by Nobuhiro Watsuki
published by Viz; $7.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Viu Bannes is a nine year-old boy who wants to be a gunslinger and head out West to prove himself. He meets Underdog Marcus Homer, a gunslinger just returning from the West with his tail between his legs. Marcus tells Viu about a place beyond the West, called Gun Blaze West. A city where only those confident in their abilities can enter. Once every ten years, the city holds a contest and the winner is awarded the best gun ever made.
Marcus and Viu begin to train together to so they can be strong enough to head out West. Unfortunately, the outlaw Bill Kenbrown and his gang show up, causing trouble. Once Kenbrown and his boys are dealt with, Viu continues his training. The book then jumps ahead five years to the day Viu finally leaves for the West. His first stop is St. Louis, gateway to the West. There Viu finds another clue to the location of Gun Blaze West and more trouble with outlaws.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: young boy has both parents killed by criminals and is raised by a guardian. The boy determines to grow up to be a vigilante. I couldn’t help thinking Viu’s story reminded me of Bruce Wayne, just without the millions of dollars. Essentially, the first 3/4 of the book is the origin story for Viu. The one major difference between Bruce Wayne and Viu is that Viu doesn’t fight on the side of justice out of conscious choice, but rather as a result of circumstances. Later in the series, I imagine that Viu will make a deliberate choice to fight on the side of law and order.
The plot to Gun Blaze West feels like a Shonen Jump paint-by-numbers story. Young boy with either tragic or rough past decides on a very lofty goal to prove his worth to himself and to the world. Along the way, he finds companions who share his passion and join him on his quest. Each will bring a unique skill/fighting style to the group and together they will become legendary heroes/champions. The other significant feature of this story type is that the line between good guys and bad guys will be fairly clear. It’s a formula that allows for a wide variety of stories and characters.
Since the reader knows the basic outline of the plot at the beginning, this formula works great as escapist fiction, just like the old Silver Age superhero comics. There’s a real comfort in knowing the good guys will eventually win in the end. The pleasure with this style of storytelling is seeing how the author plays with established structure to keep the reader interested enough to come back for each new installment.
Gun Blaze West is a fun but not compelling read. Viu is a one-note character. In this volume, he never gets beyond the ‘I have to prove my strength’ mantra. The interesting, and more developed, characters are the secondary cast: Viu’s sister Sissy, Underdog Marcus, and Will Johnston. They’re the people that keep the reader interested in the book. Interestingly enough, they are also the people that move the plot forward.
The artwork is competent. I know that’s considered a backhanded compliment nowadays, but I’m using the word with its original meaning. The book is drawn well, but there is nothing spectacular about the art. The page layouts and character designs are clean and simple. There’s nothing wrong with a book where you can tell exactly what’s going on and who is who.
I once heard morning radio described this way: it’s entertaining enough to keep you listening, but not interesting enough to distract you while you’re driving. That’s a perfect description of Gun Blaze West. It’s a series I would read if I had nothing else sitting on my shelf, but it’s not a series I would actively follow. It’s perfect for an anthology magazine like Shonen Jump. It’s the series you would read since you already bought the magazine for the one or two stories you really like. If you’re looking for some light feel-good reading as a change of pace, or if you just like some quick escapist fiction from time to time, then this book will fill the bill. If you’re looking for something more substantial, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.
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