When considering gun culture and the societal relationship between firearms and specific populations, Japan under its heavily disarmed state has always served as an intriguing comparison point to that of the American populace, supposedly conversely gun-obsessed with unique rights that allow its citizenry to arm themselves, both as a mean to combat tyranny but also as a deeply embedded symbol of their cultural fabric.
And Japan as a statistical figure has often been cited as an example of a nation with strict gun control measures and subsequently lower murder rates by groups in favor of limiting these freedoms given by the Second Amendment. However regardless of what the statistical figures might say, Japan is inarguably a nation as obsessed and passionate with firearms and possibly more so then that of the United States. The only caveat being that its population is widely restricted from actually owning or using them.
The fandom surrounding guns is somewhat perplexing. Mangaka Kenichi Sonoda has stated in past interviews that he actively subscribes to several firearm magazines in Japan. Which is shocking not only because someone who apparently can never own firearms still so fervently likes to read and learn about them, but that a nation where ownership is impossible that such a publication is even a viable venture. But somehow it is and this is comparatively telling that in the United States, prominent publications of the same material while present are largely those given away as part of an annual NRA membership, almost as a throwaway incentive.
And taking a look at various anime and manga works throughout the years, it is fairly clear that there is a certain fascination with arms in general, not simply as tools or catalysts of action in John Woo or Hollywood operatic fashion, or anatomical extensions of masculinity of the hip-firing and steroid-enhanced Rambo variety, but actually presenting them in meticulous detail and precision.
An attention to detail that transcends narrative or literary significance and borders on sheer excess. Works like Cowboy Bebop or Ghost in The Shell for example are almost as characteristic of the firearms depicted, as they are of the actual human characters they concern. For example Spike Spiegel while justifiably being a memorable character in his own right, is likely on par with his iconic handgun of choice the Jericho 941 R. And while Ghost in The Shell is regarded as a pivotal and important piece of an informal anime canon, I likely remember the Mateba Model 6 Unica that Togusa wielded as much as the diverse individuals that made up Section 9.
But this fascination simply isn’t in the technical or mechanical attention to detail, rather steps far across the line of a simple hobbyist’s passion. Animes like Upotte!! or Gunslinger Girl go so far as to transcribe the technical characteristics of particular firearms, and humanize them into actual anthropomorphized characters. In this fashion Emten (phonetically “M” “10”) talks rapidly and grows quickly out of breath, similarly to the MAC-10’s high rate of fire and ability to empty its capacity in very short order. Or Ichiroku (literally translates to “1” and “6”) has a tendency to alternate between sudden bursts of energy and rests denoting her namesake the M16A4’s select-fire capability.
And while it is hard to accurately assess whether particular segments of the Japanese population would welcome ownership, it is undeniable that at least a good fraction likely would. The rampant market for gun tourism, or of the Japanese taking literal gun vacations to places like Hawaii or Las Vegas are indicative of a strong desire to simply be able to recreationally use something that is outright restricted in their home country, similarly to how many Americans may travel to Amsterdam to partake in certain vices which are restricted here such as the usage of cannabis or psychedelics.
The prevalent airsoft community and replica market in Japan also portrays a community that is thoroughly dedicated to the practice of arms to essentially the highest degree of realism with the singular restriction of not being able to actually train with real firearms or ammunition. Chris Costa of Magpul fame and his recent somewhat controversial visit to Japan is largely indicative of this. While airsoft here in the States is often viewed as simply an adolescent toy or a somewhat ignorant escape for individuals who desire a taste of military or law enforcement life without the actual work or dedication required, in Japan airsoft is taken at a far more serious level. For those in Japan, airsoft isn’t merely a questionable alternative, rather the only avenue possible with professional competitions at USPSA-like levels.
The significance of all this might seem entirely irrelevant especially in light of the supposed saturation of firearms and violence in American media historically. However the attitude behind many of the productions coming out of Hollywood is fundamentally divergent, which likely isn’t clear to someone unfamiliar with firearms in general. And this is an issue that isn’t simply symptomatic of major cinematic productions, but seen across the board in mediums at every level. I can recall reading through Neal Stephenson’s Reamde several years back and being appalled that despite supposedly heavily researching firearms specifically, Stephenson had a complete inability to distinguish between a simple clip or magazine. To his credit, he did at least manage to depict the gun-owning American citizenry not as backwoods caricatured rednecks, but simply presenting a different way of life with its own attitudes on self-sufficiency more fitting to those outside major urban centers. And from a narrative standpoint, if it wasn’t for the firearm familiar Forthrasts, the climax would likely have been far more tragic.
But for a rather drastic and more recent example, one only needs to look as far as arguably the most popular TV show currently on-air, AMC’s The Walking Dead. For those interested, simply googling “Walking Dead firearm mistakes” should return ample results on all too frequent mistakes made by the production crew. Everything from exhibiting simple ignorance at proper usage, to outright dangerous behavior that would automatically get one kicked off a shooting range or anywhere else firearms may be prevalent. I’ve compiled a selection of these in an image here, but more information on the matter can be read about on the individual entry pages over on imfdb.org for those interested or simply googled.
The nature of some of these inconsistencies and errors might seem overly critical especially in a medium that is notorious for continuity problems of glasses refilling themselves between shots or clothing changing suddenly. However most of the examples highlighted in The Walking Dead could largely have been avoided if the producers actually consulted someone with a decent knowledge of firearms, which is strange given the fact that they apparently had an armorer on set. It doesn’t take a genius for example to realize a Glock doesn’t have a safety especially considering they were filming with accurate replicas, of which also didn’t have safeties. That whole sequence is fairly characteristic of the whole issue, that being that both those producing the work and the audience are not expected to spot these errors. Actor Andrew Lincoln who plays Rick in that particular sequence can actually be seen pretending to switch off a non-existent safety, which means the actor and crew had to have realized the mistake at that point, but still rolled with it.
But the mistakes themselves are not entirely relevant as to why I even bothered on bringing them up in the first place, it is more an indication that strangely Hollywood if acting as some sort of avatar of society at large to some degree, presents America not as gun-obsessed, rather as gun-ignorant. And while this shouldn’t be surprising if our nation was similar to the United Kingdom where these devices are supposedly out of the public’s hands, we have instead consistently been told that we conversely have a gun “problem” of too many firearms per capita. It sort of begs the question of how and why a country like Japan conversely deals with firearms with an altogether different reverence despite not being able to own them.
Americana, Firearms, and V8s
While I wouldn’t classify Gunsmith Cats as anything particularly novel or innovative in regards to its larger genre or medium, it does have the unique distinction of being one of the rare works that doesn’t actually take place within Japan, nor represent its culture directly. Instead while it is undeniably a Japanese work, it is wholly concerned with a fascination of Americana. Everything from the characterization to the choice of plots are largely representative of what mangaka Kenichi Sonoda seemingly adores from American culture. This obviously includes firearms, but also encompasses a diehard obsession with gas guzzling prehistoric V8s of the past and old-school Hollywood action tropes.
The basic premise of the manga as the name suggests, revolves around gunsmith Rally Vincent. She owns and operates a gun store, smithing service, and indoor range aptly called Gunsmith Cats in Chicago with her friends Minnie May and Misty Brown. She also moonlights as a bounty hunter where she tracks down criminals who have jumped bail but often gets indirectly thrown into larger conflicts outside the scope of what a bounty hunter is normally capable of legally participating in. The bounty hunting is unsurprisingly the main catalyst for action in the manga, but the overall premise itself is intriguing in its own right.
Placing Rally Vincent as a gunsmith, the manga purposely casts her in a role that would lend itself to depictions of not only firearms, but discussions on the legalities of the sale, transfer, and usage of guns within her occupation of bounty hunting. For example, Rally often finds herself unable to fire upon a hostile target given the situation doesn’t lend itself to justifiably be read as necessary or self-defense. This shouldn’t suggest at all however that Gunsmith Cats is anywhere near an accurate guide of what one can or cannot do legally. It is inarguably a work of fiction, but the emphasis at all is definitely intriguing, especially when the average work never concerns itself with such supposed obstacles to simply showcasing the action spectacle.
Furthermore the setting of Chicago seems an entirely fitting choice, placing action within a major urban center that is both saturated with crime, but also victim to some of the more stringent gun legislation within the States. From both the contexts of Rally’s bounty hunting business and sale of firearms, this constant threat of an always changing legislation is something that regularly gets discussed. For example, being left with a horde of unsellable magazines when capacity limits are suddenly restricted and lowered. Or Rally being left unarmed due to certain legal issues and being unable to protect herself which is an understandable concern given her occupation and locale.
And while one could certainly make the argument that Gunsmith Cats seems to point to a certain viewpoint on gun control in general especially the OVA adaptation which places corrupt ATF agents and gun-control advocates as its primary antagonists, the manga itself seems more indicative of a more general respect for a society that fundamentally offers this unique freedom at all, especially coming from someone whose native country falls on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.
In this manner Kenichi Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats isn’t simply a love letter to guns themselves or the possibility of owning them, rather to American culture as a whole. And no one is as wholly characteristic of this then Rally herself. Presenting the multicultural aspect of the American fabric, Rally isn’t the typical pale-skinned, blue eyed heroine nor is she simply a Japanese transplant surrogate. Instead she is a dark-skinned Indian with a love for firearms and her Mustang Cobra GT-500. And to a certain degree, Rally somewhat feels temporally displaced from the period of which the manga seemingly takes place.
From her car of choice, to the overall aesthetic of the manga, Gunsmith Cats is steeped in a somewhat nostalgic callback to the era of The Rockford Files to Magnum P.I. instead of its mid 1990s to 2000s time frame. And possibly most significant is that thematically, firearms to Rally are not simply physical objects to be lusted after or devices of rampant destruction, but something far more personal, representative of memories of her father bonding over plinking soda cans with a .22 takedown or learning to shoot on his personal CZ-75.
Depicting Proper Usage & a Concern for Safety
With the sizable budgets of most modern day productions and the prevalence of firearm usage within the media, it is somewhat surprising to find that actors typically have a tendency to show every way “not” to hold a firearm. While the hip-firing and no-sighting of the 80s and 90s can easily be explained away as a deliberate attempt to put more focus on actor’s faces then the guns which should be in front of them, the proceeding paradigmal shift over to a semblance of realism has not brought with it an actual understanding of arms.
Police procedurals from Castle to CSI often show characters holding firearms in questionable manner. And while I would likely agree that pointing out a character that is tea-cupping a handgun is likely not entirely relevant on its own, the greater sin is the multitude of instances of characters placing fingers and other digits in places that would likely cause a malfunction at best, and injury at worst. For example, pressing a thumb against the slide of a semi-automatic, or other digits covering areas where gas violently escapes from a revolver.
And while this erroneous nature is not universal, it does seem that characters almost always present themselves in a way that is flat-out wrong, or at best workable but by no means understandable for anyone with even a day out at the range. The perplexing facet of all this is that demonstrating an acceptable grip is far from being a challenge.
The fact of the matter is that while there are plenty of ways to shoot a handgun incorrectly where injury will likely not occur and some accuracy can still be achieved, the manner in which Hollywood often portrays their usage will immediately demonstrate an issue if ever put into practice. And unlike something like martial arts prowess or other skills that might need to be acquired for a particular production, the usage of firearms can honestly be taught in very short order. One could easily scour Youtube for instructional videos or simply go to a local range and ask someone for guidance. Quite literally anyone can learn to properly shoot and grip a handgun in a single session with a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and proper instruction.
At the very least and while one may find all of this inconsequential, it does at least bear some thought as to why a manga like Gunsmith Cats is conversely dedicated to doing otherwise. Every panel and rendering in the several thousand pages of illustrations that the manga holds portrays characters like Rally with proper grips. Often it is the standard thumb over thumb, pointing forward variety. But in every case, grips are portrayed in a fashion that would realistically be utilized.
In most instances, Rally employs a standard two-hand grip with the dominant hand resting high up on the firearm ensuring that the bore axis is as much in line with her hand as possible. This aids in reducing muzzle rise as recoil is directed straight back into the hand and arm, instead of flipping up above the hand, if for example one’s grip was placed lower down.
In comparison with instances in American media, grips are often performed in a fashion that might arguably feel more natural. Riding up on a semi-automatic like a Glock can feel somewhat unintuitive as the shape of the grip doesn’t necessarily lend itself to one’s hands smashing up against the dovetail, in addition to fears that the reciprocating slide may come in contact causing harm. While not a great justification for such behavior, it does at least explain why actors may have a tendency to hold a handgun in a manner that doesn’t provide adequate support or recoil control even when depicting someone who should have this knowledge such as those in law enforcement or military.
But more significant is the fact that Rally is rendered using a grip that is actually taught and used by shooters. That being a variation or derivative of the “thumb over thumb” or “thumbs forward” hold, that has one gripping the handgun with the dominant hand, then essentially filling the gap with the support hand on the left-side, ending with the dominant thumb either riding or touching the support thumb, typically both being parallel and pointed straight forward. For a visual explanation, Travis Haley can be seen here providing a demonstration with his own minor variations and thoughts on the matter.
In addition, what is also somewhat intriguing is that Gunsmith Cats simply doesn’t present a homogenous portrayal of arms and its mechanics based on an individual’s glancing understanding of the subject. Other characters may employ different but still proper methodologies, and even Rally herself can be seen employing various other methods. For example, she occasionally uses her support index finger to add additional control on the front of the trigger guard, as can be seen in the first panel from the image above. In actual practice, professional shooter Jerry Miculek can be seen briefly demonstrating this hold here.
While this method is by no means standard, it is widely accepted if it happens to work for the particular individual. Some handguns even account for this in their physical designs, which can be seen in the Glock on the second panel with its trigger guard checkering, where ironically Rally isn’t employing this grip. It is also worth noting that even in instances where Rally’s natural dexterity ability might be hindered, she still maintains proper form. In the third panel, Rally is seen relying on a small backup piece with her thumbs zip-tied, yet still manages to maintain an acceptable grip.
One area where films and video games are uncharacteristically similar is in how firearms are presented as never failing nearly mystical objects of proficiency. This is explicitly seen in the ability of characters to quite literally point their gun like their own finger and hit their target with ease, or expend more rounds then they could conceivably carry, but more so in the fact that they simply never malfunction.
Open world sandbox title Far Cry 2 briefly explored this mechanic with firearms that with prolonged use, decayed and needed to be either repaired or replaced. If the player didn’t, the particular gun would often jam and eventually explode in their hands. While this particular game was far from accurate in its portrayal it did highlight one facet of arms that rarely gets discussed. Firearms often suffer malfunctions, typically because of user error like limp-wristing but can also be due to numerous other factors like bad ammo or poor manufacturing.
In one of the panels above, Rally is seen suffering a failure to eject in the middle of a shootout. A spent casing fails to properly clear the chamber before the slide reciprocates back forward so it can strip the next round off the magazine, thus rendering the firearm inoperable until she clears it. She does so by racking the slide. What is most significant however isn’t simply that the manga bothered to depict the unreliability of firearms, rather that it actually shows Rally taking her finger off the trigger while she clears the malfunction.
This might seem like a small detail, but when it comes to the various renderings of weapon manipulation within Gunsmith Cats, it is the one that most caught my attention. One of the key rules of firearm safety is to keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. This also means that once you are done firing, or in the case of something like a jam, you should immediately remove the finger from the trigger area in case of a negligent discharge.
Even from a characterization context and considering that Rally is someone who admittedly is familiar with firearms, it is worth noting that the majority of secondary characters who could arguably be ignorant on the matter are also depicted in a similar manner. In the next panel, a shooter is seen rendering an AR-15 safe by dropping the mag, then pulling back the charging handle to release the chambered round, all again performed with his finger away from the trigger.
While I doubt it was the intention of Gunsmith Cats to either directly teach or promote proper gun safety habits, it goes without saying that it has the right attitude when it comes to showing them in action. This is a mentality that our own media has never shown, which is a great irony considering the explicitly anti-gun leaning industry that is wholly concerned with “safety” yet has done nothing to rectify this in their own productions that simultaneously glorify their usage and show no regard for behavior that could cause injury if replicated.
The whole notion of trigger discipline should arguably be something that comes without question and for the most part, even Hollywood productions have in recent years caught on. No longer do we find characters running around with their fingers resting on the trigger muzzle-sweeping friendlies with no concern. And I wouldn’t be all that surprised to find that new shooters will already be aware of this, entering some form of a societal-wide common sense.
But Gunsmith Cats often transcends even what is simply standard of common knowledge. For example, in the panel depicting a MAC-10 which is for the most part a firearm that is illegal to own given its full-auto capability, Kenichi Sonoda correctly shows it ready to fire from an open bolt. I doubt this is something that many people are even aware of given that currently in the States, it is illegal to manufacture or sell firearms that fire from an open bolt. This isn’t entirely that significant directly but does have rather important safety concerns if one were ever to fire one of these on the off chance they were in Las Vegas or elsewhere where machine guns can be rented. Instead of getting into extraneous detail, I recommend viewing hickok45’s video on exactly how an open bolt presents a problem when manipulated similarly to most other common firearms today.
This particular sequence from the first volume of Gunsmith Cats presents another fundamental rule of safety that is often ignored within our own media, that is never point a gun at something you don’t intend to destroy regardless of whether it’s loaded. In this particular image, Rally is seen handing off a smithing job to a customer who is absolutely ignorant of this particular safety rule pointing it directly at her. Rally is visibly nervous about it and kindly asks them not to do so. While I could pull from a number of contrasting examples, the clearest violation I remember of this personally is a particular sequence from The Walking Dead where Glenn is seated in the passenger seat of a vehicle with shotgun in hand, most certainly loaded and placed in a manner that is directly aimed upwards at his own face.
The relevance of all this supposed nit-picking is two-fold. First there is a strange contradiction within our own society especially within the more left-slanted industry that produces the majority of our media that is both adamantly against the ownership of guns, yet profits off their incorrect usage in film, TV, or video games. While the fictional argument can be made, it is ultimately hollow given it doesn’t take a genius to know that fiction does ultimately effect public perception. The CSI effect is a clear demonstration of this, as well as the public perception of firearms and the manner in which it is ultimately legislated.
I want to stress that I am not making the argument that media in anyway should be censored, rather pointing out the clear contradiction of individuals within this industry that can easily take part in a PSA for Moms Demand Action or Everytown for Gun Safety, then produce something like The Expendables or The Walking Dead that does nothing to aid in safely approaching firearms if the situation ever arose. The “Demand A Plan” PSA particularly, that aired on the heels of Sandy Hook reeked of absolute hypocrisy, especially with celebrities like Conan who had previously done rather reckless things with guns in the past for the sake of entertainment. The late night show host can be seen here with Hunter S. Thompson drinking hard liquor and operating firearms, two things that should obviously never cross.
And it is ultimately not a stretch to imagine that much of the supposed “assault gun” rhetoric has been flavored by fictional depiction, more so then being rooted in actual reality. Much of what dictates the notion of an “assault” weapon, is completely arbitrary considering the appearance of a firearm, more so then its actual supposed destructive capabilities. For example, whether a firearm has a collapsible stock, pistol grip, or other accessory that can classify it as immediately legal or illegal. Or more ridiculous are the NFA barrel length restrictions deeming a rifle with a 16” barrel as acceptable, but one with a 15.9” as dangerous (but completely fine if registered as a “pistol”), yet still technically allowing ownership by paying the ATF an unjustified tax. Or more recently, the microstamping requirement for handguns in California which is seemingly based on fictional forensics or at the least, technology that currently doesn’t exist.
Ultimately the clearest indicator of this general ignorance, is to examine our own politicians and those tasked with being experts on the subject, spearheading efforts to pass “sensible” gun laws. Senator Dianne Feinstein has notoriously been photographed holding an AK demonstrating every possible violation of gun safety, and more recently the bumbling rantings of Kevin de Leon only served to showcase his complete lack of knowledge of even the most basic fundamentals of how firearms function especially in contrast to the likes of Cody Wilson or Dimitrios Karras who have both been a thorn in the ATF’s side, despite staying well within the law.
In contrast, it is difficult to rationally be fearful of the advent of 3D printed guns or 80% garage builds because people have already been making guns legally for decades. And if one were to pinpoint any recent development that increased the likelihood of gun violence, it’s conversely all too easy to look to the ATF themselves over the blunder of Operation Fast and Furious which has estimated to have already caused hundreds of deaths.
For an actual case of our politicians’ idiocy being seriously considered then backfiring however, there is the more recent case of someone actually following the instructions of Vice President Biden on what someone should do if ever faced with intruders. In response to the question of the AR-15, Biden responds with saying that no one needs it and a double-barreled shotgun would be better because it is easier to aim and shoot which couldn’t be further from the truth. He then says that if ever faced with possible intruders, “just walk out on the balcony here, walk out and put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house.”
As it turns out, a Washington man did exactly this when met with possible intruders on his property and subsequently faced several charges of firearms misuse. Not only does it leave the person defenseless with an empty shotgun, it is completely irresponsible behavior. The law doesn’t allow for discharging a firearm simply out of fear or to scare others away, it is simply for when under direct threat of life. Biden’s advice not only showed a complete lack of knowledge on proper use, but of law itself.
Gun Porn and Culture
From the very first pages of Gunsmith Cats, there is an exorbitant effort to detail the technical characteristics of the firearms depicted by actually listing the exact makes and models to the specific ammo used. This is clearly seen in the introductory sequence where an assassin is seen eliminating several targets with an S&W Model 19, where Kenichi Sonoda for no conceivably justifiable narrative purpose lists that the rounds expended were .38 +P Black Talons outside the panel in addition to details on the firearm. And this is something that is regularly seen throughout the manga, where certain terms or firearms are given an almost encyclopedic attention to detail simply for their own sake or the reader’s curiosity.
But past all of these technical obsessive compulsions, one of the most fascinating aspects of Gunsmith Cats is the effect it has actually had on the firearms community, primarily seen in fabricating an unprovable legend or tale about the CZ-75, of which is commonly discussed by those both familiar with the manga, but even by those who have never heard of it.
Within the first volume of Gunsmith Cats, Rally gets into a discussion with her friend Roy about her love and fascination with the original CZ-75, her handgun of choice. What is utterly fascinating about her tale is that it is entirely believable and cleverly interweaves enough truths to make it somewhat plausible. But more so, the tale has proven to have actually entered the collective conscious of the firearms community becoming more then simple fiction. And it isn’t known whether Kenichi Sonoda deliberately fabricated this piece of lore, or whether it is simply a case of getting the details wrong.
However the story follows that the original CZ-75 was constructed out of some unknown superior steel that aided in exceptional accuracy. She demonstrates this to Roy by having him tap the slide against the frame, stating it sounds almost like glass due to its hardness. Rally even goes on to explain the design differences in the modern CZ-75s as a result of compensating for lower grade steel, seen primarily in extending the slide rails.
It is a great piece of lore whether fictional or not, and does make Rally’s handgun of choice seem all that more fascinating. In truth however, a difference in steel if any could be explained by a possible shift from milling to forging in mass production which could have arguably resulted in slightly weaker structural strength, but if there was any difference it is doubtful it would have had any sort of tangible effect. Furthermore, the supposed hardness of the steel seems like a strange claim given “hardness” is more reliant upon tempering and heat-treat processes then the specific composition used. And it’s debatable whether hardness would even be something desirable in a firearm that undergoes a considerable amount of stress. Too hard of a steel might prove to be brittle when required to slightly flex under pressure.
The CZ-75 however is an interesting firearm in its own right, the characteristics of which could largely justify the existence of such a legend. Unlike most semi-automatics, the CZ-75 had a slide that ran inside the frame as opposed to outside of it. This rather novel design allowed users to get higher up on the gun closer to the bore axis, and also made recoil much more manageable. All of this earlier on could have aided in a sense that the gun was inherently more accurate, when in actuality it was easier to shoot and control. Currently there are a plethora of clones and derivatives of the CZ-75 design to the point that it is no longer truly novel being somewhat outmatched by the likes of the Jericho 941 or Sphinx 3000. However the CZ-75 remains exceptionally popular among shooters and has occasionally been labeled as the hipster of the 9mm semi-automatic world that has been flooded with polymer framed contemporaries like Glocks, M&Ps, or XDs and with alloy framed models like the Beretta M9 seeming prehistoric especially with the US Army currently seeking a replacement. Amidst this dichotomy the CZ-75 and some of its more modern variants like the SP-01 still remain popular handguns for being situated in an attractive price to performance ratio.
However Rally’s relationship to the CZ-75 is more then merely a gun enthusiast’s passion, but more so an indicator of her own personal narrative. Like the majority of the characters in Gunsmith Cats, Rally from the onset provides little explanation or backstory into why she is who she is. In Rally’s case, questions of why she is a bounty hunter, where she acquired her skills, and her love of firearms are never really touched upon or explored seemingly presented at face value. However as the manga progresses moving away from episodic tales to focus in on a more centralized and ongoing exploration of its primary players, Rally’s own history is slowly unraveled.
As Kenichi Sonoda delves back into Rally’s past, much of her characterization is given proper context. Her love of firearms isn’t simply an individual’s fascination with a particular inconsequential hobby, or a caricature of American social fabric, rather a direct result of her relationship with her father. Of whom spent much of their time together bonding over shooting soda cans and teaching her the finer points of marksmanship. Her particular connection to the old CZ-75 is also given a more grounded connection, seen in the revelation that it was the personal gun of choice of her father.
And around this point in the manga with Rally reminiscing on her childhood, she begins to nostalgically carry an AR-7, a .22 takedown rifle commonly used in backpacking or as a survival rifle. As a defensive weapon, a .22 LR is incredibly inadequate, more suited for taking down small game or possibly as a teaching tool. However the AR-7 isn’t necessarily presented as a mean for self-defense or a weapon, rather a visual reminder of Rally’s missing father and her longing to track him down.
But more so, the presentation of a young Rally and her father shooting an AR-7 is somewhat intriguing from a cultural standpoint. While American media has no qualms displaying firearms as tools of death and destruction, there is seemingly a pervasive universal taboo over their depiction as positive cultural objects. For example, films or television series rarely portray scenes of parents teaching their children to shoot (outside of a present threat) or bonding over them. If anything, there is a tendency or unwillingness to display firearms used by non-authority figures (law-enforcement or military) in a positive manner. If a civilian who is carrying a firearm is typically present within a particular narrative, it is almost always as a means to cause more chaos despite their intentions. It has almost become a common trope for a bank heist or other high tension situation to play out where a bumbling hostage or bystander happens to have a weapon on hand, idiotically plays the hero resulting in their death and often the deaths of others. While conversely, the protagonist often a person of some sort of formal authority acting under a sense of deus ex machina sweeps in and saves the day.
While I could cite numerous statistical figures that would paint an otherwise different picture (armed civilians do actually prevent crimes), the relevance of this is more cultural and within public perception. Firearms are undoubtedly dangerous, but so are alcohol consumption or operating two ton vehicles. Yet for some reason firearms among the segment of the population that largely didn’t grow up around them, are largely fearful of these tools to a degree that would almost indicate they might have a mind of their own. From a narrative context, firearms seemingly follow a very literal interpretation of Chekhov’s gun, in that if they are present they will certainly go off.
However within our own media, this seemingly appears to work in two different ways. If the firearm is placed with a person of some type of authority, whether that be legal status or in characterization, the firearm acts as an extension of that person. In other words, the tool is only as dangerous as the intent of the person wielding it. So unless Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead chooses to kill someone, the gun will do nothing on its own.
However, if placed in the hands of a largely secondary character that implicitly has no training or occupational characteristics to lend itself to firearm familiarity, they are universally cast as a catalyst to spin events out of control, often laying the groundwork for a conflict to be resolved by the primary characters. For example recently in the TV series The Blacklist a criminal was featured holding up a gas station where another elderly customer was concealed-carrying. The customer then proceeds to pull out his weapon but the criminal somehow notices this and shoots him dead with ease, but not before the concealed-carrier accidentally shoots another innocent bystander.
In 1995 on the subject of gun policy, Eric Holder stated that we “really need to brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.” What is interesting about Holder’s statement isn’t necessarily his stance on the matter, rather the notion that it is seemingly acceptable to intentionally misinform the public as opposed to presenting them with actual facts. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, I am of the opinion that most people would rather have the truth then be misled despite whether it might challenge their current viewpoints.
In the wake of Sandy Hook and the rampant media coverage of the debate over gun control, it might seem as if there is solid statistical evidence to indicate that some legislative changes could make a difference. What is intriguing is that most of the proposed limitations and restrictions were already a reality for nearly a decade with the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 which then expired a decade later. Numerous studies were done on the potential effect the ban had on crime and homicide rates by the Department of Justice, National Research Council, and other academic bodies, all of whom concluded that the ban had no positive effect, and if anything numbers displayed a slight increase when guns were restricted. The only group that unsurprisingly put out a study with any positive favor of the ban was the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence who relied on supposed figures from the ATF, of whom subsequently denied any validity to their claims. The point of this isn’t to argue for or against certain legislation, rather to indicate the clear ignorance of information presented and the manner it is ultimately interpreted in law and public perception.
From a characterization standpoint, the individuals that inhabit Gunsmith Cats are similarly in a gray area much like the firearms that they favor. They are neither good nor bad, and often outside the depth of a larger plot. Even Rally placed in a central point of focus is often unable to influence events drastically. With the followup manga Gunsmith Cats Burst ultimately concluding her story, it seemingly ends in a manner that is somewhat jarring or unsatisfying. Goldie the central villain of much of the narrative makes a return yet isn’t dealt with in expected fashion. Characters largely don’t get a sense of closure, more that they either go on with their lives and in separate directions.
And the sense that Rally herself often serves as a means to bring justice to individuals outside the limitations of the law seems to point to a certain notion that these characters embody the sense of a necessary evil. While it is debatable whether Rally herself is characteristically criminal given she certainly skirts the law frequently, others like Bean Bandit are clearly past that line.
The fact that Kenichi Sonoda chose to bring back Goldie is largely indicative of this. While being a formally sadistic villain, Goldie is presented as a better alternative to an all-out mob war. Rally and many of the other central characters conclude the manga coming to terms with Goldie’s presence because it brings a certain level of peace despite her criminal intents instead of having the expected grand final bloody confrontation.
And while one can easily read into Goldie’s recharacterization later in the manga with a degree of rehabilitation, she is still doing unquestionably horrendous acts, such as flooding the streets with a mind-destroying drug or brainwashing people into being her own slaves.
Amidst this climate where even the antagonistic criminal elements of the setting are not clearly defined as polarized “bad,” it is interesting to note who Kenichi Sonoda does occasionally cast in this harsh light. The OVA adaptation of Gunsmith Cats placed Rally working under threat of blackmail at the whims of corrupt ATF agents, who then proceed to unravel a larger conspiracy that sees a politician running on a gun control platform, as the head of a criminal enterprise. While the OVA was produced back in 1995, it hauntingly mirrors the more recent events surrounding gun control advocate Leland Yee who was previously praised by organizations like the Brady Center, yet ironically was revealed by an undercover FBI investigation to be an arms trafficker dealing with both known terrorist groups and triads.
To a degree Rally inhabits a questionable role within Gunsmith Cats that continually questions the efficacy of law enforcement to actually address crime. Rally among other characters who inhabit an area between legal and illegal seemingly act as a means to keep a certain degree of order that the state simply can’t provide. Within a utopian or idealistic fantasy, individuals like Rally would obviously be unnecessary or desired. But like our own reality, Rally lives within an incredibly flawed world where one’s only line of defense is to protect oneself. In this sense Rally shares a certain amount of characterization with the very objects the manga is obsessively concerned with. Like the firearms that simultaneously can cause chaos or protect, it is entirely difficult to ascribe any sort of morality to them. Rally is simply a citizen trying to survive, and a firearm at the end of the day is a rather crudely designed device of metal and polymer, one that could easily be constructed by any knowledgeable individual and a trip to Home Depot.
But it would be a great disservice to simply conclude that Gunsmith Cats is a manga about guns and not concerned with much else. What ultimately made Gunsmith Cats so memorable was in the relationship between these guns and the characters that used them in addition to the creator devotedly researching the subject matter to properly embody it.
While it might seem like a stretch to make a comparison to the Fast & Furious franchise, there isn’t a series more relevant in this case. The original film and the John Singleton-directed sequel largely can be written off, taking a more caricatured approach to its subject matter. The Singleton-directed entry especially seemed almost ashamed of itself by showing a complete lack of effort in production, with most street races filmed as CGI blurs of color straight out of the psychedelic opening sequences of Doctor Who.
With the entrance of Justin Lin into the franchise starting with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, this all fundamentally changed. Unlike veteran director Singleton, Justin Lin coming off the heels of the success of Better Luck Tomorrow needed to prove he could manage projects outside a racially typecast subject matter. And as someone utterly void of knowledge on the subject, Lin went through great depths to accurately present the culture and technical details of street racing to its fullest, consulting prominent drift personalities and Top Gear US host/ rally-racer Tanner Foust among other experts.
All of this in turn resulted in one of the objectively better films of the franchise. A film that was a compromised balance between having an actually compelling narrative and characters with solid stunt work, much of which was practical and not simply done through CGI. And Lin can largely be credited for making the Fast and Furious franchise what it is today, moving past being a rather hokey and forgettable caricature of the import tuner crowd to one of the most successful film franchises of all time.
And certainly even within the realm of firearms usage, there are examples that are possibly more relevant to Gunsmith Cats directly such as the films of Michael Mann, specifically the notorious briefcase sequence from Collateral that sees Tom Cruise performing a variation of the Mozambique Drill, or the iconic street shootout from Heat. But the Fast and Furious comparison provides a more direct similarity to Gunsmith Cats, seen in the same passion exhibited by both the creators and characters presented for the cultures they seemingly inhabit.
However what is fundamentally intriguing about the case of Mann’s films in comparison to the existence of the Fast and Furious franchise, is how works like Collateral and Heat are the exception to the rule. And despite the great depths Mann went in order to accurately portray firearms usage in his films, it sort of remains an unknown by the mass populace. While I could speculate that there is a certain sense that Michael Mann is somewhat closeted in an undebatably anti-gun industry, it would likely be simpler to consider the lack of firearms usage outside a fictional scope within our own popular culture.
Despite the supposed popularity of firearms among Americans, the professional shooting sports is largely a realm hidden from public television. While as a culture we have seemingly come to terms with the likes of the UFC, Nascar, and other dangerous endeavors, it seems a relevant point to ask why the likes of Jerry Miceluk or Tori Nonaka are complete unknowns outside a niche subculture, while Anderson Silva or Rhonda Rousey are known rather universally even by those who have never seen a single UFC fight.
And even within the scope of what is seemingly “acceptable” firearms usage such as hunting or as a means to survive, there has been an utter failure to enter the mainstream without criticism. While it is certainly a matter of debate, Steven Rinella could arguably be considered one of the more well-known individuals within the hunting celebrity spectrum, having written best-selling books on the subject and starring in his own television show. However it is worth noting that I imagine he is as “unknown” to most of those outside of the particular hobby given MeatEater doesn’t air on any channel that is commonly known or offered in basic cable packages.
Ultimately one doesn’t even need to speculate on the supposed criticism within the mainstream. Resident Life Below Zero badass Sue Aikens received a healthy dose of criticism for killing a bear that was stalking her camp largely by those who likely didn’t even watch the show and had ignorant ideas of what bears are actually like. And no one is more qualified then Aikens herself, who lived through a rather gruesome bear attack and lives close to them year-round.
Ultimately, the greatest indicator of this firearms taboo is simply to consider their presence in media as mere objects of a standard American home or family. While it is certainly the case that for many people firearms never enter into their lives, there are also huge segments of the populations where firearms are in their homes, regularly used recreationally or for hunting, and go about their daily lives. However this is rarely seen and firearms remain this sort of contradictory object of mysticism that normal homes would never have, yet we are consistently told of the enormous amount of firearms per capita.
And this is incredibly telling that Hollywood is so easily willing to frequently show firearms killing people as entertainment, yet strangely exhibits an attitude that suggests showing characters simply shooting guns for fun, as a hobby, and as a part of regular life are seemingly more harmful.
And in the end this might be the most fascinating aspect of Gunsmith Cats, simply seeing Rally as a young girl spending time with her father shooting guns simply as a means to bond. It is made all more telling that her own mother is ultimately a victim of gun violence, yet this doesn’t deter her from a life that revolves around these devices. Because as she is fully aware, the only thing that would have likely prevented such a tragedy was someone else with a gun, namely her own mother who was fervently against them.