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The Fine Print
All text is © copyright VIZ, LLC. No reproduction without written permission. All images are © copyright their respective copyright holders as noted. No reproduction without written permission. Image Copyrights
Gunsmith Cats (manga) © Kenichi Sonoda.
Gunsmith Cats (anime) © 1995-96 Kenichi Sonoda/Kodansha/VAP/TBS
Kenichi Sonoda's world of guns, cars and high-speed action and the connection between Bean Bandit and Rally Vincent from Riding Bean to Gunsmith Cats. By Kit Fox
Kenichi Sonoda, ex-Gainax crony and gun otaku par excellence, knows what American comic readers like: sexy dames, fast cars and heavy firepower. It comes as no surprise that Gunsmith Cats is one of Dark Horse Comics' top-selling manga titles. His protagonist, bounty hunter Rally Vincent, accompanied by a nymphet cum explosives specialist Minnie-May Hopkins, cuts a swathe of justice through Chi-Town's seamy underbelly of sinister scumbags and surly scuzzballs. Sensational scenarios staged stylishly with a sense for scintillating cinematic showmanship? Sure thing. But let's leave the GSC Rally and Minnie-May for a while and travel back in time, all the way back to the year 1989 and an OAV called Riding Bean.
Bean Bandit, a.k.a. "The Road Buster" is the greatest motorhead ever to commit moving violations in the city of Chicago (with the exception of Elwood Blues that is). As a courier, his services are top notch, and it's a well-known fact among bank robbers and dope dealers that he'll ferry anyone anywhere as long as there's a nice suitcase full of C-notes waiting for him upon arrival. With a Kevlar jacket and the body of a Bears linebacker, you might think Bean fits the M.O. of your textbook loner. Not so. Playing Mutt to his Jeff, Bonnie Parker to his Clyde Barrow is.... Rally? That's right, she carries the same CZ 75 (according to Sonoda the best handgun ever made) as the GSC Rally, and is quite the sidearm aficionado, but there are two main discrepancies between this Rally and Ms. Vincent: 1) the OAV Rally is sans the concealed pop gun mounted on a sliding apparatus a la Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and 2) she bears much more a resemblance to Veronica Lake than her manga counterpart. You got it, boys and girls - this Rally's a fair-skinned blonde, while her doppelganger is a raven-haired maiden of rumored Indian descent.
Is the '89 incarnation merely Rally before she hooked up with Bouncing Betty? Is she Rally after her gunsmithing years? Why, if Rally's appearance changes, does Bean's remain the same? These questions have been the topic of controversy within the fan world for quite some time. The most probable answer would be that GSC and Riding Bean are two alternate universes. Very similar universes, but alternate none the less. Also the reason why we have yet to see another Bean OAV is that Artmic - the studio which brought us Bubblegum Crisis - owns the rights to everybody's favorite hot-dogger, while the GSC manga's Rally Vincent was different enough to allow her her own three-part series. So, much to the chagrin of many fanboys and fangirls, the chance of seeing Bean animated again is slim to none.
Well, back to the present, and the comic version, and Rally has been quite a busy lady. Her first major manga showdown is with an unruly brother and sister who go by the names of (you guessed it) Bonnie and Clyde. After an initial run in with Rally and May which results in the loss of both of Bonnie's legs, Bonnie takes it upon herself to get even, and pull a fast one on a local crime syndicate at the same time. After quite a tussle (and much shooting) Rally and Minnie walk away slightly scathed while Bonnie gets a one-way ticket to the big adios. Their next encounter of major significance is a drug dealing behemoth known as Gray. Rally runs afoul of this dangerous convict (surprise, surprise) and in the process of attempting to defuse a bomb, she ends up shooting Gray's hand off. Far be it for any man (let alone a homicidal maniac) to forgive and forget the loss of a hand; it takes two more encounters to resolve this violent and drawn-out conflict. Along the way, four major supporting characters materialize: Kent Taki, the love of Minnie's young life and the one who turns her into the explosive connoisseur that she is; Misty, a cute, underaged cat burglar; Roy Coleman, Rally's Chicago PD liaison; and Becky, the spectacles-sporting information gal who supplies Rally with a neverending list of bail jumpers. Even Bean is implemented in Gray's deadly game, and comes to the rescue of Minnie-May more than once.
But Gray, Bonnie and Clyde all pale in comparison with Rally's worthiest (and you guessed it, deadliest) foe, Goldie. With connections to the Italian Mafia and a zest for cruel and unusual punishment, Goldie remains a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the GSC story line. Physically, Goldie is the female equivalent of Bean, buxom and burly. Her first plot involves the kidnapping of Misty, which Rally eventually unravels. In her most recent in-English escapade, Goldie manages to swipe Miss Gunsmith Cat herself, pumps her full of hallucinogenic drugs and convinces her to open fire on Roy. The fighting then changes location to a Chicago graveyard, and all the while Rally struggles to come down from her "Bad Trip." But what is Bean doing working for Goldie? Well, he did say he'll take any job as long as the price is right.
So what's next for our pistol-packin' pair? Can you say "drag race"? I knew you could. As always, something's amiss with Mr. Bandit. Rally tails him only to get involved in a knock-down, drag-out street race along the interstate with Bean and a new hot-rodder by the name of Riff-Raff (who more or less is Lufy from Gall Force). High-octane entertainment reaches a crescendo when Bean eats pavement. Will the baddest mo' fo' to drive a stick shift pull through? My money's on Mr. Bandit, how about you? Mark this story "to be continued" in the Gunsmith Cats: Bean Bandit series....
Well there you have it, criminal activity and excitement in the heart of a modern American metropolis as seen through the eyes of a Japanese comic book artist. Combining marksmanship reminiscent of a Sergio Leone western with F-1 automotive expertise, Kenichi Sonoda was written himself a formula for success, and now that GSC has gone on hiatus (as of the Japanese tankôbon volume 8 - still a ways off yet for the U.S. translated version) so that he may work on his new title Exxaxion, we can only speculate as to what pistol-whipping plots he's coming up with now.
How to Get It
Excerpted from a longer article in Animerica Vol. 7, No. 1. Kenichi Sonoda interview excerpts from 1996 (by Dana Lewis of Studio Proteus) and 1997 interviews. © 1999 by Dark Horse Comics, Inc. and its respective licensors. Reprinted with permission.