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REVIEW: No Guns Life Vol. 1 Isn't As Cool As It Looks

no-guns-life-vol-1
Story by
Art by
Tasuku Karasuma
Cover by
Publisher
Viz

No Guns Life, Tasuku Karasuma's ongoing seinen manga originally published in Ultra Jump, is now being translated into English by Viz. An anime adaptation from the much celebrated studio Madhouse and the same writer-director team as the hit Overlord anime is set to premiere on Japanese TV in October, and it will almost certainly be licensed for international streaming at some point.

This is one of those series that piques your interest with its dynamic, eye-catching cover art, thanks to the instantly memorable design of main character Juzo Inui. He's a humanoid cyborg with a giant gun for a head instead of a face. It's the sort of concept that's so weird it's instantly intriguing. Lest you worry that a character with no eyes and a barely-moving "mouth" couldn't be drawn expressively, cartoon-y "super deformed" drawings on the character break up the generally more detailed style, recalling the humorous moments with Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist.

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Juzo doesn't remember who he was before the augmentations that turned him into one of the "Extended" (this universe's term for those with advanced cybernetic enhancements). All he knows is that he received the augmentations as a soldier and slave in the great war. Now, he's a Resolver with the head of a revolver, a tough guy taking jobs on the street dealing with problems relating to other Extended.

The biggest issue with No Guns Life, judging from the first volume of the manga, is that it's never quite absurd enough to work as a farce but isn't quite smart or unique enough to hold up as a serious work of cyberpunk noir fiction either. With its "what does it mean to be human?" philosophizing, cybernetic bodies being hacked, secret government experiments on children and amnesiac cyborg soldiers, it's dealing with the same sort of ground already well-trodden by the likes of iconic manga like Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Battle Angel Alita and others.

The strange designs of the Extended are No Guns Life's biggest distinguishing factor from its narrative inspirations, which also sit ill-at-ease with the overall tone and worldbuilding. Juzo in particular, and the other Extended to a lesser extent, look more like they belong in the wacky world of an FLCL or a Dorohedoro.

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Taken with such seriousness here, you can find yourself distracted by questions of the purpose and practicality of these supposed "enhancements." For instance, Juzo can't even fire his own head-gun by himself. That's admittedly an interesting challenge and there's metaphorical potential in his feelings about letting others pull his trigger, but it also just begs the question of "Why give a guy a gun-head in the first place?" It also becomes harder to take the manga's concerns about discrimination against the Extended seriously when the Extended are drawn as literal weapons, resulting in a somewhat muddled metaphor.

Perhaps future volumes of the manga will have more answers. No Guns Life isn't a bad manga. It's well-written enough as boilerplate cyberpunk, and the art gives it a distinctive identity of its own. Given its potential, though, it feels like the sort of manga that should be a lot cooler and more entertaining than the just OK manga it ends up being.

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