No Guns Life is an anime about a man with a gun for a head.
Well, okay, there’s more to it than that. Much more, actually! No Guns Life is in fact a particularly dirty, gritty take on a cyberpunk action-drama. Think Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex with the computers and police procedural elements replaced with rusting machinery and a noir-inspired hardboiled detective as its lead. That’s him, Juuzou Inui, up there with the gunface, in fact. This aesthetic is sometimes called “dieselpunk” and it makes sense here.
The core thematic elements of cyberpunk are all here. The show’s main theme is that of bodily autonomy, explored via weapon-stuffed cyborgs called Extends, manufactured by an evil corporation called Beruhren Corp. Juuzou is one of these, and makes his living by resolving disputes that involve other dangerous Extends. Think of him a bit less like a proper noir detective and a bit more like Roger the “Negotiator” from The Big O. He’d perhaps rather not fight, if only because it’s a pain, but he’ll absolutely throw down if he has to. Juuzou’s a great lead. Juuzou’s just plain cool for one thing. He’s occasionally (but never overly) crass. He’s wonderfully hardboiled, and has both a strong moral core and, despite his best attempts at hiding it, he’s a bit of a softie on the inside. A fact that the show makes no attempt to hide from us.
It also is worth side-noting that Juuzou’s gun-head hilariously is not actually fired most of the time. He requires a second person standing behind him to pull his trigger (something he seems very uncomfortable with), meaning that amusingly enough, our hero mostly uses his fists.
No Guns Life isn’t a one-man operation though. While it’d be hard to complain about a Traveler Story-genre series of vignettes starring Juuzou and no one else, the big lug’s got a full clip of secondary characters backing him up. There’re quite a few of these, chiefly Mary the mechanic, but the most important is probably Tetsuro Arawabaki. Tetsuro serves as something of a second main character and is Juuzou’s more idealistic (and naive) foil.
Tetsuro is the son of Beruhren Corp’s CEO, and is an Extend himself. Juuzou rescued him from a Beruhren “testing facility” in the show’s opening arc, and he serves as something of a conscience for the gun-headed guy. He has the ability to hijack other Extends’ bodies through the use of an implant in his throat called a Harmony. Terminology aside, this is a pretty standard power for someone in this kind of setting. No Guns Life uses it to draw a contrast between Tetsuro’s abilities and his inner nature. Tetsuro, as mentioned, is the product of a facility that turns kids like him into guinea pigs for new Beruhren Extend enhancements. His goal, at least so far, is to free everyone else there.
It’s a noble goal. The show may well let him achieve it even, but it’s not going to be easy. Tetsuro is part of a setting that’s much more cynical and world-weary than he is. Even Juuzou gets fed up with him in the show’s most recent arc. Tetsuro hijacks his body to investigate a case of kids going missing in a nearby slum. A case that turns out to have been specifically designed by Beruhren to lure Juuzou out.
The show’s main theme (as mentioned) seems to be that of autonomy. Juuzou was created as a weapon of war. Tetsuro was created as an experiment by an evil corporation. It’s a theme that echoes throughout the four episodes we’ve seen so far. The culprit behind the missing children case turns out to be a pair of other subjects from the same facility that experimented on Tetsuro. A girl who can turn into a metallic insect drone, and her retainer (and only friend), respectively.
Tetsuro thinks that by just commandeering Juuzou’s body, he can solve this entire issue himself. He turns out to be very wrong. His assumption that all of the other children of the facility even want to be saved is openly challenged by Anne, the retainer. She seems to see her status as a tool of Beruhren as a necessary thing so that she and her friend aren’t hurt.
They are stopped, but only by Juuzou getting control of his body back. The entire situation ends as happily as it probably can, but Tetsuro is chewed out for his actions and the overall thrust of things remains uncertain.
The Smoke Drifts
Where, if anywhere, all this is headed remains to be seen. No Guns Life is, after all, only 4 episodes into a planned 24-episode run. It’s not too early, though, to say that the writing is surprisingly sharp and the action satisfyingly crisp. No Guns Life comfortably stands beside more conventional fare like Stars Align and Outburst Dreamer Boys to rescue what is so far something of a dry season for the medium.