Friday, January 19, 2018


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

The next eight chapters of GUNSMITH CATS see Kenichi Sonoda inexplicably repeat himself on more than one front, in pretty quick order. First, Rally and May have an argument and falling-out over what Rally perceives as May’s creepy infatuation with the missing Ken. They reconcile and then, just a couple chapters later, they get into another huge argument over Rally’s methodology on a case. I understand creating some friction between your two leads, but putting them at each other’s throats so much in succession makes them read as if they merely tolerate one another, when they’re supposed to be the best of friends.

And beyond that, we also have their house/shop broken into twice in these chapters, following from a break-in in the prior batch of installments as well. In fact, within the span of the series’ first ten or so chapters, Rally’s place is robbed (or nearly robbed) three times in total. Going back to this well that often comes across somewhat lazy on Sonoda’s part.

Anyway… what happens in these stories? We get a brief encounter between Rally and Misty, a cat burglar who our heroine sends up the river, but who will return as a supporting cast member in the not-too-distant future. From there, Gray returns to the picture with plans to seize control of the local gangs. When his men inadvertently kidnap May and Becky, May learns that Gray has found Ken in California and intends to kill him.

When Roy tries to hide Rally and May from Gray, the gang lord attacks the group on the highway. Rally is injured, but Gray is arrested. Chicago’s chief of police is revealed to be in Gray’s pocket, but Rally and Roy are forced into a stalemate with him when he uses evidence of Rally’s vast catalog of extralegal weapons against her. Soon, May and Becky head to Hollywood in search of Ken, who stages his own death at the hands of Gray’s men and returns to Chicago.

This batch of chapters comes to an end when Gray’s men attempt a hit on Rally at the hospital but fail, and Rally recovers her often-mangled Shelby Mustang from the repair shop upon her discharge. She and May have a brief run-in with Bean Bandit, who saves May from some hooligans on the street, but the getaway driver escapes the girls after revealing to Rally that he’ll be assisting Gray in an impending jailbreak.

So, a lot of ground is covered here, and after voicing numerous issues so far with Sonoda’s work on GUNSMITH CATS, I figure it’s past time I praise him for a change! The man is an expert at illustrating action. These pages are bursting with energetic firefights, crazy stunts (including one of my favorites from the entire series, as Rally ejects an empty cartridge from her gun, drops a new one at the request of a guy who’s got the jump on her, then kicks the new one straight back up and catches it in the gun, squeezing her trigger and blasting the guy), and high-speed car chases.

The latter of these, especially, is impressive. Car chases seem to be difficult to illustrate in any sort of exciting way in sequential storytelling. John Byrne has said that on his very first IRON FIST issue, Chris Claremont wrote a car chase into the plot, and Byrne couldn’t find any way to make it work. Per Byrne, the static imagery of a comic book, which works fine for action-packed superhero battles, just doesn’t lend itself to things like races and chases, and I’m inclined to agree with him, at least so far as American comics go. There was an excessively boring chase in one of the Devil's Due G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS series that I looked at a couple months back, too. But there’s something about manga — Japanese artists, for whatever reason, seem to have a much better handle on that sort of thing, and Kenichi Sonoda is no exception.

All that said, the “guilty pleasure” aspect of this series is still in full swing as well. I’m sure Sonoda’s intention is just for the series to feel “gritty” and realistic, but we really don’t need constant reminders of the age difference between May and Ken, nor does a scene of May masturbating to thoughts of her missing boyfriend add anything to the story. When Rally is thrown clear of her crashed car, Gray uses his machete-hand (a replacement for the actual appendage he lost in his first appearance) to slice her bra open as he threatens to rape her. This feels out of place and gratuitous considering they’re in the middle of the street with crashed cars all around them.

(And remember, I generally enjoy gratuitous nudity when it’s all in good fun, but when Sonoda does it, that’s rarely the case. He uses it for shock value and as a way for characters to assert their dominance over each other more than anything else, which makes me really squeamish.)

Oh, and lastly, Rally finally gets her hands on a CZ75 pistol, the gun she’s dreamed of owning her entire life, when Roy finds one in evidence and pulls some strings for her. That’s… it? We had an entire chapter not long ago in which she pined for this gun, singing its praises and talking about how desperate she is to own one, but that she’s basically given up on that ever happening. That same afternoon, she kills a guy using one, and it’s damaged irreparably in the fight. And now… she suddenly has one which was given to her off-panel by Roy. It’s a really weird and poorly executed conclusion to a nearly nonexistent sub-plot.

I seem to be getting overly negative again, so I’ll close this week out by psychoanalyzing myself once more: I do enjoy GUNSMITH CATS; even after reading all that I’ve covered so far and voicing my issues with a lot of it, it sticks in my mind as a fun experience. I’ll say this: it is, as is the case with most manga, a pretty breezy read. Perhaps the objectionable parts stick in my head simply because they stick out, while the fun stuff speeds by too fast to take notice? I’m not sure, but as we move along, I’ll continue to look for answers.


  1. Ahh, this review has That Scene With May that was pretty damn creepy when I read it back then, and makes me now just shake my head and wonder sometimes what creators are thinking. I mean, to put it in Marvel terms, that masturbation scene would have been like an issue of X-Men suddenly cutting to Kitty Pryde fantasizing vividly about Colossus. It does nothing to move the story, it features a minor, and a minor drawn to be childish to boot.

    When I approach adult content in a story, and it doesn't work, the first question I ask myself is "would the story work if you removed it?" If you remove the adult content and the themes and story stops working, it's therefore necessary. If someone handed you a copy of this book with the May pages removed, nothing would be lost.

    Which is a shame, because my memory of the action scenes around this are pretty amazing, and I remember being just as impressed that an artist pulled off the kinetic movement of a car chase in artwork.

    Again, lord knows I'm not a prude, but the adult content in this series always stuck out like a sore thumb. I think that's my problem with it: it felt like it was just barged in to be "adult", rather than a consequence of the storytelling.

    I still maintain we're also just getting old, Matt.

    1. I totally agree with your adult content assessment, for the most part. If it doesn't add anything, it's totally unnecessary. Though I make a bit of an exception for gratuitous nudity in shows and movies that are already aimed at adults, because -- what can I say? -- I'm a bit of a perv that way.

      Getting old is definitely part of it, though. I have to admit that in addition to some of the creepier elements in a series like GUNSMITH CATS, I even find myself flinching a bit more at excessively coarse language in movies and HBO/cable shows than I would have ten or even five years ago.