Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump Advanced)
Author: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $7.99 US
Release Date: April 1, 2008
Like most boys, Viu Bannes has big dreams that can stretch as far as the mighty Mississippi. He’s that little pint-sized kid who is up for the challenge even if the challenge is far bigger than him. Fearless and headstrong, this boy heeds no warnings or cares to hear how impossible a task is because his mind was already set from the very beginning.
This is why the first time we see Viu he is about to arm wrestle a kid twice his size with arms that look like thick tree branches. He doesn’t even listen to his pretty sister, Cissy, who tells him that the 9-year old boy is way too small to beat the older contestant of the town’s arm wrestling championship. No, Viu doesn’t hear her because he wants the top prize … a brand new gun holster. So, giving it his best, Viu wins.
Then the drifter enters the little town and Viu’s life changes forever. You see, this drifter named Marcus Homer steals a few apples from the general store and it is Viu (not the lazy town sheriff) who pursues him. It doesn’t even occur to the young boy that this man is carrying a pistol and all he has is a toy gun. Well, this impresses Marcus – who stole the apples because he was starving – and the boy invites the drifter home to break bread together. Marcus even instantly falls in love with Viu’s sister on the spot.
Yet rumors of a gang of dangerous bandits hits town and when two of them do show up it is Viu and Marcus that put an end to their shenanigans. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with the bandit’s leader who stages a rescue of his two men. Meanwhile, both Viu and Marcus are enjoying their hero status despite the fact that Viu is angry that one of the bandits stole his new holster.
Sensing Viu’s determination to be a gunslinger and head out West, Marcus shows him the handle of his pistol that contains a compass symbol. He tells the boy of a secret place in the West known as Gun Blaze West where only the strongest are allowed to enter. So the pair make a pact to head out there and Marcus sets a training regimen for both of them. So the two run everyday while setting their goal higher and higher.
Suddenly, the leader of the two captured outlaws head into town and the Sheriff and his men attempt to fight them off to no avail. During their training, Viu and Marcus notice the nearby fort under attack so they arrive to help. It is here that both friends battle against the deadly bandit and in the middle of the battle, tragedy places Marcus’ gun in Viu’s hands. Like a true gunslinger, Viu duels with the outlaw and wins.
Five years pass and Viu, now 14-years old, completes his training. Saying goodbye to his town, he heads out to St. Louis (the “Gateway to the West”) with the only clue left behind by his old friend Marcus. It is in the bustling city that he meets a young girl named Carol who manages to convince Viu to eat at the saloon where she works. Unfortunately, the saloon is being harassed by the neighboring saloon and goons start making trouble for Viu, Carol and her employer.
During a skirmish in the saloon, Viu is introduced to a bouncer named Will Johnston who not only happens to be Carol’s older brother but also to owner of a compass that carries the Gun Blaze West symbol. The story ends with a cliffhanger as Viu and Will discover that they are looking for the same thing. Also, that no good “Target” Kevin wants revenge on both of them.
Gun Blaze West is a good story despite the somewhat unbalanced beginning and the different take on the American West. This, of course, doesn’t make it a bad story. It’s actually a good one with a young main character that later turns out to be more interesting than when he first started. Am I looking forward to another volume? Yes, I am and mainly because the last portion of the 182 page story proves to be the best part of what could actually be an epic quest of self-discovery and high-adventure.
The Wild West theme seldom comes off as truly authentic in manga but Gun Blaze West manages to display an interesting twist in the theme. The storytelling is not as involving as Rurouni Kenshin but readers will like the characters and Viu’s quest to follow his dreams.
Again, I don’t mean to be nitpicky but we’ve seen better from Watsuki. Still, there are some really amazing-looking panels and the action sequences really come to life on the pages. Also, the Western backgrounds are authentic.
Gun Blaze West’s first volume doesn’t start off as strongly as it could have but what we have here is a wonderfully-crafted yarn that is still quite appealing nonetheless. The ending is where the story really picks up the pace and delivers the right amount of drama and action that best suits the genre. Check it out if you like the gun-slinging fun.