Thursday, December 20, 2007

Manga Review: Gunsmith Cats: Revised Edition

Gunsmith Cats was originally published by Dark Horse comic in nine separate volumes. It was printed on quality paper and for most part was a very well received series. The only drawback was Dark Horse policy of flipping the art to conform with western's expectation of left-to-right reading. Recently they have decided to re-issue the series to coincide with the recent release of Kenichi Sonoda's Gunsmith Cats: Burst, this time as an omnibus over four volumes. Crucially it is the first Dark Horse version to retain the original Japanese right-to-left format. This review pertains to the first volume of which contains the first 2 1/2 tankoban of the original print.

Created by Kenichi Sonoda in 1991, Gunsmith Cats has since spawned several anime episodes and is considered a huge success and a sequel series (Burst). Gunsmith Cats consists of several storyline often told over a span of several volumes. The manga's title is based on the gunshop owned and run by two bounty hunters - 18 year old Rally and her 'business partner', the 17-year old bomb specialist Minnie May. Rally, whose penchant for classic cars is matched by her skills in firearms is most often thought to be the main protagonist of the series. May, whose interest includes all things explosive as well as sleeping around, I have always thought as Rally's kiddie sidekick though her storyline does eventually develops.

The thickness of the volume one is a whooping 3.8cm over a whooping 464 pages (not including bonus interviews and other stuff). That is thick and at first I was sceptical with the idea of having such a large volume. Fortunately the binding quality seems to be of the highest standard and I did not witness any pages falling off, yet. On a truly negative side, all the detail gained from the right-to-left format is immediately countered by the fact that the revised edition is shipped in a smaller format! Measuring 18.3 x 13.2 cm, the book is now in DVD size packaging format, just slightly larger than most paperbacks. This is in contrast to the usual Dark Horse manga size of 20.6 x 14.8 cm (the same size used for the new edition Ghost in the Shell), in which the old version was based on.

Truly appalling however is the decision by the publisher to print on lower quality paper. Unlike the magazine quality glossy white paper with high contrast ink you get in the original Dark Horse edition, the paper used here is equivalent to papers used on normal budget manga releases often favoured by TOKYOPOP and Viz Media. This isn't a huge problem considering the price and weight, but when compared to the original release and the quality usually associated with Dark Horse publications, it can be disappointing. As far as quality is concern the new revised edition compared to the old editions is one step forwards (non-flipped) but two steps backwards (smaller size and low quality paper). Fan service, like in the original version, are not censored so at least be thankful of that. Sound effects are also unedited.

So is this the definitive version of the manga series? Maybe - especially if you are truly concerned over the flipped images on the original Dark Horse versions. To me I never really thought of it as a huge problem and even today continue to enjoy reading the manga in its flipped format. Maybe I am just not as anal about it as other people and considering that the original version was printed on a larger format as well as better paper, I believe I have the better collection. But even then the revised edition should be considered a bargain as you will be able to enjoy the whole nine volumes for probably less than half it would be if purchasing the original nine volumes. Especially if you have yet to read Gunsmith Cats, in which case I wholeheartedly recommend the new revised edition (the old edition is out of print for years now).

Now if only Dark Horse would re-release the original edition in its large format, quality paper and unflip it then we wouldn't have this problem. Until then each version has their own drawbacks so decide on what you prefer - none-flipped or quality.

UK manga fans can order the first volume of Gunsmith Cats: Revised Edition here. Americans as usual are more accustomed to benefit from a better deal here.

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