GunxSword: The Best Big Damn Space Western You’ve Probably Never Seen
Ten reasons to give it a chance.
GunxSword takes place on the planet of Endless Illusion, and the series’ narrator is not about to let you forget it. Seriously, at the beginning of most episodes, the delightfully overly serious narrator makes sure you haven’t forgotten where the show takes place. Endless Illusion is basically a kind of post-apocalyptic hive of scum and villainy experiencing some sort of vague environmental crisis. Don’t dismiss—they will get to that later.
This show doesn’t waste your time—if it seems interesting, it probably is. If a detail seems inconsequential—it’s not. For a viewer who likes to piece together clues and puzzle together past events with present repercussions… well, I’m not going to spoil you. Pay attention. This show is like Kill Bill, Trigun, and Firefly had a threeway that produced a revenge-fueled, East-meets-West post-apocalyptic romp with mecha, messy morality, and nuanced characters. Nothing is what it seems on Endless Illusion. Every time it seems like the show is going to go on a stereotyped path, the storytelling takes a dip into, “Nope, this is not that kind of show, you guys” territory. Even the token “swimsuit” episode actually advances the plot. Without further fangirling (yeah, right), I give you ten reasons to give GunxSword a chance.
10.) The theme music. It sounds like the Kill Bill soundtrack went to space and staked out a homestead planet. It’s like the past and the future are happening simultaneously, and maybe they are. The soundtrackage from this series is seriously good. Common themes are used and re-used with different tempos and instrumentations to convey different messages within the show. It’s a soundtrack nerd’s dream, and I am that nerd. :-)
9.) The mecha makes sense. Well, sci-fi sense, anyway. I love me some mecha. I like the Gundam series, old school Robotech, etc. In GunxSword, the mecha is referred to as “armor,” and it figures heavily into the plot. The original seven armors are named for the days of the week (protagonist Van pilots Dann of Thursday) and this actually has a really cool point within the plot of the series. I’m not giving it away. Just watch for it and have that, “Okay, that’s actually really cool!” moment like I did. Plus, it will make you want to post, “Wake up, Dann. It’s Thursday!” on your friends’ Facebook walls. Ahem. Or maybe that’s just me.
8.) Priscilla the Prize-Fighting, Armor-Piloting Magical Girl who isn’t afraid to ask guys out. Priscilla is cute, bubbly, dresses like an extra from Sailor Moon, and even has a really cool Magical Girl-style transformation sequence when she armors up. She builds and maintains her armor herself and participates in prize fights to win money for her sister, who runs an orphanage, to take care of the kiddos. There really do seem to be a lot of orphans around… I wonder what’s going on around here… Not telling you. Pay attention. :-)
Priscilla is immediately drawn to Van and pretty much says (and this is a paraphrase), “Okay, I can see you have revenge issues, but you’re pretty cute. After all of this is over, if you wanna go out sometime, that would be cool.” Priscilla asks for what she wants, do not let her cute exterior fool you. She fights for things she considers important. And she’ll date Van—or not. If it works out, it’s cool with her. If not? Priscilla is still going to do what she thinks is right and help others. Her presence in the group does not hinge on her romantic interests.
7.) The El Dorado Five: Senior Citizens Who Kick Ass. So, in theory, what would happen if, say, there used to be a team of armor-riding fighters who were renowned throughout the land as heroes, and they didn’t die in battle but instead were edged out of the game by shiny new armor riders who didn’t need to combine into Voltron (and I’ll form the head!) to get the job done? These guys spend their time drinking their blues away in the Pink Amigo, a bar that was owned by their deceased former teammate Chizuru. Her granddaughter Yukiko now runs the place in her grandmother’s absence. Chizuru stories abound. Apparently, she outdrank, out-fought, and generally out-awesomed the rest of the El Dorado Five, and they are lost without her, even as they hang around to “take care of” Yukiko (who really wishes they’d stop getting drunk and having old man barfights in her establishment.)
We never see Chizuru, not even in a flashback sequence, but we feel like we know her through the Chizuru stories her teammates and granddaughter share. It’s clear that her loss left a gaping hole (literally and figuratively) in the El Dorado Five, and none of them are over it. When the town and the bar are threatened by a young guy on a mad science bender trying to create a newer, better mecha, the El Dorado Five (Four?) take to the skies to deal with the young whippersnapper, and damned if they don’t make it work! And, in the category of “not that kind of show, you guys,” instead of killing the dude, they kick his ass, explain to him why he’s an idiot, and then take him under their wing and encourage his science under supervision. And that’s just their intro episode. These guys may drink, old-dude party, and talk about the glory days a bit too much, but they put their money where there mouths are. They’re every bit as awesome as they say they are!
6.) Creepy, nuanced villainy. The Claw (next time, Gadget…). Everywhere they go, somebody is looking for or working for The Claw. As the protagonists journey on, searching for “the man with a claw for a right hand,” it turns out he’s not some badass-looking, raging psychopath of an armor-wearing ‘roids case. Nope. He’s an old guy. With a prosthetic claw for a hand. He’s also soft-spoken and explains his nutball ideas of how the world should work in such a reasonable tone that it’s actually really understandable how the downtrodden peeps he picks up to work for him like and respect him so much. Even if he does maybe want to sacrifice himself to infect the world with his essence in an epic mass-mind-control scheme. Nobody asked you to die for them, Claw Man! You ain’t the Messiah. Stop it, you creepy old bastard! The other villains are similarly complex. From a former prostitute with a sense of gratitude and purpose; to an Oedipus-complexing bag of nerves; to a conflicted betrayer; to an intelligent, frustrated young man finally given an outlet for his genius; to two little kids who just crave approval, GunxSword keeps the viewer questioning the motivations and situations of its villains, treating them like people instead of caricatures.
5.) Healthier behaviors and relationships are rewarded. Unhealthy ones are… not. No spoilers. Not exactly… Okay, so revenge is probably not the healthiest of motivations, but The Claw was killing scientists right and left, and two of those scientists happened to be Helena and Shino. Helena was Van’s fiancée who was murdered at their wedding by The Claw. Shino was Ray Lundgren’s wife, similarly murdered by The Claw. This guy is basically a serial killer of lady scientists, and he needs to be freaking stopped. Permanently.
Van wants to avenge Helena, but he also wants to stop future harm. He wants a world without The Claw because he intends to try to live in that world, and at the very least wants his friends to be safe. On the other hand, Ray abandons his kid brother and kills indiscriminately to achieve his revenge. Flashback sequences show how meeting and falling in love with Helena changed Van and his life for the better. She helped him out of the darkness of poverty and ignorance, and when she discovered that her boss was a psychopath, she did what she had to do to protect her lover, knowing that she herself was as good as dead. Van wants to remove his fiancée’s killer and prevent him from twisting other minds to his will. Van may not be in a good place yet—he’s still crabby and hot-headed and has some trouble forming relationships, but he’s trying. He wants to fight Helena’s fight. I like to think that Helena would be proud of Van, but that Shino would be disappointed in Ray. The dichotomy is fascinating.
4.) Carul Mendosa (aka “Carmen 99”) There are so many stereotypes that could have been used to comprise the character of Carmen 99. She’s a large-busted, sexy-dressing woman. Her given name is Carul Mendosa, but she prefers to be called Carmen 99 (the 99 refers to her bosom size in centimeters.) Carmen is businesslike, efficient, extremely intelligent, and both aware and accepting of her own sexuality, and yet she is never provocative.
Carmen has a big heart, a head for information brokering (her chosen trade), and resists overtly showing affection, although she shows through her actions how much she truly does care. Carmen’s reasons for wanting to find and end The Claw are that he destroyed her hometown, family, and surrogate family. A flashback sequence reveals badass Carmen as a kid, hanging with her bestie. Flash to the future and her formerly sweet friend has been corrupted incurably by The Claw and his wackadoodle ravings. Carmen is in this fight to save her own reputation as an excellent information broker, and also for the good of her hometown (even if the worthless yokels can’t appreciate it), the honor of her family, and to avenge her best friend. Carmen is so much better than she wants you to think she is, and I love her even more for it. You rock, lady!
3.) Joshua Lundgren, Socially Awkward Abandoned Teenage Genius. Joshua was already being raised by his brother Ray and his scientist wife Shino. The parents were already dead. Then, Ray’s wife is murdered by her crazy, claw-handed old guy boss, and Ray loses his shit. Never mind that Joshua was grieving too. Ray leaves to get his revenge and just kind of doesn’t think about Joshua at all. So he latches onto Team Van and even tracks them down after they left him behind. He does not quit being a sweet little ray of genius sunlight, even when Van pretty much tells him to shut up most of the time. Joshua wants to help stop The Claw so that he might get his brother back, even though it’s pretty clear that he knows Ray isn’t ever going to go back to being himself.
Joshua is hopeful, cheerful, innovative, and terribly clueless about girls. He can’t help it—he was kind of raised by wolves after a certain point. His clothing even suggests that all he has is a religious uniform provided by an orphanage, if you pay attention to the symbolism and where you last saw it in the show. Joshua is supportive, sweet, and takes one hell of a level in badassery toward the end of the series. Wait for it. Joshua is so worth it, even if his asshat brother can’t be bothered. I hope Shino’s ghost visits Ray and poltergeists his armor.
2.) Van (aka “Van of the Dawn,” “Van the Unsung Hero Who Gives it All He’s Got,” “Van That Weird Guy Who Helped Out,” “Pretty Boy Van from the Garbage Dump,” and “Van the Unemployed.”) Yeah. Van and his nicknames are kind of a thing in this show. Van is one of the two main protagonists. When he is first introduced, he is staggering through the desert in a tuxedo, about to pass out from hunger, thirst, and… other things. No spoilers. You’ll just have to pay attention.
He encounters Wendy, a fourteen year old girl being held prisoner by some jerkfaces. Exhausted and apparently apathetic, Van is still not about to let some jackholes harm a woman, especially a kid. He steps up, defends her, hands the jackholes their own asses, and promptly passes out. When he wakes up, the girl he rescued is taking him to her hometown to get him something to drink and eat. This pretty much sums up Van and Wendy’s relationship. Him saving her, her saving him, usually by dragging his carcass along somewhere and complaining about how heavy he is.
Van has issues. He’s sad. He misses Helena, his fiancée. He walks around wearing the tuxedo he was supposed to get married in. His wedding ring hangs from his hat. He’s kind of shell-shocked by her murder, plus driven with purpose to end The Claw. His social skills aren’t the best, but dammit, he tries. So. Hard. He wants to get better. He struggles a lot. The smallest social graces seem to cause him physical pain, and he forgets people’s names constantly, but underneath that messy, emotionally stunted exterior is a dry wit and a fierce sense of protectiveness for those he cares about. You do not harm women or mess with their agency with Van on the watch. He will kick your ass. He already lost Helena, and he’s not going to stand by and watch other women be harmed if he can stop it. In fact, when Wendy offers to become his bride if he will help her find her missing brother, he shuts that mess down so fast. He even manages not to yell at her too much. He basically says, “Listen, kid. Marriage is special and important, and you’re way too young to know about what being a bride is all about. Besides, I’m not into it. I wouldn’t even know what to do. I’m a virgin.” Yeah. He never got to get with Helena. He was waiting for her. My damn heart.
1.) Wendy Freaking Garret, The Most Practical Teenage Girl in Anime. Wendy is already on her own quest to find her older brother Michael, whom she believes to have been kidnapped by a man with a claw for a right hand. Wendy is armed—she has her brother’s gun, and knows how to use it. Without Wendy, Van would have died at least a few times. She understands adult things like banks and money much better than Van, who probably would have curled up in an alleyway if left to his own devices. Wendy is not easily led—she even has a talk with The Claw at one point to find out just exactly what his plans and opinions are so she can make up her own mind on the matter. Wendy wears practical boots for hiking around, and when she wears a skirt, she wears shorts underneath. No fluffy underwear shots from Wendy Garret!
Wendy has a schoolgirl crush on Van, but she remains focused on her plan. Although there is no love lost between Carmen and Wendy at first, both ladies come to appreciate each other and form a friendly, sisterly bond as the show progresses. Wendy sees past the front Carmen puts up to the world and realizes that there is so much more to her than a nice rack and a mercenary spirit. Similarly, Carmen quickly figures out that Wendy is not a burden and should not be treated like a child. It is Wendy’s relationships with all of the other characters that pull the show together. As awesome as she is, she’s not perfect either. She gets jealous. She gets annoyed. She also soldiers up and half-carries a grown man to safety, faces the main antagonist down, and stands up for what she believes is right, all while dealing with the stress of her only family member being missing, Van’s attitude, and the possible destruction of Endless Illusion.
If I’ve convinced you as to the merits of GunxSword, you can give it a watch on Funimation or Crunchyroll.
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she Tweets, Tumbls, and sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs.
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