MANGA REVIEW: GUNSMITH CATS: REVISED EDITION, VOLUME 1.
I had been wanting to read Kenichi Sonoda's Gunsmith Cats, but I hadn't seen it in comic book stores in ages, and Chapters/Indigo doesn't seem to carry the older, flipped Dark Horse/Studio Proteus editions of manga.
But it's finally been re-published in a double-length, unflipped "omnibus" format.
I had seen the three-episode OVA series years ago, so I knew basically what to expect: bounty hunter action with beautiful girls, lots of guns, cool cars, fanservice, and some comic relief, all set in a fairly realistic version of Chicago. Kenichi Sonoda is (was?) an animation character designer who branched out into manga, so his drawing style is a bit more anime-like than most mangakas draw.
The cars look great, especially Rally's Shelby GT500 Mustang. Sonoda draws cars as accurately as Kosuke Fujishima did in You're Under Arrest. Assuming the artwork is completely unflipped, there are one or two instances where Sonoda accidentally drew the cars driving on the left side of the street, like in Japan but unlike Chicago, but this should only bother you if you're a super-nitpicker like I am.
Sonoda is also a mega-otaku when it comes to firearms, even though private gun ownership is almost completely illegal in Japan, and some of the gunsmith "shop talk" gets a little too "inside baseball" for my limited interest in guns, but, on the plus side, if you have a little patience, it's quite educational, like with Rally's explanation, complete with diagrams, about why she prefers the original Czech military CZ 75 handgun to the export versions (the original version was made out of the hardest-grade steel ever milled for a handgun, but the export version of the CZ 75 lowered the grade of steel to western standards to be more cost-effective and, as such, Rally claims it's far less accurate).
It's a little more violent than I expected from the cute art style and what I remember of the anime; villains get their hands or feet blown off, and there's one sequence where the daughter of a defense attorney gets kidnapped and Sonoda shows her on a bed, obviously having just been raped, barely able to mutter "Daddy" to her father on the phone shortly before the kidnapper puts a bullet in her skull.
I like this manga for the most part with one huge reservation, and it's something that's usually a major selling point for me: I'm oficially creeped out by the fan service. I saw the 18+ content advisory warning on the back cover and I assumed it was primarily for gratuitous nude shots of Rally Vincent's big and bouncy brown boobies, and, yes, you get that in abundance. I don't have a problem with that kind of fan service. I actually wholeheartedly endorse that kind of fan service.
The problem with the fan service is regarding Minnie May Hopkins, Rally's sidekick. She's a 17-year old ex-prostitute (well, usually ex) who is drawn like a 14-year old and she's not exactly chaste. I wouldn't have a problem with this aspect of the story if it had some kind of dramatic point about abuse and exploitation, but Minnie May's entire troubled background seems to serve only as a flimsy excuse for Sonoda to draw an underaged-looking character in somewhat graphic sexual situations. One sequence with her performing oral sex on a silhouetted man comes very close to breaking obscenity laws in certain jurisdictions, and there's a wholly unnecessary sequence where she masturbates for two pages just to set up a cheap "she didn't know she was being watched" gag. That's not even the creepiest part... Minnie May's primary love interest is a 35-year old ex-bomb maker who came to know her as a prostitute four years prior to the start of the story. Do the math. (35 - 4 = 31 and 17 - 4 = 13) And he's supposed to be a sympathetic character.
Overall, Gunsmith Cats is quite possibly the best American action movie-inspired Japanese comic book that I have ever read, but you should at least be aware of the more salacious aspects of the storyline before you pick it up.
In my "to read" pile, I have the first volume of the much more recent Gunsmith Cats Burst manga, which started publication over a decade after the original manga series (I think the original was published in 1991, while Burst started in 2005). It looks to be about the same thing as the original manga, but Sonoda seemed to have streamlined the character designs and (thankfully) toned down the Minnie May fanservice. (I also have the first volume of Nana.)