Anime Review: Gun x Sword – A Vengeance Fulfilled

Tropes and cliché, despite the conflicting opinions about  them, are still common and important tools to the plot of all works,  to make the work more familiar and more digestible to the audience. So, what is a work that is determined to go against all tropes and cliché, like? In 2005, Code Geass director Gorō Taniguchi teamed up with Oreimo screenwriter Hideyuki Kurata to make a mecha film that goes against most tropes – while still including their basic premise, that is, GUN x SWORD.

GUN x SWORD is set in a fictional planet called “Endless Illusion” where all kinds of outlaws gather. Here, Van, one of the former Original Seven, possessor of the strongest Armor, sets out to avenge his fiancée, who was killed by a man with a claw hand. On his revenge journey, more people join him, one of them is Wendy Garret, a young girl from Evergreen town – who seems to also be seeking the same vengeance against the same target as Van. Together they forge their way through Endless Illusion and dispel the chains of misery that bind them.

The background of GUNxSWORD is composed of many themes: samurai, Western, Christian, Modern and American pop culture. These themes are applied not very harmoniously, making no theme really stand out and impress, as well as creating a rather messy feeling, making the viewer feel like each episode is set in a different  era. The series is divided into two halves, the first half in the Monster of the Week format, which follows the journey of Van and Wendy, the second having a linear plot, about the confrontation between Van’s faction and The Claw’s faction.

The script for each episode in the first half is quite coin-flippy: there are well-written and unique episodes, but there are also bland and boring episodes. The second half of the show, despite having a well thought out idea and good set-up, is not very impressive, partly because the writing is not really great, and also because the going against the trope, cliché stuff backfires. However, there is one element of stability throughout the film, that is comedy, which probably benefits the most from going against the trope, cliché. Many times, I laughed my ass off at funny, unexpected scenes, because they were incorporated into very serious situations. In addition, director Gorō Taniguchi shows that he’s a huge fan of American pop culture by adding many references to films such as Mad Max, Pulp Fiction, Scarface, Hellboy, and more. The episode where Van faces off against Tony Montana is beyond hilarious.

The biggest going against tropes and cliché is the main idea throughout the series. GUNxSWORD is about the power of the ego, honoring people to follow their extremely personal and even selfish desires without being tied down to anything and opposing the imposition of morality on others. Right from the first episode, the main character Van refuses to protect the town of Evergreen no matter how much the people there beg or denigrate him, because he has “no reason to do so”, and only when the leader of Lucky gang shoots him from behind, Van decides to defeat him. Instead of telling a story of right and wrong and the consequences of revenge like most revenge novels, GUNxSWORD supports Van’s unwavering determination to pursue his personal desires – personally ending The Claw, the man who killed his fiancée – no matter how maddening, cruel, pointless, and damaging this goal may be.

The series even has a very meta episode, when it mentions common arguments in revenge works like: “You won’t get anything after getting revenge”, “Would Elena want that?”, etc. and let Van smash them with his unhealthy obsession with revenge. Besides, the characters in Van’s faction each follow their own dreams, and come together for no common purpose, and the show doesn’t make them stronger through comradeship, solidarity or something like that, but they get together thanks to their very personal reasons, and become more attached even though their goals are not quite the same. In addition, the film also goes against the tropes in a few plot details and small details, such as naming the Armors of Original Seven with seemingly profound words but are just random and meaningless words; or instead of letting Wendy and Michael reunite, the movie keeps Michael as the villain and even gives Michael an anticlimactic ending.

In contrast to Van’s faction, the villain’s motivation is lofty dreams, for the benefit of everyone. However, their idealism is extreme: not accepting an individual’s own dreams and forcing everyone to follow their dream. The Claw – referred to as “Comrade” by the people on his side, has a desire to assimilate everyone on Earth to be like him, but has no interest in an individual’s dream or even their own life.  He and his accomplices often talked about distant morals and ideals, but then directly slaughtered those who did not share their dream. It was because of only looking at the majority and ignoring personal interests that Claw was defeated by Van’s fiery vengeance. Claw’s ideal is an even more extreme version of Gilbert Durandal’s “Destiny Plan” where he ripped it off from Brave New World, so you can guess how this plan sounds to a sane individual.

However, not all of the series’ going against tropes and cliché is successful, and even counterproductive. It can be said that, except for the main idea of ​​the film, the result of most of these contradictions is quite anticlimactic. For example, since the writing of main characters are fixated on the idea of “coming together for different purposes”, later, when the writer tries to make them more connected, it doesn’t really convince, resulting in the final highlights of some of the supporting characters not being very emotional. In addition, GUNxSWORD did an unforgivable mistake, which was to quickly kill three well-setup villains. I don’t believe the screenwriter and director intentionally did it to go against the tropes and cliché, because those three characters all fell into the tragic villain trope. In short, the plot of GUNxSWORD has many ideas that go against the trope, cliché, but the implementation is quite weak, so it has been quite a letdown .

As for the characters, the idea of each character is quite good, but most of them are not well developed. Among them, perhaps only Van and team Eldora V are the most notable. Van is the most interesting character and always takes the spotlight every time he appears. Seeing Van for the first time, based on his appearance, many people would guess that this is a typical cold and cool guy, but no, he is a silly manchild, a bit goofy and extremely crazy with revenge. However, Van still has his own moral code and often ends up helping others, intentionally or unintentionally. In particular, the times when Van’s desire for revenge helps him overcome fear and doubt are always very unexpected, leaving scenes that are both funny, touching and epic.

Team Eldora V in my opinion is the greatest thing about the series. They’re a version of “What if Combattler V team is Mexican and have become grandpas, with a little Yuusha vibe.” As the episode director of some of the Yuusha series as well as other Super Robot anime, director Gorō Taniguchi perfectly captures the “Super Robot tamashii” through this quartet of old men. Eldora V in the past was a 5-man color-coded team like Combattler V, but now they are old and one member has even passed away. The four old men Nero, Jose, Barrio and Carlos are the surviving members, they’ve gone old and all they do is spend days drinking in the pub of the deceased comrade’s nephew. Thanks to an incident and Van, they are once again able to pursue their own desire, which is to uphold justice with their Armor Eldora V. Everything the four do and say, is often quite old-fashioned and cheesy, but they have the most epic and emotional moments and lines of the movie. Every time I watch Eldora V’s moment in episode 3, I got teary-eyed, and I love the scene where they said this line so damn much:
“Born and raised by justice for sixty years!”
“It’s time to see if we are truly Brave!”
“Our weapons are…” “Justice! Courage! Spirit!”
“The best…!”

About the visual, Takahiro Kimura, who is in charge of character design and animation for Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, has similar roles in GUNxSWORD, so you can see that GUNxSWORD‘s artstyle has many similarities with Code Geass , an artstyle quite suitable for over-dramatic faces. In my opinion, the character designs of Van and Ray are the two most creative – a perfect combination of Japanese and Chinese swordsmen with cowboys. GUNxSWORD doesn’t have the top tier animation one would expect from a Super Robot anime, but it’s enough to make the fight scenes engaging.

The show’s mechanical design is quite varied, as was done by Seiji Handa, the monster designer for most of the Yu-Gi-Oh! series and mechanical design for some mecha anime. From the Armored giants of the Original Seven, to the steampunk Armor – Volkein, and even the blocky giant robot quite familiar in the Brave series – Eldora Soul, all of them are beautiful designs, except for Priscilla’s Brownie Armor. My biggest complaint is probably the flashing blue visual effect that appears throughout the film, it looks quite outdated and very hard to watch.

Even so, the concept of each Original Seven’s “Yoroi” being stored on each orbital satellite was really cool. The summoning of each one was super badass, just like how Domon call his Gundam. Being a pilot of an Original Seven comes with some OP perks, and that shows very clearly in every of Van’s fights. Normal Yoroi doesn’t stand a chance against him, unless it’s another one of his “peers”. However, it’s not just him fighting through the series, but also other riders as well, which spice up the series as Dann of Thursday isn’t the be-all end-all answer to all battles. Dann is pretty cool, that he can transform into a giant sword that falls down from the sky. It’s like the Sword of Damocles for the “bad guys”. And the fact that Van is obviously a western character that shout “Chesto” like a japanese martial artists is also pretty funny.

Audio is the show’s biggest strength, especially the music. The soundtrack is a mix of traditional Japanese music, angelic choirs and funk sounds inspired by “Pulp Fiction”. The opening song “GUNxSWORD” has no lyrics but matches the opening visual very well, while the ending song “A Rising Tide” is a song that evokes a sense of melancholy, thanks to Shuntaro Okino’s voice and acoustic guitar sound. But the brightest star of the soundtrack is Niji no Kanata. Using the cheerful sounds of Mexican music, and the melodious, warm vocals of Satsuki Yukino, who voices Yukiko, Niji no Kanata both evokes a feeling of sadness of recalling the past, while boosting the spirit of looking to the future, and is an insta-fav for me. The voice-acting part, I like the voice of Takanori Hoshino the most, who voices Van. The range of his voice is so wide, you can see the change from Van’s whisper when he loses hope to Van’s maniacal voice when he finds his purpose again.

GUN x SWORD is an anime that loves to go against the mass, both in sense of not following tropes and cliché, and of the main idea about valuing individual desires over the majority’ benefits. Despite not having developed that idea well, GUNxSWORD is still a good mecha anime, entertaining and worth watching, thanks to its determination to stick to the counter current. The conclusion of following through with his revenge, not “breaking” the chain of vengeance to take the high road is something we don’t usually see. Hopefully one day, we’ll get to see the crazy samurai-cowboy Van again on the small screen, besides in SRW games.


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