A man with a burning desire for vengeance in his heart and a girl driven by a want to see her brother meet in a doomed town. Their fates are inextricably intertwined in this tale at the bottom of the universe. Here on The Endless Illusion where fighting never ends, will they be able to fulfill their dreams?
Gun x Sword is the weirdly named studio AIC A.S.T.A's attempt at creating a western-themed sci-fi show in the vein of shows like Cowboy Bebop. Just like Cowboy Bebop, this is an episodic show where our main team consisting of a mysterious cool-guy and his entourage wander around meeting new people in different places all while tying together an overarching plot.
Unlike Cowboy Bebop the show takes place on a single planet rather than all of space and instead of the occasional spaceship battle we get to see mechs duking it out in almost every episode. The show really likes its mech battles.
The show's plot is quite loose in the beginning as we see our dynamic duo of Van the Nice Guy and Wendy search the planet in hopes of finding clues about the mysterious Claw. As the show draws to a close the plot tightens more and more ultimately culminating in a final arc consisting of several close-linked episodes. On the surface that seems fine, except that Gun x Sword fumbles in the execution of its more episodic stories. Basically, everything returns to the status quo. Everything. Actions, character development, anything that mattered is reset creating a feeling of pointlessness to the early arcs.
To illustrate this: there's a two episode mini-arc around the middle of the show where after getting defeated once by an enemy Daybreak Van has to come to terms with his past in order to be able to concentrate on the present and beat the enemy. So he does. He makes peace with the past and seemingly opens up a bit more as a character, but after the episode is over he returns to being the exact same person he was before.
But this is only an issue before the few episodes come around and the writers remember that they're supposed to be writing a continuous story so they actually write a whole bunch of character development into the seven or so episodes that make up the final arc. But even if the problem of lackluster progression eventually fixed itself it was too little too late and I was already left, for most of the show, with a feeling of emptiness and futility.
The characters in the show suffer, as mentioned above, from not really progressing too much. So we're left with most characters being the same at the end as they were in the beginning even though they were major players. Most of the characters, however, are also rather poorly executed and none are a better example than Pretty Boy Van himself.
The show portrays him at first as this mysterious drifter on a solitary quest to kill the man who took his fiance away. This portrayal of him lasts for pretty much the entire show. He's supposed to be the cool guy who you just take a look at and are filled with awe at how awesome he is. Because of that the show doesn't risk changing him too much over the course of the show. They can't risk opening him up and changing his personality even when they should, because once he loses his aura of mystery he will be less cool and we don't want that, now do we?
This kind of approach works well for characters like Hellsing's Alucard because in Hellsing the focus is not on Alucard and his past. But when Gun x Sword comes along and wants to tell its tale of revenge without ever revealing much about the main character and the way he ticks it just falls flat. I can't sympathise with the man's raison d'etre if I can't sympathise with the man and Van of the Dawn is not human enough for me to be able to do that.
Wendy, our secondary protagonist, fares a bit better. Since she is not burdened by the need to appear cool at all times she does get some actual character development over the course of the entire series. It's nothing major, but she at least feels human. You see her feel all sorts of emotions and get to hear her thoughts clearly so it's hard not to sympathise with her even a little.
The antagonist of the series might be the best written character in the show, because while his henchmen may lack any clear motive or reason for following him (other than indocrination, I guess?), he has reasons for being a bad guy. The Claw or The Comrade as he is known starts the show off by being a shadowy figure that seems only bent on evil, but as the show progresses and we find out more about his motives some might even find themselves sympathising with his cause. The fact that his allies call him Comrade should give you a relatively good indication of the sorts of plans he may have, but needless to say I found his part in the story the most interesting.
Speaking of interesting things, the show contains mech battles. I'm as much of a fan of seeing two mechs fighting but the way the show executes the battles has left me wanting. There's frequent cuts during the battles which sometimes make the action hard to follow. And when you can follow what is happening in lieu of the camera cutting to awkward angles the choreography isn't that great either. None of the fights made me even slightly interested in them.
Lackluster direction and choreography are a part in that but just as much a part is the fact that right from the get-go you know that Invincible Van will never truly lose a battle. No matter how much an enemies armour is hyped up by everyone Steel Van and Dann (Van's Mech) will always pull out a victory. Sometimes it happens when you'd least expect it too. As another example of the rather lackluster direction for the fights most battles end very abruptly and with absolutely no rhyme or reason as to why Dann suddenly gained the upper hand.
The animation is also nothing write home about. The show looks good in general: the backgrounds, character designs, armour designs, colour palletes everything else looks quite good, but when it comes to motion it's pretty standard. There are even bits where cuts are used to save on the animation budget and it's obvious.
So then, I've said almost exclusively bad things about Gun x Sword, but did I enjoy myself with it? Well, surprisingly the answer is yes. It had a couple of really good episodes (like episode 3) and most of the complaints I have with the show are fixed in the final arc. It's also a show that has quite a lot of charm and is somewhat unique in its setting too. Some of the more comedic moments did have me smile on occassion and the interactions between the various characters Hangover Van befriends are fun to watch.
In the end, Gun x Sword is a slightly above average show that could've been way better if it had some better directing. What we got here was enjoyable for me, but I don't think it's anything I will remember much of it now that I am done.