*SPOILERS N' SHIT*
The final volume of GSC: BURST was released in North America earlier this year, but none of the local stores seemed to have it, and I constantly put off ordering a copy online. It was by sheer luck that during the latest Mechs Meet when Gauntlet and Needle led our group to the Silver Snail in downtown Toronto that I was finally able to pick up the last volume of perhaps my most favorite manga of all time (perhaps only second to Battle Angel Alita).
A brief history of the series is as follows...
In the late 80s, manga-ka Kenichi Sonoda, who was making a name for himself as a character designer for the popular Bubblegum Crisis series, was finally given free-reign to create his own original series. In 1988, "Riding Bean" was released and was supposed to be a pilot for a new series, but internal conflicts between Sonoda and the anime producers ensured that Riding Bean became a one-shot OVA. He was also unable to directly take Riding Bean to another anime producer due to his contract.
A couple of years later, Sonoda was presenting his portfolio to the manga publisher "Afternoon" when the editor became curious about sketches of two young, gun-and-bomb-weilding girls, and ordered a trial from Sonoda. The sketches were of what would become Rally Vincent (who appeared as Bean Bandit's sidekick in Riding Bean as a blonde master shooter) and her diminuative bomb-freak partner Minnie-May Hopkins. The series was named "Gunsmith Cats", and it started regular production in early 1991.
The series became hugely popular in Japan, spawning an image CD (J-pop music sung by "Rally, May, and Becky"), statuettes, random merchandise, and a highly acclaimed 3-part OVA. The manga itself ran continiously until 1997, when Sonoda decided to try his hand at a different sci-fi manga, "Cannon God Xaxxion", which didn't do as well as GSC.
By 2004, Sonoda put Xaxxion on hold to revive Gunsmith Cats in the sequel manga, Gunsmith Cats BURST. This manga ran until 2008 in Japan, and effectively put a definative end to the original Gunsmith Cats mythos.
I started reading Gunsmith Cats, as translated by Dark Horse Comics, in the late 90s. I think I picked it up because it featured badass Detroit muscle cars very prominately, and also because I loved Sonoda's art style, which improved in great strides as the series progressed. The Hollywood-style action scenes and over the top story telling kept me coming back for more, and Rally's gun-lust so ingrained itself into my mind that...well, you guys know that story by now.
When the original Gunsmith Cats manga was announced as ending, I was crushed. I was having so much fun with this little universe! And I did try to give Xaxxion a chance, but I gotta say...It was no where near as good as GSC. You can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out about BURST.
But...It was a doubled-edged sword. When I finally got the first volume of BURST in my hands, it felt like somethin was...missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I hadn't "outgrown" Gunsmith Cats, since I still loved re-reading the original series at least once a year. There was definately something different this time around.
Sonoda had changed his style. His art had gotten much cleaner, nicer, and even more detail oriented, since GSC originally ended, but his method of story-telling had changed. The frantic pace had slowed down a bit, and the stories themselves didn't seem to measure up. To top it off, hints were dropped early on in the manga that GSC would be drawing to a definitive end, and I guess that put a bit of a damper on the fun. It also doesn't help that my least favorite villain from the original manga had made a less-than-convincing comeback.
On the plus side, one of my favorite characters from Riding bean was finally introduced into the Gunsmith Cats mythos proper; Detective Percy Bacharach, the relentless and borderline psychotic cop obsessed with killing Bean Bandit. With Bean and Percy renewing (or rather, starting) their rivalry, that part of BURST most closely resembled the original feel of GSC, with insane car chases, ridiculously detailed nuances about guns, and a fun, 80s-style of Hollywood action violence that originally drew me to the series in the first place.
But Rally, the main character of the series, ends up facing a downer. One of her best friends ends up being brainwashed by the returning Goldie Musou, May gets married and is absent from the story entirely for volumes at a time (and never properly returns to action), and that half of BURST (opposite of Bean's awesome action-fest) is decidedly somber, and even depressing at times.
I was hoping Sonoda would turn that around in Volume 5, the final volume, of BURST. I was hoping Rally would stop taking shit, team up with May once more, and storm Goldie's mafia mansion in order to get her brainwashed friend back and finally put an end to Goldie's stranglehold on Chicago.
Instead, we're faced with May coming back from her honeymoon to find an injured Rally and find out that Misty wasn't brainwashed at all, but may actually be with Goldie of her own free will. On top of that, Rally is shown to have problems while shooting, implying that the injury she got in the last volume may have caused permanant damage to her right arm.
And while Bean and Percy continue to have a fun showdown as the series comes to an end, we're treated to the really creepy forced lesbian encounters between Goldie and Misty from the original series. Now, I'm no prude, but Sonoda definately has a really creepy way of including sex scenes at times. I was very sad to see that this is what he chose to bring back from the original series, rather than awesome shootouts and clever action situations.
As a matter of fact, the only shooting Rally does in this final volume is when she's in her own range, struggling with her injury. No final shootout, no showdown with Goldie, nothing. Bean ends up handling all of the action quota himself, and while he's very capable of that, ending the series without your main character being a part of that action made everything feel downbeat.
The end comes when Rally and Misty end up accepting that Misty is with Goldie as a willing sexual subtitute for Rally herself, the two share a kiss, and we're treated a quick summary of what happens to the main and supporting characters. Percy nearly gets fired for corruption but doesn't, Roy Coleman (Rally's confidant within the Chicago Police Dept) transfers to a smaller department, May quits working at Gunsmith Cats to become a fulltime mom in the suburbs (what the hell...), Misty stays with Goldie, Goldie ends up taking over all of Chicago's illicit drug trafficking, Bean keeps on being Bean, and Rally...leaves town. She quits being a bounty hunter, closes down her dad's gunshop, and is said to be practicing her shooting skills elsewhere.
I mean, seriously? That's it? A strong, believable female lead like Rally ends up leaving her friends behind, one of them by the side of her mortal enemy, gives up nearly everything she held dear, and I'm supposed to feel a sense of closure from this?
It was established long ago that Goldie was Rally's most dangerous, vile ,and evil enemy ever...and Rally is okay with leaving one of her best friends in her care simply because its the easier thing to do? Since when did Rally take the easy way out of any situation? Hell, its even implied WITHIN volume 5 that May and Rally were planning some way to get Misty back, only to be told that, for some stupid reason, Goldie is "good" for the city, and that they could never get Misty back. What the hell is this shit?
The only good thing to come out of this conclusion is the possibility of Bean returning in his own manga in the future, but even in his epilogue during BURST it's plainly stated that he's seeking out of state work to avoid run-ins with Det. Percy (despite only a few pages earlier Bean claiming that Percy was "fun"). If this is what we get out of this ending, I suppose I'd be okay, but only if Rally returns to pair up with Bean, and hopefully settle things with Goldie, instead of ending it on a "blah" note.
BURST actually started out okay, with some old school GSC violence and story-telling, but the second Rally's beloved GT500 was sacrificed I knew the series was set to take a more downer tone. I may be a downer-type of author, but I don't want everything I read to be a huge downer as well, and GSC was a good escape for me when I wanted some over the top, classic action schlock. Time will tell if this ending ends up tainting future re-reads of classic GSC, but one thing I know right now; I'll probably skip the last two volumes of BURST during yearly revisits of the series.
And that's probably the biggest shame of all.