Released in 2004, Samurai Gun is an oddity. It eschews the current trend in samurai anime of the historically accurate period detail. Samurai Gun thumbs its nose at its housemates: Peacemaker, Otogi Zoshi and Rurouni Kenshin, preferring to wallow in anachronism. Using the industrial revolution as a jumping off point, Samurai Gun grants itself a lot of latitude with its use technology. Guns aren’t limited to revolvers, there are automatics, the bad guys, the Shogun’s minions use rocket packs and have electrical torture devices, the kind used and recommended by the James Bond villain set.
Samurai Gun is certainly a curious throwback which could have something to do with its manga origins. The super-smooth Samurai Gun team wear color-coded suits that appear to be made out of that little known, industrial revolution fabric: lycra-spandex. In fact, Samurai Gun looks back to eighties anime where the Bond-styled espionage template could be imposed on any genre. In between flashing back to the pastel v-neck sweaters and wine coolers of my youth, I found myself not only recalling Ninja Scroll, with its heavy use of black, but the character designs of Buichi Terasawa, best known for Space Adventure Cobra. The cool Ichimatsu is certainly cut from the same hard-boiled cloth as Cobra but without the depth. He espouses a ‘never kill again’ philosophy then proceeds to dispatch henchmen with unflappable precision. At no point does Ichimatsu seem aware of the contradictory nature of his earlier pronouncement as around him, bad guys hemorrhage geysers of blood that look positively Jackson Pollock-inspired. What the creators imagine to be ‘moral ambivalence’ comes across as an early case of ADD.
One of the less endearing aspects of eighties anime is present in Samurai Gun. Yep, it’s misogynistic. The only way the series can find to portray the evils of the Shogun’s soldiers is their enthusiasm for torturing and murdering women. With a total lack of reflective awareness, Samurai Gun is also quite happy to engage in some fan service before these women meet their grisly fate.
Having gotten that out of my system, I’ve got to say that Samurai Gun is a romp. Whereas many recent samurai anime can be a little too drab and authentically earnest for their own good, Samurai Gun is all primary colors put to sixties garage rock. Its villains have scars and the good guys smoke, secure in the knowledge they have the immunity to lung cancer granted to all heroes.
And sometimes that can be a breath of fresh air.