Nowadays we tend to see a lot of anime series not get a proper ending after a one or two cour run. This can be mostly chalked up to anime being really expensive to make and it just not being worth the time and money spent on a full adaptation versus a shorter series that serves more as an appetizer for the manga or light novel or what-have-you. There might also be the, albeit rarer, case of anime original series that start and are never given a proper ending for various reasons.
Early Reins takes the best of both of these worlds and is a 2003 anime original OVA that serves as an appetizer to something bigger that doesn't exist and doesn't really get a proper ending. Lovely.
The anime stars a cast of six beautiful women on a train in the good old days of the wild, wild west. Sadly, the anime never really gets a chance to expand on the character of more than about two of these women, them being the eye-patched Lola and the sheriff-in-training Margaret. The other four get baseline personalities and never really do anything to stand out on their own. I'm pretty confused as to why the anime even chose to have such a large cast for such a short story in the first place. I guess having more good looking women on the cover would increase sales? That would be the only reason I can think of since besides Eyepatch and Margaret they don't really do much except shoot some guys in an admittedly pretty cool scene, but I'll get to that later.
Getting back on track, as far as the characters are concerned the anime is about Margaret's growth as a sheriff and her rising to the occasion of defending her train along with veteran cowboy Lola. Owing once more to the short runtime the growth is also handled rather haphazardly, but it's a genuinely good effort and I can't say I didn't get at least somewhat attached to Margaret by the end.
Well, I may have gotten even more attached if the dubs voice acting didn't sound so unintentionally funny and forced. Pretty much every actor in the show tries to pull a hard southern accent, some with more success than the others. Margaret and Eyepatch, the two characters with the most lines are fairly alright in that regard since their actors don't try way too hard, but oh dear god do some of the other characters sound ridiculous. I especially would like to point out Mona Marshall's portrayal of a rancher girl that sounds as if someone is constantly strangling her. Well, at the very least the dub's at least hilariously bad instead of being just bad or downright insulting to the ears.
And speaking of things that are not bad: the story is actually surprisingly fun. It's a pretty simple train robbery scenario that gets played out over the entire forty minute runtime, but it has enough bits and bobs here and there to at least be fun. If you expecting anything more thought provoking than some good old wild west shootin' then you're out of luck. Even though the anime tries to pull a plot twist near the end, it really doesn't come as any surprise and it's solved about as quickly as it comes up. And, speaking of the ending, it teases a future story that never came into fruition which actually makes me kind of disappointed because I would love to see what they could do with this setting if the got more time.
Where the real fun lies is in the creative ways in which the anime lets the girls shoot people. Ok, maybe creative is an overstatement, but it's still quite fun watching a group of horseback riders get mown down by a rich girl turning the crank on a gatling gun from a train. It's just about as fun as all the more controlled shoot-outs that happen throughout the anime that get solved in one well placed shot and possibly a Max Payne-style jump to the side. It's all great fun and it's really what makes the anime somewhat good. There's not a moment of boredom during the entire thing and the pacing is quite fast chugging along from action scene to action scene lest you get bored by the unimportant plot and occasionally nonsensical dialogue.
However, I will concede that the action is nothing outstanding and that it's only really fun the first time since there's not a whole lot of creativity put into it. Even the animation can be rather stiff at times and it generally never looks as good as it could be. There's even quite a bit of CG used to make birds-eye view shots of the train and some of the buildings in the beginning. The CG really doesn't look bad, it's just that it's clearly noticeable which shouldn't be the case. Compound that with the lackluster animation and the only thing that sticks out for this anime design-wise are the character designs which integrate your usual pretty anime girls into the western atmosphere quite well, and the western setting itself which not many anime have. It's too bad that the setting is wasted on such a short romp through it. I still pine for the day when I will see a truly great anime with a pure wild west setting.
To end it all off, Early Reins is a very okay attempt to make a short western anime. It's got fun shoot-outs, some fun characters and a forgettable story. It's held back by shaky production and some poor decision-making like trying to have way more characters than they knew what to do with. If you have forty minutes to spare and want something quick to hold your attention or you want to see what an anime with a wild west setting might look like then I recommend you give it a watch. Though the English dub isn't anything I would call good or even passable so I'd suggest watching it subtitled. Then again, the hilariously botched southern accents were kind of fun to listen to.
Thanks for reading and I'll see y'all around.