Now that I’ve finished with the second volume of the new adventures of Rally Vincent and Minnie-May Hopkins, I think I’ve finally worked out the filing category for Gunsmith Cats: Burst. “Manga that take place in the United States” was one possibility, and “Homage to American action movies” was another consistent one, but I think the best label so far has been “Manga I read with a crooked, silly grin all the way through.” Come on: What other comic shows us a seven-foot-tall mercenary driver with a bulletproof bandanna slicing through the wall of someone’s house with a hunting knife big enough to skin an elephant — and does all this with a straight face, because it’s allegedly set in the “real world?”
Burst #2 continues all the plot threads that were kicked off in Volume #1 — mainly, the mystery behind the theft of Rally’s prized Shelby GT 500 muscle car, her pride and joy. Now it’s been packed with explosives and about to be turned into a weapon of mass destruction. As in the earlier Cats adventures, Rally manages to stay a step ahead of her tormentors by outsmarting, outpacing (and occasionally outshooting) them — and by drawing on her friends, from Minnie-May the explosives expert to Miss Farrah the hacker-cum-researcher who will dig up any tidbit of information for a price, a percentage, or both. And I shouldn’t forget Bean Bandit, the any-time-any-place driver (I sometimes wonder if Jason Statham’s Transporter character was a polite nod to Bandit) who alternates between being a competitor, an ally, and a nemesis depending on the breaks.
Rally employs them all to cobble together critical clues as to why the Shelby’s been stolen and turned into a rolling bomb. The answer is farfetched, as most of the deeper plot waters in this series are — it involves a very backhanded and elaborate form of corporate sabotage–but it makes sense in the context of the story, and it leads to another of Kenichi Sonoda’s trademark car chases. Most chases just involve one guy roaring after another; Sonoda throws in grotesque complications, like forcing Rally to find a safe place to ditch the Shelby while also forbidding her to drop below 70 MPH.
The second half of the book deals more directly with Bandit and what could be described as his peculiar sense of honor and integrity — which from the outside just looks like him insisting on not changing the deal. When he finds out he’s been tricked into running coke, he gets fighting mad and incurs the wrath of his erstwhile employers, ring-led by a barracuda of a woman named Charlene. Bandit’s beef against drug-running isn’t so much about drugs being bad in the abstract, but that it makes him complicit to something he doesn’t want to waste time and energy digging himself out of — and, as we’ve seen, it usually means working with people who have a nasty way of being two-faced.
The resulting scrape lands Bean in the hospital, where the guards shake their heads in amazement at the man’s armor-plated biker’s jacket and collection of knives. When he breaks out of custody and hits the road, in steps Chicago officer Detective Percy to stop him. Percy, with his blown-back white hair and wolfish grin, is not a by-the-book cop by any stretch: when he finally trails Bean to Charlene’s house (where he’s left more than a few people dead), he puts the squeeze on Charlene’s lover to get some cooperation out of him. In his mind, a couple of lousy drug dealers are nothing compared to a loose cannon like Bean, and he promises to make not only Bean’s life miserable but anyone else who’s even vaguely on his side … including, you guessed it, Rally and Minnie-May.
It’s in this part of the story that things get gloriously, thoroughly absurd. This is mainly thanks to Bean Bandit’s nigh-immortality, which takes on the flavor of a running joke (and also where we get that nifty wall-sawing scene I mentioned earlier). Bean’s nearly as indestructible as Berserk’s Guts: shoot him, stab him, break his legs, smack him in the face with barbed wire and he just makes like Timex and keeps on ticking. It’s one of those things that you just accept as part of the territory, like how Rally can shoot the trigger guard off someone else’s gun at a distance of thirty paces, or how Minnie-May can somehow walk around with smoke grenades and flash-bangs in her ultramicrominiskirt and never get caught with them, or … You get the idea.
Gunsmith Cats may be realistic (i.e., grounded in life as we know it), but it sure isn’t a work of realism. That’s part of its charm. You read this series to put a silly grin on your face, or to widen the one that’s already there. Those of you who own copies of the Lethal Weapon movies and every Chow Yun-Fat gun epic ever made — or any of the other Gunsmith Cats productions — should set aside $11 for this.