Friday, January 12, 2018


Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation: Dana Lewis & Toren Smith | Lettering and Retouch: Studio Cutie

Before we get into the story content of these early GUNSMITH CATS chapters, let’s have a quick dramatis personae:

Rally Vincent*: The main protagonist of the series; Rally runs a gunsmith shop in Chicago and works a more lucrative profession as a bounty hunter on the side.
”Minnie” May Hopkins: Rally’s diminutive partner, and the demolitions expert of the outfit.
Detective Roy Coleman: The girls’ contact on the Chicago P.D.
Becky Farrah: Nicknamed “the Nose”, she provides tech support and information to Rally on her various cases.

Other characters will obviously pop up as the series progresses, but at the outset, these are the main players.

With that out of the way, on with the show. The first few chapters of GUNSMITH CATS are mostly stand-alone installments with one two-parter thrown in. There’s a loose story arc which sees Rally targeted by a brother-and-sister career criminal duo named Bonnie and Clyde, along with a few one-off bounty hunting cases. We learn in very quick order (like, the second chapter) that Minnie May (who’s only seventeen years old at this point) is a former prostitute when she reenlists in her old profession for an undercover mission.

Now, as noted when I announced this project last weekend, GUNSMITH CATS is something of a guilty pleasure for me. I like a lot of it, but there’s some really uncomfortable, trashy material thrown in as well throughout the run, and Minnie May’s past is a huge part of that. We'll see plenty more of this sort of thing as we move along, and it will never cease to make me uncomfortable.

Kenichi Sonoda is a gun-nut, obviously. It’s why he conceived a story about a girl gunsmith in the first place, and he draws all the firearms in the story as exactingly as possible based on his own personal replicas. Unfortunately, he also describes everything in excruciating detail as well. Throughout these opening chapters, and continuing for pretty much the entire serial, characters jabber on about their barrels, chambers, grips, ammo, and a bunch of other stuff about which I don’t give a single whit. A criminal in one of these early chapters sexually fetishizes his revolver. Rally spends nearly an entire chapter describing her ideal pistol to Roy. It gets tiresome after a while, and I tend to tune it all out. Still, I suppose if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s probably a point in the series’ favor. Sonoda loves American muscle cars as well, so there’s a great deal of car talk in subsequent installments too. And though I have no major interest in cars, those conversations at least don’t make my eyes glaze over like the gun stuff.

Speaking of cars, this run of chapters introduces us, first via imposing silhouette and then via a parking garage showdown, to another of Sonoda’s creations, Bean Bandit. Bean, a career getaway driver/courier/etc. had been the star of his own short-lived manga (also by Sonoda) and direct-to-video movie, both titled RIDING BEAN, a few years prior to the start of GUNSMITH CATS. He’s basically the same character here, though his prior adventures are not considered to take place in the same continuity as this series.

Lastly, as the initial six installments wind down, we meet Gray, a gang lord who will become Rally’s nemesis in upcoming stories, as well as Ken Taki, a bombmaker working for the same syndicate as Gray, and May’s former boyfriend.

(And this is another point where things get really, really creepy. May, remember, is seventeen years old. We’re told Ken is around thirty-four. That alone would be disturbing enough, but we’re also told they haven’t seen each other in four years. So they were a sexually active couple when she was thirteen and he was thirty-ish. I’d make some kind of John Byrne joke, but not even he would go that far. There are a number of distasteful bits in Sonoda’s work that I do my best to overlook when I read GUNSMITH CATS, but this is something that makes my skin crawl every time I see it. May still looks mostly prepubescent even at age seventeen, making Ken, who will eventually become a major supporting protagonist, essentially a pedophile.)

We also get a glimpse in the early chapters of the weird line Sonoda tries to straddle between lighthearted comedy and gritty realism. Unfortunately, at least at this point, it doesn’t work very well. Chapter 6 is about the best example, as we open with Roy and Rally discussing, as noted above, her dream gun — a “first generation” CZ75 automatic pistol. They have a ton of insider gun talk, Rally humiliates Roy at the shooting range, then the story moves into bounty hunting territory as Rally tries to track down a con who has kidnapped a local attorney’s daughter. Things take a turn for the gruesome when the criminal rapes and kills the girl, then a firefight with Rally ensues. She wins and as her opponent dies, in a startling coincidence she realizes he’s holding the very CZ75 she’s wanted for her entire life.

Now, mind you, Rally has mangled this gun in the fight, so it’s pretty much useless, but even so… is this supposed to be a happy ending? I mean, an innocent girl is dead. But Rally finally catches a glimpse of her dream gun, so… yay? This chapter has always rubbed me the wrong way for the casual and disgusting manner in which Sonoda kills off the girl, then sort of rewards Rally.

It occurs to me that much of this post has been spent on issues I don’t like, or that make me uncomfortable, in the series. I really did enjoy it quite a bit the previous few times I read it, mostly in my twenties. Have my tastes changed? Or does GUNSMITH CATS take a while to get off the ground? I really wasn’t expecting to have this many problems with it from the get-go, but then this is the very first time I’ve ever read it with a critical eye. I’m interested to see where subsequent chapters take my opinions!

* Fun trivia: Kenichi Sonoda actually intended his heroine’s name to be Larry Vincent, but confusion between “R”s and “L”s in the Japanese to English translation resulted in the more familiar Rally. A number of characters throughout the series make reference to Rally having an odd name — which is true in either case — but the meaning behind these statements is supposed to be due to her being a young woman with a man’s name.


  1. Oh, yes. Japanese manga artists with a fetish for guns and a willingness to describe them in endless detail. If you wanted the narrative flow of a Sonoda or Shirow story brought to a screeching halt, just throw a gun at them. Or in the case of Shirow in Appleseed, anything mechanical. With Japan and its culture of replica guns, that was a thing that happened a lot.

    I must've rented the Riding Bean OVA approximately a thousand times from my local video store (slight exaggeration.) Rally's in that too, only she's blonde. It had, like most products of the 90s, a truly awful dub. To this day, I can perfectly reproduce one of the female villains complaining about "BEAN BANDIT" loudly.

    I have more to say about May in later chapters, when the character goes from "underage former prostitute" into some scenes that are kind of skeevy given the character, especially since she's drawn as a 13 year old.

    I'd remembered the manga being better than this early on too. We're getting old, I think.

    1. I watched RIDING BEAN once. I really don't remember it at all, though I do recall blonde Rally being in it. She also shows up, very briefly, on the final page of the aborted RIDING BEAN manga, which I'll take a quick look at when I reach the end of this GUNSMITH CATS series (it's reprinted in the final volume of GSC REVISED).

      I'll look forward to your thoughts on May, because while I have plenty of issues with her, and could probably have written diatribes about her in every upcoming post, I tried to rein myself in a bit!

      I guess getting old is definitely part of it, though as you'll see in coming weeks, I did warm back up to the manga as it went along. It just took longer than I expected, and even then I found more objectionable content than I remembered from my early-mid-twenties.

    2. My description of preferring the anime to the manga because it was action focused should be read now as having an unsaid "and it didn't have as much time to be creepy as heck with May." I can only imagine what you could write about her these days.