Sunday, May 11, 2008

Going through the Motions - Gunsmith Cats Burst

I'm gonna start this with a bit of personal history. I was reintroduced to Japanese Animation in the mid-90's (I had always known about it,. My parents video store always had some form of Japanese animation, usually in the form of kids movies or a dubbed series). A coworker at the video store was a fan, and I happened to be at the store when his newest Laserdisc copy of a series came in. The show was called "Gunsmith Cats". I asked him about it and he ended up letting me borrow the disc (what is it about japanese anime fans that makes them so eager to pull others into the fold). Well, I was impressed with the episode I saw. Its slick animation captured the look and feel of an 80's action flick. Our leads were a team of female bounty hunters and the story was their little mix-up with a gunrunner and a sleazy ATF agent. The show was action packed, the girls were tough and there were even a few laughs to be had.

A few years later I was deep into Japanese animation and retained a soft spot for "Gunsmith Cats". I found out that it started life as a Japanese comic book and as luck would have it, the series was being released in the US. Our video store wasn't far from a comic/hobby shop, so I went down there to see if they had it - they did. I was hooked again. The comic was edgier, sexier, and each new story line was better than the last. The creator Kenichi Sonada was obsessed with guns, 70's cars and tough girls. It was a mix that worked well, and once he threw in some nasty villains it was great. I ended up following the series all the way through it's initial run. Sonada left "Gunsmith Cats" to work on a sci-fi comic for a few years and I lost touch with the world of Japanese comics and animation.

Late last year I saw that some new "Gunsmith Cats" comics were being released. I went to my old comic shelf and picked up some of the books I remembered enjoying. I was surprised how well they still held up. The fast paced action, and tight story telling was just as exciting as ever, so I ordered the new series, (Gunsmith Cats: Burst) and waited.

When I got the new books I found myself more disappointed with each page. The art wasn't as detailed, the stories were stale and my favorite characters were almost relegated to supporting roles. What happened?

I did some research and found out that even though the "Gunsmith Cats" series was very popular in Japan and a good seller in the US, Sonoda was getting bored with the series by the end of it's 90's run. Turned out he had more fun with his sci-fi series. I suspect he was pressured to come back to the "Gunsmith Cats" universe but his heart wasn't really in it. You can tell.

I put myself in his position. What happens when characters you create and love start to become stale or boring? Worse, what happens when you complete the story you want to tell with those characters, but your fans want more. Do you suck it up and make new but sub-par stories, or do you stick to your guns and say, "I'm done with those stories. I'm gonna work on something new." It's tough to say, especially if you make your living writing stories.

What would you do in that situation? Is there a way to keep old characters fresh? have you had a experience where a series you love starts to feel like it's going through the motions?

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