Gun Sword Box Set (aka Gun X Sword)
Why do I feel like I've seen Gun Sword before? Maybe it's because it's because its star, 'Van', is another incarnation of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western anti-hero, 'The Man with No Name'. Certainly there's a commonality with others in the genre ('Gungrave' and 'Trigun' spring immediately to mind) though arguably 'Gun (X) Sword' is a bit heavier on the action.
Van is a man who doesn't want to get involved. The fact that he does is generally a tribute to his innate sense of morality, though he's not interested in any of that 'hero stuff'. He drifts from town to town in the old-west of a planet named 'Endless Illusion', chasing down a man who has a claw in place of a hand who has wronged him by killing his fiance. Which makes 'Gun Sword' an extended revenge road movie for the main part.
The series kicks off mid-action where Van drifts into a town where a gang of ruthless bandits have slaughtered the entire congregation at a funeral. A young girl, who they believe to be dead, is actually still alive as the bullet fired at her hit a floral brooch, rather than her chest as intended. Without noticing the young survivor, Van decides to back out - but the bandits demand that he gives them his valuables before he goes. Deciding against that, he whips out a weird flexible sword that appears to be able to fire ammunition amongst other things. Within minutes he has taken them all out. The little girl, seeing Van's strength, begs for Van's help protecting her town from the bandits, named 'The Wild Bunch' and led by obsessive gambler (strains of 'The Dice Man' here) called Lucky Roulette.
'Lucky' may well be so named because he's an 'Armor Rider', linked to a giant mecha, a little like 'Robotech' technology. And this means action - and plenty of it. Van's own mecha ('Dann') is stored in a satellite and can be summoned to the planet at will. Wendy, the girl, decides tojoin Van in his hunt when she discovers that the man with the claw fist also has her brother. (What a coincidence…!)
So the scene is then set for a journey riddled with mecha on mecha action, and a hurdle at every stop on the way. Wendy encourages Van to use his amazing Armor and Gun Sword at every sign of adversity which means that, whilst the show is a little formulaic, you're guaranteed some satisfying wins in the name of good throughout the 26 episodes.
The animation is fairly primitive and stylized (think 'Cowboy Bebop') but seems to work. By Episode Two, the obligatory scantily clad babe appears too so all correct and present.
Though generally quite a dark series, the relationship between the melancholic Van, and gun-toting teeny bopper Wendy does allow for some humour. Wendy's not really much help (she only has one bullet for her gun and she's saving that for someone special) but she's a great sounding board for Van, like a mini-Manager, advising and encouraging him along the way.
Throughout the early episodes, where the duo meet untold adversity, clues are being strewn about the location of The Claw, who has harmed many others who they meet as they get on his trail.
A nice little sub-plot is that Van has a rival - Ralph Lundgren, who is filled with obsessive hatred for the claw and therefore wants to be the one to kill him. So determined is Ralph that he would gladly kill Van to prevent him from stealing this anticipated moment of revenge from him by getting to the Claw first.
Of course, when we eventually meet 'The Claw', it's something of an anti-climax. Of course it would be…he's been built up from the outset. He hardly seems like evil incarnate - though maybe that was intentional. The series is fairly black and white - though does deliver a few unexpected twists.
When they finally get to battle with the Claw and his band of stereo-typical henchmen, it's action packed mayhem. The only twists left in the tale are Wendy's brother Michael (who's side is he on?!) and The Claw's seductive side-kick, Fasalina, who can manipulate men with ease.
It's nice to start getting anime series in widescreen (actually a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer) especially those with a Western theme, allowing for wider vistas and more dramatic action. It's a crystal clear print and transfer too.
Audio-wise you really do have it all to choose from. Japanese DTS 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0, and an American - English dub presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Unlike many anime purists, I generally go with the dub unless it's particularly offensive. It isn't. In fact it all seems to work extremely well, without that sinking feeling that something is getting lost in translation.
Extras are a bit light in common with anime sets in general. It would be nice to have seen how the original Manga developed for example, or some production context. Instead it's the usual selection of textless credits, pencil drawings and trailers. However you do get the 'Gun X Sword-san' micro-series episodes delivered up two at a time. These are weird to say the least. They're about 3-minutes each, and feature the characters from Gun Sword as hand puppets. Despite the fact that these are supposed to be hilarious, I had the sinking feeling that something was getting lost in translation, and they didn't do anything for me.
But putting that aside, and getting back to the main feature, buying the set in one gulp is definitely the way to go here. It means you can devour it at your own pace, and despite the fact that things start as they mean to go on, it's all diverting stuff. It won't be long after you've inserted Disc 1 than you'll be scraping around disappointedly for Disc 8 …which doesn't exist! Maybe that's because the storyline is fairly repetitive this becomes as addictive as a soap - you don't expect it to actually ever end!
On a final note, check out all the individual disc reviews by my colleague, Matthew Smart, as this set is just a compilation of those discs, and you'll pick up all the detail there - as well as the appraisal of a man who really knows his anime. (Now, I wonder what our very own anime-mesiter Jitender Canth would make of this series?).
'Gun Sword' really is top action entertainment that I feel certain will bear repeated viewings, and, despite being light on extras, will deliver great value. Well worth adding to the collection.