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Netflix’s ‘Cannon Busters’ Struggles to Fire Off a Clean Shot

LeSean Thomas’ unique western/cyberpunk fusion is a wondrous world with very few compelling characters and even fewer reasons to be invested.

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cannon busters

It’s thrilling to find an anime that operates outside of genre norms. The self-serious framing around comedic darling Kaguya-sama not only made each scene more amusing, but it also alleviated the show from treading many of the same tired school anime tropes. Cannon Busters shakes up the setting of modern adventure by presenting a genuinely compelling, fantastical world that fuses western and cyberpunk elements.

This makes it all the more frustrating that Cannon Busters consistently falls short of its potential. For as much love is put into its visual design, its narrative design suffers from mixed character writing, poor pacing, and a plot that can’t stay out of its own way.

On the Road Again

Philly the Kid is an outlaw cursed with immortality. Whenever he dies, he regenerates, and the number of that death appears as a tattoo somewhere on his body. It’s shounen character design at its finest, and gives Philly much more of a cool factor than he rightly deserves.

After running from the law and living out of his trusty half-car, half-mech Bessie for years, he encounters two unique bots: Casey Turnbuckle, a little engineer who absolutely loves fixing things, and Sam, a hyper-friendly royal bot determined to reunite with the prince of her far-off homeland. After a quick run-in with some bounty hunters, the group finds themselves temporarily joining forces and high-tailing it out of town together under the premise of escaping and finding Sam’s prince.

Cannon Busters essentially takes the form of a massive road trip that has the crew visiting a slew of towns inspired by the American frontier, technological dystopias, and otherworldly nooks where colorful characters spend their days. Handled by Satelight, the studio behind Log Horizon and partially responsible for Fairy Tail, the environmental detail of every location is one of Cannon Busters’ greatest strengths. Not only are many of the locales visually distinct, but they each come off as a natural part of the world as a whole.

cannon busters

A Lack of Character

The problem is that the best parts of Cannon Busters–the road trip feel and gradual friendship that grows amongst the crew–are bogged down by questionable character design and poor pacing. The first couple of episodes are terribly slow going and monotonous, things only exasperated by Philly’s dedication to being a detestable main character. He incessantly complains about traveling with the bots, treats his car like garbage, bemoans his life as a whole, and manages to get himself killed for stupid reasons that elicit reactions ranging from “He should’ve seen that coming” to “Is this supposed to be funny?”

Having a good-for-nothing protagonist can work if they have a certain redeeming quality or if there’s significant growth throughout the season, but neither of those are present. Even worse, however, is making the goal of a show to reunite with someone hardly worth caring about. The bratty, spoiled Prince Kelby is equally as frustrating as Philly, but for different reasons. He acts more like a child than a teen, making silly demands and being forced to behave by his retainer, Odin. It follows that a young prince might realistically be spoiled and ungrateful, but it completely diffuses any desire the viewer might have to see him escape unscathed.

Surprisingly enough, it’s actually the two bots that end up being far-and-away the best written, most enjoyable characters out of the entire cast. Sam has the emotional range that both her chauffeur and prince lack, to the point that it’s almost tragic that Sam yearns to be by Kelby’s side so strongly. Built as a mere companion bot for the prince during his youth, her innocent interpretations of less proper human customs and language are often a riot. More impressively, though, she gradually learns and applies lessons from her travels and being around Philly.

Casey is just as entertaining. She’s a lovable tech nerd who almost single-handedly turns Bessie into something of a fourth party member because of how much she loves to work on the car. Her “I-can-fix-anything” attitude and general optimism make her reliably sweet, and her dedicated side-story is the best of the entire season.

More Than a Few Loose Screws

An adequate action-focused anime doesn’t necessarily need a top-notch overarching plot, and that’s what makes this a decently fun ride for most of its runtime. The premise works well, and the crew’s travels have their moments, but the overall plot, character development, and scenario writing are far too haphazard. Mysterious characters are built up only to be revealed as lackluster threats. Philly’s tale of how he gained immortality is barely touched upon, and his ultimate character motivation is so weakly presented that he would’ve been better off without one at all. There are occasional standouts like the drunken samurai 9ine who shines early on with plenty of potential for bombastic fight scenes, but even his character is held back by head-scratching story decisions late in the season.

Cannon Busters is at its best when it’s honing in on short, one-episode stories. Sam and Casey steal the show to the point where, like with the DanMachi spinoff Sword Oratoria, a side season solely revolving around their escapades would be more than welcome. Unfortunately, the infuriating bratiness of Prince Kelby combined with one of the least likable protagonists in recent memory leaves this first outing struggling to get its hooks in viewers. A severely disappointing final act makes me cautious to recommend this to anyone beyond those looking for a uniquely-themed adventure anime or those simply itching for something new to binge on Netflix.

You can watch Cannon Busters on Netflix.

Brent fell head over heels for writing at the ripe age of seven and hasn't looked back since. His first love is the JRPG, but he can enjoy anything with a good hook and a pop of color. When he isn't writing about the latest indie release or binging gaming coverage on YouTube, you can find Brent watching and critiquing all manner of anime. Send him recommendations or ask to visit his island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons @CreamBasics on Twitter.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ralph Anthony

    November 9, 2019 at 9:04 pm

    Definitely have to disagree just finished the season. The show is pretty good from the visuals to the story. It’s no less of a shallow show than most animes that most geeks praise. I know most geeks have no life outside anime and like to get caught up in the fantasy of being in that world, they like to feel personally connected to the characters and the settings. Why not just embrace it for what it is, a cartoon.Can’t wait for season 2

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Anime

Anime Ichiban 33: Coming into Maturity

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Anime Ichiban welcomes our anime waifu overlords, old and new. Join Matt and Kyle this episode as they discuss the return of the Goddess of Anime, Haruhi Suzumiya herself, then hop on over to the new virutal sensation that’s finally sweeping English-speaking nations: Hololive Vtubers!

For this episode of Anime Ichiban, the SHITSUMON! topic will have the duo diving into recently released Aggretsuko Season 3 and The Great Pretender and explore how the two shows work with mature themes.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions and what we’ve been up to
23:33 – The Return of Haruhi Suzumiya(‘s light novels)
37:23 – The Debut of Generation 1 of Hololive English Vtubers
53:07 – Minor news roundup: (Shenmue anime announced; Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel Part 3 movie debuts to huge success; KyoAni fire updates)
58:35 – SHITSUMON! How does anime portray mature themes in its storytelling?

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Anime

Anime Ichiban 32: The Art of Following a Formula

Corporate shakeups and Galapagos Syndrome spell omens of a changing global landscape for the anime industry.

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diary of our days at breakwater

Corporate shakeups and Galapagos Syndrome spell omens of a changing global landscape for the anime industry and that the crew digs into along with how a series can effectively perform within its genre conventions.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions
12:28 – Legacy piracy site KissAnime shuts down
28:45 – AT&T reportedly looking to sell Crunchyroll
43:27 – Galapagos Syndrome: Is anime in danger of losing its global identity?
58:41 – News Reel
1:02:20 – SHITSUMON! How do shows perform effectively and still entertain in genres whose formulae are already well known and expected?

TRACKS

Intro – “Cagayake! GIRLS” by Houkago Tea Time (K-ON! opening theme)
Outro – “Tsuri no sekai e” by Umino High School Breakwater Club (Our Diary at the Breakwater ending theme)

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Anime

‘One Piece: Stampede’ is an All-Star Behemoth Buckling Under Predictability

Does One Piece: Stampede sail all the way to Laugh Tale, or remain anchored in an East Blue of mediocrity?

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As the fourteenth film in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece saga, One Piece: Stampede was released in 2019 to critical and financial success. As a big-budget commemoration of the anime’s 20th anniversary, Stampede has lots to live up to, from successfully stamping a momentous two decades, to satiating the hype of a passionate global fanbase. Does it sail all the way to Laugh Tale, or remain anchored in an East Blue of mediocrity?

It’s party time at the Pirate Fest!

The Pirate Fest, a grand gathering of the sea’s most infamous individuals, is underway! At the festival, the Straw Hats compete with their Worst Generation rivals to retrieve a treasure of Gol D. Roger. But behind the scenes, festival organiser Buena Festa and legendary pirate Douglas Bullet are scheming something sinister.

Cutting to the chase, One Piece: Stampede soon kicks into an all-out battle against said Douglas Bullet, with Luffy working with friend and foe alike to fell his opponent.

Much like Dragon Ball Super: Broly, also animated by Toei Animation, each frame of One Piece: Stampede is a treasure to behold. Fluid animation and colors spell eye-candy magic, and the odd bit of 3D animation isn’t (too) visually jarring.

One Piece: Stampede nails its mission statement of lightning-paced popcorn entertainment to a tee. Goofy shonen films don’t have to transcend ‘awesome action and silly superpowers’. Rather than shooting for the moon and coming up short, Stampede settles for smashing the sky. With white-knuckle fights and satisfying character moments conveyed with a zippy pace, One Piece: Stampede assuredly brings what fans want. And whilst not as developed or memorable as other film baddies (One Piece: Strong World’s Shiki or One Piece: Z’s titular Z), Douglas Bullet is terrifyingly tough enough to tick the boxes.

Playing It Safe

Whilst the ‘playing it safe’ ethos of One Piece: Stampede succeeds on the surface, the imaginative innovation of One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island is missing, and the excess of characters prevents the possibility of channeling the simplicity of One Piece: Dead End Adventure. Stampede works as anniversary celebratory bombast but isn’t the series’ smartest, and with the core of the film occurring in a single spot and under dull skies, location fatigue rears its head.

For some, the draw of One Piece: Stampede is its constant character cameos. From the instantly recognizable to the deep cuts, it’s a fun gimmick for fans, although the absence of big names like Kuzan and Jinbei are noticeable. Some cameos fall on the side of groan inducing-ly forced, shoehorning a requisite Zoro fight, or overtly shouting to audiences “Remember them?!” Having no effect on the story, these cameos are clunky and break narrative immersion.

Far from the worst of One Piece’s wildly varied films, Stampede is what it needs to be. It lacks the creative spirit of One Piece’s heights and is dampened by its inconsistent cameo execution, but it’s a fine anniversary celebration for one of manga and anime’s, if not the world’s, best works of fiction. For the uninitiated, it’ll be like an avant-garde acid trip, but for those clued-into Luffy’s antics, it’s a barrage of ballistic glee!

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