Special 2-for-1 Anime Review Extravaganza: Golden Boy + Gunsmith Cats
Ultra-Special Double-Length Review Madness!
Review #1: Golden Boy!
Some Basic Info About Golden Boy!
Title: Golden Boy
Series Length: 6 episodes
Release Dates: 10/27/1995 to 6/28/1996
Age Rating: 17+ (mild violence, mild language, partial nudity, some suggestive content)
Summary: Kintarou Oe, 25 years old, is a dropout from Tokyo University where he studied law, but left only after already completing all the courses required for graduation. He travels all across Japan, taking odd jobs and learning everything he can about the world around him! From working as a janitor at a fledgling software company to being an errand boy for a mayoral candidate to challenging a swimming instructor in a race to secure his own instructor position, Kintarou doesn't back down from any challenge or any task, no matter how difficult or disgusting! As he travels along the winding road of life, chasing new knowledge (and women) all the while, his journey promises to be full of surprises and education!
The Good: Deliciously 90s animation and ending theme; surprisingly thoughtful writing, mainly due to the fact that Kintarou is one of the funniest and most lovable characters in anime
The Bad: Falls into a predictable formula
The Ugly: Madame President's taste in casual wear
What's my history with this particular OVA?
Back in the early 2000s, when I was experiencing my otaku awakening, I came across the term "OVA" on the old Anime Academy forums, and the concept of direct-to-video anime that was too much for TV or theaters was an instantly attractive one (given that I was a teenager at this point and teenagers love edgy stuff). Golden Boy was one of those big popular OVAs in the anime community, and as luck would have it, one of my brother's friends had it. So he brought it over, we watched it, many laughs were had, and then I never saw it again until a few years ago when I got myself a copy. Was it the laugh-riot I remember it being, or has age and time been cruel to this raunchy sex comedy? Let's find out!
So, what is it that makes Golden Boy shine?
I have to put it out there: Golden Boy has one of my favorite art styles in all of anime. Featuring character designs by Toshihiro Kawamoto, of Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain fame, the characters have that quintessential 90s cool that defined the latter half of that decade in the anime landscape, with tall, angular designs that make everyone look attractive, even a gormless loser like Kintarou. I love the detail in the animation as well, with lavish linework and some of the best facial expressions you'll see in anime. Everything about the production just screams quality, and it'd be no surprise if some of its long-standing fan following arose purely because of it.
The theme music is also a treat, if you want that patented 90s sound, particularly the ending theme, "Study a-Go! Go!," whose high energy and keyboard tone resembles the delicious, timeless sound of pop acts like Megumi Hayashibara or Miho Morikawa but, rather than one vocalist, features the voice actresses of the leading ladies from the show--an ancient tradition that needs to see more use, if you ask me. There's no greater point here. I just wanted to say I liked this song.
But let's be real here: The reason everyone remembers and loves Golden Boy is because of Kintarou. The individual stories of each episode are good on their own, but it's Kintarou's goofy charm and passive perverseness that makes him the lovable idiot that he is. He is highly intelligent, but also really really dumb. He is a gentleman, but can't help himself from ogling pretty ladies. He is extremely selfish, but extremely selfless. Kintarou will go to any lengths to satisfy his id, but only if that satisfaction is offered to him. And he works hard, harder than any one person could reasonably be expected to work, and he does it with a smile on his face and a simultaneously studious and perverted entry in his notebook. He's lewd, crude, and just plain heartwarming, dude!
Because our idiot protagonist is so surprisingly deep and multi-faceted, the situations he finds himself in go from being mere amusing setups to hilarious misadventures that, without fail, end with a touching sentimentality and that quintessential warm, fuzzy feeling that a good story often brings.
Another huge surprise is just how progressive the series is...for a sex comedy made in the mid-90s, anyway. The women aren't just moving mannequins, they're unique and motivated people with their own sense of agency--Madame President started up a software company staffed with other ambitious and intelligent young women, Reiko plays the role of the bird in a gilded cage but secrets herself out of her manor to ride the highways on her tricked-out motorcycle, Ayuko is an Olympic gold medalist who started her own swimming school, and so on. And even the girls who start off with very little agency--as an example, Naoko, trapped in the shadow of her father, uses her feminine wiles to lure men in before trapping them in a sadistic plot before her scheming to do the same to Kintarou exposes how her little plot is just another expression of her own lack of agency, and she must come to terms with that. Now, it's a little iffy that all the ladies fall in love with Kintarou by the end of each episode, but I'm willing to let that slide because, let's be honest with ourselves, we've all fallen in love with Kintarou by the time the series is over.
In short, this raunchy comedy harbors a shocking amount of depth and heart that completely boggles the mind, and it's mostly all thanks to its top-tier lead character. And to make matters better, the English dub features the legendary performance of Doug Smith as Kintarou, making an already hilarious anime exponentially more so. The man gave 110% for the job, and I can never go back to the Japanese original ever again, because then I'll miss out on Doug's absolute perfect delivery of "So...! How do you like my swimming?"
But where does the golden luster fade away?
There's really only one problem I have with Golden Boy, and it is this: Once you've seen the first two episodes, you already know how each episode is going to play out. Kintarou takes up a new part-time job, sometimes because a pretty girl is there, sometimes not, he encounters said pretty girl and acts like a stooge which doesn't curry much favor, he is bad or mediocre at the job, earns the ire of the girl in some way or needs to prove himself, he does so through much effort and/or study, and the girl falls in love with him as he rides off into the sunset.
Many of these steps have exceptions (mostly episode 3), but that's how the average episode tends to unfold. Now, the manner in which the episode unfolds is always worth seeing, with 10/10 levels of execution, but on a meta-textual level, each story is too similar to each other for comfort. It would've been nice for the formula to be shaken up a little bit more, but alas, it was not.
So, what's the verdict on Golden Boy?
Even though the episodes get formulaic, I will forever maintain that Golden Boy's sheer entertainment value far exceeds the weight of that nagging flaw. This has been a classic OVA among the anime community for over 20 years now, and it doesn't take a wizard to figure out why--with its expressive animation and heartwarming stories propelled by one of the funniest characters in the medium, any fan of comedy anime should pick this one up straight away, if they haven't already. A bona fide classic if there ever was one.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. Golden Boy maintains its status as a treasured relic of the 90s OVA scene, with gut-busting comedy backed by smart, if formulaic, writing, detailed and pleasing animation, and the sheer power of Kintarou Oe, anime's very own golden boy.
And now it's time for something completely different!
Review #2: Gunsmith Cats!
Some Basic Info About Gunsmith Cats!
Title: Gunsmith Cats
Series Length: 3 episodes
Release Dates: 11/1/1995 to 9/1/1996
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language)
Summary: Rally Vincent and May Hopkins are two fiery young women who work as bounty hunters, operating out of the Gunsmith Cats gun shop with their assistant Becky. After apprehending known criminal Jonathan Washington, the girls are soon visited in their shop by a potentially inconvenient man--Bill Collins of the ATF's Chicago branch, who wants Rally and May to work with his agency to catch an even bigger fish (with the help of their most recent catch, Jonathan Washington), suggesting that their lack of sufficient licenses to carry their heavy arms could jeopardize their livelihood if they don't comply. But Collins proves to be the least of their worries when a mysterious Russian assassin named Radinov becomes involved in a series of incidents orchestrated by forces unknown. It's up to Rally, May, Becky, and Bill to band together and stop this menace before the streets of Chicago turn into a war zone!
The Good: Slick style and admirable attention to detail in the setting; memorable action scenes; badass main villain
The Bad: Stock characters and plot
The Ugly: Whoever color-coordinated Radinov's hair needs to be fired
And what's my history with Gunsmith Cats?
Unlike Golden Boy, I had no prior history with this series. No one I knew had it, it wasn't easily available for the longest time, and given the glut of girls-with-guns anime that defined the late 90s and early 2000s, I wasn't exactly in a rush to swoop in and snatch Gunsmith Cats out of the jaws of history. And yet, as the years passed, those other gun-girls shows faded into obscurity, never to be mentioned again (Say, does anyone remember Avenger? Or Madlax? Anyone? ...Bueller?), and only Gunsmith Cats remained in the popular anime consciousness. It was only recently that I decided to find out why. Was this truly a timeless classic worthy of eternal remembrance, or was nostalgia playing a flirtatious game with its many thralls?
Where does this OVA go off with a bang?
As with Golden Boy, this is quite the good-looking OVA, albeit in different ways. The character designs aren't as infinitely expressive as those of the aforementioned, but they exude more of that idiosyncratic 90s style with the sharp curves of their hair and the wide variety of eye shapes and hairstyles, reminding me a lot of Slayers' designs at times, and if it reminds me of Slayers, I automatically approve. But that's not where the animation's strengths lie.
That would be in the series' action scenes and setting. Each action set-piece is surprisingly kinetic for its time, with gorgeous car chases and some thrilling shoot-outs sprinkled with some of May's delightful grenades. But any series can have fun action (y'know, if they try), but what sets Gunsmith Cats apart from the competition is its rare setting for an anime: The good ol' US of A. Specifically, Chicago! The original manga author went to great lengths to make sure he presented Chicago authentically, and the anime went out of its way to make sure they did the same. The streets feel real, the alleyways feel genuine, the apartments look lived-in, the graffiti looks like real graffiti you'd find in an early 90s Chicago city block. The details make the setting, as they say, and Gunsmith Cats brings the Chicago of yesteryear to life and makes an exciting action series feel all the more immersive.
It also helps that the action scenes are choreographed in such a way that you remember them long after the series ends. Everyone who has ever seen this OVA remembers the shoot-out in Jonathan's warehouse. Everyone remembers Rally and Radinov's frantic and explosive car chase on the interstate. And that finale is the stuff of 90s anime legend, I tell you!
Which segues quite nicely to my favorite thing about this series: Radinov. She's a nasty, crazy assassin with the most screen charisma of the entire cast by far. Her fierce, almost bestial facial expressions tell you everything you need to know about her, if her very infrequent but intimidating dialogue didn't already clue you in to how scary this lady is. She's tough, she's persistent, she's extremely intelligent, and even more ferocious. If you're not going to give your villain much depth, then this is how you do it: If you're not gonna wow me with moral ambiguity, then you better wow me with sheer gleeful mercilessness. Which Radinov does easily. You want a top-tier Hollywood action-movie villain? She's gotcha covered.
And where does this series fizzle out?
With a few exceptions (hello, Radinov!), the story and characters are about as rote and generic as they get. Rally is your typical hothead hotshot, May is the ditzy explosives expert, Becky is the overburdened noncombatant, Bill is every manipulative support sidekick ever written, his boss George Black is so transparently a bad guy that it's laughable to suggest he could possibly not be, and the plot involving the mayoral candidate being the mastermind of the criminal activity is so predictable and rote that an almost identical narrative was used in the latest South Park video game. As a joke about how predictable these kinds of plots are. And I'm about 99.9% sure Trey and Matt have never seen Gunsmith Cats.
It's one thing if the characters are archetypal to start off with, but no one grows or changes as a result of anything. Rally at the end of the series is the exact same Rally we started off with. Same with May, Becky, Bill, and all the others. There's no arc, no progress, no sense of accomplishment--just a reset back to how things were before. This is boring storytelling. It's nice that we got some fun action sequences and a cool villain, but when everything is so static, it sucks the enjoyment right out of the whole thing. Maybe this was just testing the waters for a longer series, I dunno, but this OVA feels so inert on its own. If it weren't for Radinov's incredible final stand (or just Radinov in general), the entire final episode would've put me to sleep, it's so faceless and rigid. Meh.
So, what's the verdict on Gunsmith Cats?
I was expecting more, honestly. A lot more. Especially from an OVA that is still so fondly remembered by so many old-school anime fans. I can't deny that there's a lot of cool things about it (the setting, the details, Radinov), but it all just feels wasted in such a tired and predictable story with most of the cast refusing to stand out in any meaningful way. Maybe for many viewers, the exciting action and lavish background art is all they really want or need from what is essentially a 90s Hollywood action movie with two intermissions, but it didn't scratch my itch. If you're looking for a wild ride that doesn't require much thought to liven up a gloomy Monday evening, you're more than covered here, but if you want more substance in your action, you may want to look elsewhere.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10. Gunsmith Cats doesn't offer much food for thought in its story or characters, but the faithful recreation of its 1990s Chicago setting, thrilling action set-pieces, and intimidating main villain have made it a perennial classic among fans of old-school action anime.