Welcome, one and all, to another edition of Manga versus Anime! This time around, we’re looking at the different versions of the seinen series, Gunsmith Cats.
So, the original manga was written and illustrated by Kenichi Sonoda. It originally ran from February 1991 to June 1997, with a sequel series titled Gunsmith Cats BURST closing the story out between September 2004 and October 2008. The anime adaption amounts to a three-part OVA that was produced by OLM, Inc – of Pokémon and Berserk fame – and ran from November 1995 to September 1996.
Now, what makes this an interesting comparison for me is that the storylines differ so greatly. As you can tell from the dates above, there is a lot of material in the manga, meaning that the main story arc has a lot going on. In a nutshell though, the tale follows Rally (or Larry) Vincent, the owner of Gunsmith Cats gun shop and a bounty hunter for hire, as she and her cohorts take on various cases. Without spoiling things too much, there are plenty of underworld dealings to be had, and an eventual conflict with a big bad. When it comes to the anime version, we are presented with a shorter tale set in the same universe but not linked to the manga arc; here Rally and co join with the ATF to investigate a gun running operation with links to the KGB.
In terms of what does the storytelling better, I’d say that both have some positives. While far shorter, and so, far less in depth, the anime storyline is pretty decent. It certainly fits with the general feel of the series, and it’s set up in a way to allow the action to come thick and fast when suitable. Plot points are resolved as it goes on, and the ending is about as satisfying as you’d expect. The source material meanwhile has a lot more room to play with in terms of arc length, and it uses this well by balancing the action and storytelling to a far better degree than most manage.
So, in short, both do a really good job within their environment. That’s not to say that one doesn’t outshine the other though. While the action scenes in the anime are strong, director Takeshi Mori was very honest about not knowing too much about guns. While his research on the subject paid off, the gunplay is still more simplistic than in the manga. The reason for this is likely down to Kenichi Sonoda being a self-confessed gun-nut. What this results in though is a clear advantage for the manga, as a like-for-like comparison in this regard really shows the difference in knowledge between the two creators.
The differences in length also play a part in terms of characterization. The anime again makes use of its time well and gives us enough of a glimpse into the different characters to understand who they are, how they think, and so on. But it doesn’t – and likely couldn’t – give the full picture. For one, it makes no reference to Rally being a lesbian, and instead throws in a quip from Rally’s explosives expert partner in crime Minnie that indicates that she’d date a guy (though I will admit that I’ve not seen the subbed version of the OVA, so this may be a Western thing). It also isn’t able to introduce all the key characters from the manga. Sure, Rally, Minnie, and information broker Becky Farrah are all present. Fan favourite Riding Bean is not though. That was, in my opinion, a real shame as the scar-faced, tough as nails driver for hire is a really great character. On top of this, the key villain in the anime, Natasha Radinov, suffers from the shorter run time. She may be dangerous, but in some ways, she comes across as a ‘light’ version of the manga antagonist Goldie Musou.
Of course, the anime does have its own strengths to fall back on too. One of the biggest criticism of the manga was that the majority of the women were drawn to be ‘thin hipped plastic toys’. Is this a fair comment? Really, yes. The anime does address this to a small degree though. While still relatively small, Rally is drawn a little larger with regards to her waistline, at least in some shots. It’s only a slight difference, but it does make a difference, even if it is a little inconsistent. Meanwhile, Natasha Radinov is designed to look far more masculine, and as a result does not suffer from the action-hero Barbie doll design work of the source material. Again, it’s only a small thing, but it is welcome.
There’s also a lot less fan service in the anime in comparison to the manga, which is always a bonus in my eyes. Yes, it is there, but not to anywhere near the same degree. While Kenichi Sonoda did try to fit the scenes into the manga in a logical way, it always felt like it was tacked on, and was really one of two major blights on the series for me. The other blight, Minnie May’s back story, was also not broached in the anime, and for that, I am thankful.
So, when it comes down to it, which Gunsmith Cats is superior? That’s actually a tough call. The anime is a fun, fast paced story with decent action, but the manga does a lot of the same things better. The anime avoids the less enjoyable parts of the main story, but the manga has more depth to the characters. So, it really comes down to what you want out of the series. If you want the best of the action and aren’t bothered by the more sexual aspects of the story, then the manga is for you. If you want something quick that is well executed and fun to boot, then go for the anime.
But what about yourselves? Have you read the manga or watched the anime? What did you think?