Despite Netflix advertising it as such, Cannon Busters is not just a Netflix original anime; it's a collaboration between eastern and western creative teams. It's also an adaptation of a successful American comic book, but you wouldn't be alone if you've never heard of LeSean Thomas' Cannon Busters comic before, since it only lasted for two issues.
While the comic's third issue was never released, the series became an animation passion project for Thomas, who worked on cult-favorite series like The Boondocks, The Legend of Korra and Black Dynamite. Between Thomas and his western collaborates and animation from the Japanese studio Satelight, Cannon Busters has a unique dynamic between western and eastern creators that makes it quite unique.
The series takes place in a sci-fi wild-west setting where two robots, Casey and Sam, are after a wanted outlaw named Philly the Kid. The Kid seems to be indestructible, with each "death" materializing as a number on his body. But these two robots, including the socially oblivious but incredibly lethal cannon-buster Sam, seem to think Philly can help them save a missing prince after the fall of his kingdom, assuming Philly can put distance between himself and all the bounty hunters off his trail.
From the show's setting to the bounty hunting plotline and the irreverent zany action. Cannon Busters borrows a lot from the seminal '90s anime Trigun. While plot is not the show's strong suit, the episodic conflicts are engaging, but the larger kingdom-destroying magical conflicts fall somewhat flat, since they feel so removed from the show's main heroes. Cannon Busters isn't a plot-heavy show, nor does it ever try to be one.
However, Cannon Busters has style to spare. The animation can be occasionally stiff and minimal, with CGI models being employed for the car/mecha Bessie and other robots. That said, the animation kicks everything up a notch during the particularly wild action sequences. The art direction, backgrounds, and especially the character designs are striking and distinct.
What makes the action in this series so much fun to watch is how much punishment the heroes take and how they overcome the odds. Every threat, from sorcerers to bounty hunters to skin-flaying scavengers, feels like a genuine obstacle.
The series has a great sense of how to pace an action sequence, with everything going wrong for our main characters in energetic, usually pretty funny ways.What the series lacks in intricate plotting, it more than makes up for in the ups-and-downs of thrilling action sequences. There's also a morbid joy to seeing all of the violent, bloody ways in which Philly gets killed. And no matter how violent the series gets (and it gets violent), it never forgets its sense of fun.
A major point that will draw in much of Cannon Busters's audience is its diverse cast. Its cast is primarily comprised of people of color who are distinct from one another. One great aspect is how every character's hair looks so distinctive, from the prince's braided hair and undercut to Philly's chaotic fro.
However, while the characters' designs are amazing, the characters themselves are fairly one-note, but they don't need to be much more. Sam stands out as an immediately likable, funny character. The voice acting is also in-line with the rest of the series, with each actor delivering an entertaining performance befitting their characters.
One immediately striking thing about this series is its music. The opening sequence might be simply animated, but its theme song, "Showdown" by Marty Grimes and BJRNCK, is awesome. Likewise, the very simple ending sequence, which shows the cast's in their younger years and origins has a fantastic ending song.
For many, the draw of this series will be a chance to see a diverse cast in an anime format. But if that isn't enough of a draw, the anime contains a ton of fun adventure and puts its own unique spin on well-worn anime tropes.
Created by LeSean Thomas, Cannon Busters is now available to stream on Netflix.