little to conceal the fact that Von is but a two-dimensional character. There’s nothing to him besides dousing his food with every condiment imaginable, taking lengthy naps, fighting people with his Armor (That’s what people label “mecha” in this series), and getting pissed at the mention of The Claw. Again, unoriginality isn’t horrible but, if shallow Gary Stus like Von are the result, then I want nothing to do with it.
Even if a series contains a disappointing protagonist, it is usually redeemed thanks to an unforgettable supporting cast (like in Last Exile). That isn’t the case with Gun X Sword. Wendy is arguably the series’ most likable character but even she has her unbearably irritating moments. Wendy has more practical intelligence that virtually everyone else in Gun X Sword but she also has jarring moments of stupidity. Wendy’s character development improves immensely throughout the 26-episode duration of this series but she is often spotted emptily hoping for Von to save the day. Wendy, Gun X Sword’s primary hero, is a character of contradictions. Carmen 99, the Faye to Von’s Spike, is an even less-developed character than Wendy, a fan-service tool with microscopic levels of depth trapped in a forced rivalry with a femme fatale of the worst kind (Carmen’s rival is Fasalina, voiced by Karen Strassman, whose superb acting chops could’ve been better employed than for a role as a shallow ex-prostitute). Despite Gun X Sword’s overwhelming portrayal flaws, they are greatly redeemed through a memorable collection of one-shot characters (from the enigmatic Joe Lutz and the hyperobsessive Driver Twins to the menacing Lucky and even the ever-stylish Kaiji), The Claw (who’s among anime’s most interesting and complex villains), and my favorite character Ray Lundgren (passionately played with a show-stealing performance by the great Liam O’Brien). He serves as an intriguing antihero as well as Von’s antithesis. Ray, this sullen, socially inept loner with poignant flashes of rage, has the most stunning Armor design in the series as well as the show’s most complete character arc. Ultimately, what I don’t understand about Gun X Sword is how it contains a masterpiece like Ray Lundgren and a ditzy one-dimensional nobody like Priscilla (whose lack of attributes I won’t delve into for the sake of your time) in the same cast.
Consistency, or its appalling lack of it, is an issue in Gun X Sword that permeates through every aspect of the show. Most anime titles have a knack for convincingly shifting between light-hearted comedy and ultra-serious drama but, when Gun X Sword attempts to pull this off, it comes across as poorly-planned and awkward. Virtually every episode begins with Jamieson Price’s famously low-toned voice as the Narrator, eloquently establishing the episode’s setting with an overwhelming amount of dry bleakness. Yet, every episode of Gun X Sword, especially the early ones, is littered with tiresome antics and unbearable “witty” one-liners. It’s as if Gun X Sword can’t decide whether to be hilarious or dramatic and this results in the series screwing with its potential. For example, after the magnificently moving episode 16 (literally the only one in the series that I consider flawless), Gun X Sword decides to follow that with the fanservice flop that was episode 17; it was the most pointlessly raunchy spectacle that I’ve ever witnessed. Gun X Sword’s soundtrack sadly does little to elevate this series from mediocricy, as the OST here is serviceable yet forgettable; there’s some jazz here and some folk blues there but the music fails to inspire (excluding hitomi’s relaxing yet emotionally stirring “Paradiso” and Yukino Satsuki’s energetic and climatic “Niji no Kanata”). Oh, and the theme song is simply fantastic; it’s what convinced me to check out Gun X Sword in the first place.
Gun X Sword has evident ties to the shonen genre, with its generic trash-talking and stilted fight scenes betraying itself, but practically every quality shonen knows how to inject depth and dimensions underneath. In Gun X Sword, what’s beneath the surface is a reasonably worthy plot that contains more holes than a tennis racket. In a climatic outer space showdown between Von and Wendy’s brother, there are no sound effects for the Armors’ laser beams. In the series’ third to last episode, Ray reveals that his Armor is the prototype that the Original 7 (a once-great organization created to protect the Earth long ago) based their Armor designs from but that is impossible unless Ray’s fiancée, the one who built his Armor, was secretly an elderly woman. Above all else, Gun X Sword never, ever gave a solid explanation, explicitly or implicitly, for why The Claw murdered the fiancées of Von and Ray. I mean, you can’t conclude a story without addressing why it started, right? Right?
What’s worse about Gun X Sword is that, although it concluded nicely and amusingly, it’s possible for the series finale to have been better executed and the series overall left me to wonder what could’ve been. In the last episode, our heroes converge together and, in the overused situation of a dying planet, they strengthen their resolve through the always-cheesy “power of fwendship”. The show then abruptly cuts to the heroes’ post-victory celebration (Ummm…. what?). When the credits rolled, I started to wonder what Gun X Sword could’ve been if it had a more enjoyable protagonist, if it bothered to explain everything, and if it had more scenes like the one at the end of episode 19 (It was the ultimate tearjerker moment, the most heartbreaking and gutwrenching character death that I’ll ever lay eyes on. That scene is how you make a grown man cry). I know I’ve bashing Gun X Sword for its many faults but what I absolutely cannot deny about this anime is its parody mini-series (only available on DVD). Known as Gun X Sword san, this is an utterly enjoyable experience wrapped in 13 episodes, with four minutes per episode. Gun X Sword san obliterates the fourth wall over and over and over (Its mantra: “This is a kid’s show!”). It pokes fun at otakus, the anime industry, America, and even the governor of Tokyo. Each and every episode discusses or is about something different (There’s even a really off-the-wall whodunit). However, what matters more than the basis of Gun X Sword san is its interesting interpretations of characters from the original series. It is here where the good-natured Wendy is portrayed s a delusional and domineering tyrant with a ridiculous violent streak, where Von, “the coolest guy ever”, is reduced to the show’s primary source of verbal abuse, the butt of everyone’s jokes. Overall, I’d say Gun X Sword san is more entertaining, more enjoyable, more memorable, and is simply all-around greater than the original series. When somebody states that your spinoff series is better by leaps and bounds than the one you’re more invested in, you know you screwed up somewhere. That’s the thing about Gun X Sword; it’s impossible to find a factor in this show that it didn’t completely botch. No wonder barely anyone watches this show.
Gun x Sword is an anime that is rather different from many of its contemporaries, although it has two obvious comparison points: Trigun and Cowboy Bebop, although I feel the Trigun comparison is somewhat misguided, mostly in that their similiairites are something many anime of its style have anyway, like colorful one shots.
Getting into the show itself, the main character is the tall, dark and lanky Van, who travels the world with a single purpose in mind: To kill the mysterious clawed man who took his wife, Elena, from him on his wedding day. Van isn't exactly your average protagonist, as he is quite apathetic,
snarky and not the most sane, with him perfectly willing to let the starter village from the first episode burn since it doesn't concern him at the start. Most of his heroics come from other characters baiting him, being on the job for money or the fact that he DOES have a code of ethics which he adheres to to an extent: Slipping out of that, of course, is when he's at his worst. Van is also rather interesting in that the show doesn't take a generic "vengeance is bad" route and shows it in a far more fascinating manner, and Van's contrast between his normal self and when anything regarding The Claw is near are a highlight of the show.
He is primarily joined by Wendy, the gun to Van's sword, a girl from said village who travels with Van in pursuit of her brother, who has been kidnapped by the very same clawed man. Compared to Van, she is much more optimistic and enthusiastic, but she isn't an overeager kid archetype either and is still rather serious. The two are joined by various characters throughout their journey, but going too far into it would be somewhat spoilers, and many of them do not stay for as long until closer to the end, but they end up for the most part good.
The Claw, naturally, is the main villain of the piece and he is a pretty amazing piece of work: In some ways, he feels like a bit of a deconstruction or different look at the idea of a "sympathetic" antagonist, as many of his actions + his personality are somewhat incongruous and his personality is so far removed from the reality of the situation that he comes across as far more insane than most "crazy" villains you will see in media. It also makes him rather hilarious in many ways and the reveal of who he is has to be seen to be believed. He ends up with a fun and crazy cast of minions and underlings as well, but I will say one of the minor issues with this is that his minions don't all get the development they could use, although the ones that do are pretty great, but there is clear missed potential there.
Although the story starts off with a good deal of one shots, most of them are actually quite good, and the show actually goes on to make almost all of them relevant in some manner, some small and some large, leaving the show with shockingly little filler to its name, and the one shots are almost all enjoyable anyway, many of which with some pretty out there concepts. The show especially picks up after Episode 5, which introduces the rival character Ray Lundgren, who is...a rather hilarious rival archetype really, as his primary rivalry with Van is who will get the last hit on The Claw, as Ray ALSO desires vengeance on The Claw.
Artistically, the show reminds me of old school anime in a lot of respects, and it does have some really good shots at points, but the art can sometimes get a bit underdetailed and I feel like the mecha fights while usually good aren't always the best or most well done. The art is at its best when doing stuff like Van's expressions or the cockpits of the mecha. Musically, though, it is a lot better, with the opening being pretty epic and the ending especially being memorable. The music that plays when Van summons his mecha, Dann, is very nice and it has a smooth and noticeable take throughout.
Overall, Gun x Sword is a pretty good anime with some fascinating takes on the concept of vengeance, especially refreshing in that we don't get a generic "vengeance is bad" aesop, a pretty great hero and villain, plenty of good comedy with a good deal of nice action and a solid if sometimes issued story, and a lot of memorable characters. If you're not convinced yet, I'll leave you all with just three words: Mexican Power Rangers.