No Guns Life – 09 – Bucking Colts

In what can best be described as a respite/setup episode, a lot of time is spent at Berühren HQ, where we finally see that the board of executives occupy a colossal many-faced robot/idol…thing. It’s pretty trippy. Cunningham beseeches the faces for another chance to redeem himself after a string of failures and is granted that shot.

From there we move on to Juuzou, who is back at his office, being courted by the others for some hot pot togetherness. Mary also announces she’s moving in with him, for various reasons. While undergoing routine maintenance, Tetsuro asks Mary why she became an Extension engineer.

Her reluctant answer? In short, so that she’d one day cross paths with…someone she’s been waiting for a long time. We later learn that someone is her brother, Victor.

When one of Mary’s clients, Colt, passes out outside the building, she fixes him up, and she and Tetsuro learn that the news reports about Berühren offering restitution to the families of testers killed by their latest research is B.S. As payment for her work, Colt offers her a fancy extension hand and forearm assembly that she geeks out on—turns out it was build by Victor.

But Colt also steals something of Mary’s, and Tetsuro spots it and follows him. After a brief scuffle, Colt asks Tetsuro to join him on his “job” which inevitably involves something bad. When asked if he wants to do it, Colt only replies only people with futures have stuff they want to do. Everyone else does what they have to.

No Guns Life – 08 – The Justice in Personal Motives

As she rides a taxi to the memorial with Tetsuro to help Juuzou, Olivier recalls when her MP father first told her he’d be assigned to Norse Scott, a job he said “someone had to do.” Olivier didn’t like how her dad was an MP at all, and dedicated herself to rising to the ranks in order to fire him.

Turns out she didn’t reach those heights in time; Gondry murdered her dad along with sixteen others, and all she got out of it was a bouquet and a can of very bad-smelling food. But Gondry was just a puppet, utilized by Armed, while Juuzou is another person he has to erase in order to preserve the progress he believes he’s made with Extended-Anti-Extended relations.

To that end, he crushes the last of Juuzou’s medicinal cigarettes, which results in Juuzou going berserk and revealing heretofore unseen arsenal of weapons and directives. Once he’s in battle formation, the protocol governing his operation awaits “authorization” from an operator called “Hands.”

Ironically, he remained utterly harmless until Armed attacked him, after which the berserk Juuzou mops the floor with him. Olivier eventually arrives, having heard Armed blab about his grand corrupt plan and his inherent egotism; but manages to wake Juuzou up by lighting up one of the cigs Tetsuro brought and blowing the smoke into his mouth—in other words, kissing him.

The awakened Juuzou regains his senses, and resists the urge to kill Armed, even though it’s what his client Olivier wants in the moment. Instead, he’s to face a court, while Juuzou is carried off by Tetsuro. But as he rides in a paddy wagon with Olivier, he asks what court would try him?

Olivier and Juuzou have stepped into something probably better left alone, now that they’ve come to the point where there will be no true justice, since powers far above her authority have already tacitally (if not directly) approved Armed’s actions.

Additionally, since Armed has info that could harm those powers that be, he is killed by Pepper—using Harmony to operate a Gun Slave Unit whose name we learn is Seven—by blasting a huge hole in the wagon. It’s just one thing after another…

No Guns Life – 07 – You Can’t Put the Bullet Back in the Gun

As Olivier is suspended and replaced as EMS director for failing to take care of Gondry and acting on her own, Juuzou and Kronen battle Gondry, whom the former learns is a tough customer, but one whose extended components use up a huge amount of energy.

When Kronen’s paralysis needles fail due to him being unable to his Gondry’s internal sub-brain, Juuzou engages Gondry in a battle of stamina, constantly wailing on him until his armor finally cracks and his sub-brain overheats. It’s reckless and crude, but effective.

Last week I lamented that so much time was being spent on what I deemed to be a one-dimensional crazy-evil villain, but Gondry proves more than that. Unbeknownst to either Juuzou or Kronen, Gondry was being controlled remotely via Harmony by a pink-haired woman named Pepper, whose partner is a Gun Slave unit like Juuzou. That’s an interesting twist!

It also means when Pepper’s link is severed, Gondry has no idea what’s going on, and sounds like he thinks the war is still going on. That means all of the murders of his old unit might have been done using his body, but without his consent or knowledge. Now I kinda feel bad for the ugly bastard!

Turns out he may not have done any of the murders after all. That’s because once Armed realizes Juuzou and Kronen intend to get intel from Gondry about the old days, he turns on both of them, declaring them collateral victims of the overarching need to protect the Extended industry and the money it brings the nation.

This is good stuff. First you have the wildly popular and esteemed war hero Armed possibly being a big ol’ fraud, who might even have orchestrated the murders himself—if Pepper didn’t do them through Gondry…unless Pepper is working for Armed. There’s a lot of neat angles to this. And Armed even has a good big picture point, even if it boils down to ends justifying the means.

At any rate, there’s no way he’ll succeed in killing Juuzou or Kronen. Aside from the fact they’re tough bastards in their own right, Tetsuro managed to escape protective custody by inhabiting a guard thru Harmony. His goal is to get Juuzou the cigarettes to which he’s so addicted. Mary hints that they don’t just ease the pain of his Extended parts, but could be suppressing…something.

It’s a nice secondary plot thread that continues to fester in the background, and could come to the fore at the worst time for Juuzou, who it must be said doesn’t seem to have the best luck. But hey, at least he’s got good friends, or in the case of Kronen, people he doesn’t like he can trust nevertheless.

No Guns Life – 06 – Watch Out for the Little Kid

With Mary, Tetsuro, Scarlet and her dad all in safe EMS custody, Juuzou can focus on tracking down and apprehending Hayden Gondry, who just happens to be the first renegade Extended case. Why he was being transported in an ordinary paddy wagon with three other prisoners is beyond me (if it were me I’d keep him on the prison island) but he’s loose, and he’s already murdered three people.

Olivier (whose compulsion to smell really bad smells is an interesting detail about her) warns Juuzou to take their arrangement seriously and bring Gondry in alive so he can face a formal trial. Judging from the photo on her desk, Olivier seems to have a personal stake in this case: either Gondry killed her father, or is her father.

Juuzou visits the mansion of the latest victim, walking past a photo that could be a young Mary, but his work is interrupted by the arrival of Section Chief Kronen, and the two fight until the latter is out of poison needles. Juuzou makes the connection between the three victims—they were all “extension subjects” for the first-generation unit, Tindalos.

He also knows who the next victim will be, so Kronen gives him a ride in his vintage Corvette to that next victim’s present location. That would-be victim, the famous and well-loved world’s first full-body Extended, Tokisada Mega Armed, is inspecting a massive statue being constructed in his honor. On the way to Armed, Juuzou encounters a cute young child who isn’t scared of his gun face.

As Armed is moving through a crush of admirers, Gondry strikes—and is instantly captured by Juuzou. Gondry breaks free, and Kronen hits Juuzou with more needles because he’s in the way, but then Kronen launches a kick at Gondry but hits Juuzou, whose head smashes what is revealed as a Gondry mask—only a decoy.

Meanwhile, Armed has gotten away—incidentally, with the same cute, innocent kid with whom Juuzou crossed paths. That turns out to be bad news, since the kid is actually the real Gondry, who is able to change his form and use holography to mimic the girl. We’ll see if Juuzou and Kronen can put aside their differences, because it will probably take both of them (and possibly more) to bring the guy down.

While there are a couple moments of decent humor and action, this episode was a bit of a drag, groaning under the weight of too much exposition and setup surrounding someone who is, so far, a two-dimensional murderous baddie. I also missed Mary and the others; while it’s logical to detain them for their safety, it would have been nice to cut to them at least once.

No Guns Life – 05 – More Faces, More Problems

This week introduces a number of characters who have been previewed in the OP and ED (the latter sporting very different character design). We start with Juuzou’s new landlady Christina, his “barber” who is best at cleaning his gun components and calls him “Zippo-chan”, and the barber’s daughter Scarlet, who seems to have a thing for the big guy but often stumbles on her words.

The more the merrier, I say, particularly where quirky colorful characters are concerned. They add depth and dimension to this cyberpunk world, and this week underscore how tenuous Juuzou’s grip on his freedom and the safety of the civvies he knows is, especially now that he discharged his head to defeat Spider-Ende.

The woman in charge of keeping Over-Extendeds in line, immune or otherwise, is the blue-(and very full)-lipped EMS director Olivier, who storms the barbershop in the blink of an eye with her Extended SWAT team. Juuzou pretends she’s not even there and asks the barber to keep cleaning his parts.

When Tetsuro and Mary come with leftovers for the Barber and Scarlet, they end up in the middle of things, and all of them end up arrested along with Juuzou. But turns out it’s all for show: Olivier and Juuzou have an arrangement where she smooths out any legal problems he causes, and in exchange she does something for him.

In this case that means capturing two of the seven prisoners who escaped from a van during transfer from the remote, supermax Over-Extended prison Wunder Bender to Berühren (a different arrangement between EMS and the megacorp in exchange for tech EMS needs). One of the two makes it easy and shows up to disrupt the EMS convoy, sending the wagon with the civilians (which Juuzou asked to be brought along for their protection) over a bridge. Somehow they all survive…I guess people are just tougher in this world.

Anyway, the escaped prisoner is called Hug Bear, and loves to give his victims bear-hugs with his meat grinder-like Extended muscles. He takes out some of Olivier’s men and is about to turn on Scarlet, Mary and the others when he is immobilized by yet another new character, Section Chief Kronen. That leaves just one prisoner remaining, who happens to be the most dangerous. What a coincidence!

No Guns Life – 04 – Spiders Are People Too

This week the sprawling gritty cyberpunk world of NGL shrinks considerably to a small area in the labyrinthine Kyusei pit where Tetsuro (via Juuzou’s body) is locked in a standoff with Cunningham, Anne, and Spider-Ende. Being trapped in this spot for a half episode gets increasingly claustrophobic, but also tedious. It actually felt more like an episode of a shounen anime…just not a particularly good one.

The bad guy spends a lot of time jabbering, Tetsuro’s inflexible morality is decried as selfish arrogance by Anne, poor Ende occasionally makes a peep, rinse repeat. But eventually something does happen, when Cunningham puts shoots Ende with a drug that puts her into a comatose state, such that there’s nothing keeping the spider part of her from going completely berserk.

Monster-Ende sends Anne flying, and while Tetsuro manages to somewhat cushion her impact with the wall, Juuzou’s body ain’t exactly soft, and she seemingly dies of her injuries just after telling Tetsuro to “save Ende in her place”. His connection with Juuzou’s body severed, all Tetsuro can do is use his Harmony, but he’s in luck: Juuzou comes to, and gets Tetsuro out of there.

From there, things get more interesting, as the episode is finally moving again. Monster-Ende’s relentless pursuit is particularly well done—not to mention very appropriate for Halloween. Once Juuzou and Tetsuro (and some poor bystander) are trapped in an elevator and Ende’s tearing apart its ceiling, Juuzou has no choice but to let Tetsuro fire the big gun that is his head.

That does the trick—Ende’s humanity is momentarily restored before she dies in the gun blast, and she seems to smile in gratitude that she’s finally freed of her constant torture. Only, as we learn later when Juuzou and Tetsuro are vacating the Kyusei Pit, Ende didn’t die…and neither did Anne. They’re both fine in Mary’s care.

When things started going badly for the two girls, I wondered why they featured so prominently in the OP—even appearing as a Polaroid on Juuzou’s bulletin board—if they were just going to kill them off here. It felt like a waste, so I’m glad they’re still alive. But that they are, and it’s announced quite suddenly in a new scene, sapped much of the drama and tragedy at the heart of the episode.

I’m also not sure what to make of Juuzou possibly being able to wrest control of his body back from Tetsuro, even though he said when he woke up that while he was conscious, he was just a “passenger.” There were definitely times when it made no sense to give him free rein, especially when it came to his overarching job of protecting Tetsuro.

So yeah, this wasn’t the best NGL, but it did still manage raise the stakes for Juuzou and Tetsuro. As we said, Juuzou isn’t welcome in the Kyusei Pit anymore, while Tetsuro’s status has evolved from “prey” to “enemy” of Berühren. Not to mention when Juuzou fired his gun, a woman with blue hair and lips took notice. She definitely looked like she meant business.

No Guns Life – 03 – Pulling the Strings

Juuzou politely declines a job offer from the imposing Brother Huang of the Kyusei group to find and eliminate someone stealing extended limbs from kids, because he thinks people should “wipe their own asses.” But what if someone can’t, either because they don’t have arms, or can’t move the ones they have?

Juuzou trusts actions over words, even what he deems are sincere words from Tetsuro about saving the other children imprisoned and tortured by Berühren as they speak…only Tetsuro isn’t really speaking with his own voice; he’s using a spare Extended head’s voice.

Similarly, in order to actually carry out the saving of those kids, he’ll need to rely on bodies other than his own, which was made all but useless by the company. Juuzou tells him any attempt would be futile; the world is an unfair place, and Tetsuro needs to count what blessings he has and move forward thinking about himself.

Tetsuro can’t accept that, and won’t sit back and do nothing. Instead, he uses Harmony to hack into Juuzou’s body, which he uses to carry his own body (lest Mary try to disconnect the two) as he heads out in search of the people hurting kids. When he almost falls victim to parts scavengers, he covers Juuzou’s head with a sack.

Then he seemingly lucks out when he spots two distressed-looking girls in gray frocks running from a man with swords for arms—just the kind of people he wants to save. Only Ende and Anne are not really on the run; they’re the very people stealing parts from kids, on orders from Berühren. They were also ordered not to let any witnesses survive, making Tetsuro/Juuzou their next target.

Of the two, Ende is capable of transforming into a monstrous mecha-spider woman, but even with Anne by her side for emotional support, she easily goes berserk, and in any case is in constant pain. Anne just hopes they can return home to Berühren for maintenance, and believes that Ende’s body will be put “back to normal” as a reward if they complete their mission.

Berühren’s stooge, however, considers the two to have failed their mission when he meets up with them, and orders the two test subjects immediately “retired” (in another nice nod to Blade Runner). Both he and the company never saw Ende and Anne as human beings, but mere puppets; tools to be used and discarded when the desired results aren’t achieved.

And yet, even though Anne and Ende tried to kill Tetsuro/Juuzou, he still comes to their rescue here, since he already knows what they’ve only just figured out: Berühren can’t be trusted, and can only be opposed. The girls don’t trust adults, but hopefully someone who can transform into a mecha-spider woman can come to believe Tetsuro when he insists he’s one of them, and is merely controlling the big burly adult body they see. It’s a tough sell, I know.

No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.

No Guns Life – 01 (First Impressions) – As the Cylinder Spins

No Guns Life is a somewhat awkwardly-titled cyberpunk noir series centered on Inui Juuzou, private detective-type guy called a resolver who also happens to have a gun for a head. That concept pays immediate comic dividends when we first see him lighting up a cigarette in his dingy office, or when we see a super-simplified version of his face when he expresses bashfulness over being kissed by a woman he helped out.

Juuzou may be an Extended with his gun head, indicating a past life as a tool of war, but seiyu Suwabe Junichi imparts a world-weary, warm and irreverent humanity to him—a heart of gold beneath all the gunmetal. The modifications made to his once fully-human form are the work of Berühren, a military megacorp whose monolithic headquarters called to mind Wallace Corp.’s in Blade Runner 2049.

Juuzou’s latest client is a seemingly “renegade” fellow Extended accused of kidnapping a boy named Tetsuro from an orphanage, but the scary-looking Extended’s meek disposition has Juuzou suspecting there’s more to it than that. Juuzou takes the job and custody of the unconscious Tetsuro while the Extended lures the Security Bureau away.

This scene hits all of the usual noir detective story points: a messed up office that wasn’t that nice to begin with, an immediate sense of peril, a new client who isn’t what they seem, and a job Juuzou can’t pass up if it pays, since he’s barely making rent. One key downside to the scene is that no one has any facial expressions, so the voices have to pull double duty.

We finally do see some facial expressions when Juuzou encounters Karen, a meek (but oddly not fearful) nun from the orphanage searching for Tetsuro. Juuzou doesn’t buy her cover, so she removes most of them to reveal she’s an evil badass Berühren operative tasked with retrieving a vital R&D asset, with a mean gun and an Extended eye that can see through his smoke bomb.

The Oni-faced Extended reappears to help Juuzou out, but Karen makes quick work of him, leaving Juuzou with no choice but to abandon Tetsuro as she shoots him, causing to fall down a very high ledge (also reminiscent of Blade Runner in its general dinginess and great height).

When he comes to, Oni-face has dressed his wounds, but is at the end of his rope. Then comes the twist: Oni-face was never an independent entity: it was being remote controlled all along by Tetsuro using something called Harmony. When Berühren, who rendered him incapable of escaping on his own legs, he manipulated the unoccupied Extended to aid his escape.

Before his remote Extended shuts down, Tetsuro thanks Juuzou for trying to help him, but is resigned to end up back in Berühren’s pokey-proddy clutches. Juuzou is not so resigned. Resolved to “finish the job” even if it ends up being pro bono, he locates Tetsuro (with a tracking device in his ear) aboard a train, and puts his Extended body to use stopping it in its tracks.

Comparisons to Cop Craft are there, only instead of a human-alien odd couple undertaking fairly conventional police missions, we have a cyborg P.I., in a world where his breed of cyborg isn’t particularly celebrated, trying to protect the weak in a world that will otherwise chew them up more viciously than our own. It swaps Cop Craft’s slick Range Murata design with the grittier style of Shino Masanori (Black Lagoon) and Iwasaki Taku’s soundtrack with Kawai Kenji’s (Gundam 00).

It’s a very fun (if sometimes dark and depressing world), again thanks to Juuzou’s irreverent attitude, and the story seems headed in a finite direction with confidence, something that definitely didn’t end up happening in Cop Craft. One episode’s not enough to judge whether it will succeed where that show failed, but that curiosity is thankfully not the only reason to keep watching.