The term set piece in filmmaking refers not to something that happens on a set, but the sort of action sequence that you go and tell your friends about after you get out of the theater or turn away from the TV: And then he jumped out with his legs on fire and kicked all their butts! It’s something that happens in manga, too, as just about all of Gunsmith Cats would serve as evidence for. The whole series is one giant excuse to give us car chases and shoot-outs, and often a mix of the two.
Very little that has come before in the series prepares us for the set piece that takes up most of volume 4 of Gunsmith Cats Burst. It’s a shootout in a house — up and down stairwells (before and after being blown to pieces by grenades), through walls and doors, between floors and you-name-it. It is, very literally, what you’d use to storyboard for the inevitable live-action version of this series. Given that no deal has been cut yet — although somehow they found the money to make a movie version of, god help us, Monopoly — we’ll have to settle for the manga, but the manga’s always been good enough that it’s not like we’re settling for anything inferior.
A quick recap. As of the last volume, bounty hunter Rally had ended up in major hot water for her (forced) participation in an (illegal) race. Things kink up even more violently when she attempts to bring in a potential mob-trial witness who has skipped town, and comes face to face with none other than Goldy. She may have lost most of her memory and now sports a diamond-shaped scar on her cheek from where she was shot in the face, but she’s still the same Goldy as ever — just as cunning, just as evil, and just as mixed up in terrible things.
Scarcely a volume of the series goes by without Rally being forced to perform her feats of derring-do while also suffering from a handicap. If she isn’t stuck in a moving vehicle, she’s trying to wield a gun with her off-hand, or without a working finger, etc. This time, Rally’s taken a bullet to the arm, is trapped in a house where she’s a prisoner, and must — must — do what she can to get Goldy’s memory back. Among the things Goldy forgot was the formula to her drug cocktails, without which her organization has no reason to keep her.
This leads to the in-house shootout I described above. The first half of the book is just the setup to put all the pieces on the board. Then the bullets start flying, and — to use the game metaphor — it’s like speed chess, except that the pieces get blown to bits instead of just knocked gently over. Most memorable is a slow-motion duel where Rally faces off against a member of Goldy’s gang who’s high on coke, kitted out with a riot gun and bulletproof vest, and sports a face shield that takes slugs pointblank from Rally’s Desert Eagle .50. And that’s on top of the stairs getting blown out, and the sprinklers going off, and Misty (trapped in the same house) playing hot-potato with a live grenade to keep both herself and one of the maids from being turned into scrambled eggs, and …
Something came to me this time around, a concretization of a thought I’ve entertained on and off during the series. There’s always been something a little creepy about Kenichi Sonoda’s clean-scrubbed, wide-eyed characters getting into such blood-soaked mayhem. In the abstract it’s probably no different from any number of other manga titles where the characters are very young, very female and in very deep trouble. It’s just that it has more impact here, if only because everything’s set in an identifiably real world — in the U.S., no less — and because the female characters are used as much for their cheesecake value as their strength of character and determination. Granted, there’s a sliding scale of sexism for such things — Gunsmith Cats isn’t anywhere nearly as stomach-turning as Eiken, to be sure — but ever notice how you never see any of the male characters in the shower? There’s a reason for that.
Sexism aside (or not, depending your distaste for same), Gunsmith Cats has never disappointed for a single volume. It’s good to see the continuation of this series sticking with and extending on all the things it made a name for itself with originally. The original omnibus books are the best value-for-the-money, though, so start with those to get a taste for the series. Then come back here and do a double-take at the bit where Rally has to take an opponent out by targeting him through the earhole of his headgear… using her off hand … in a burning room. Never just one thing at a time for her, is it?