When I began reading the Kenichi Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats not long ago, I was almost immediately struck by the similarities between it and Rei Hiroe’s Black Lagoon. Both are action packed guns blazing stories but what I particularly noticed and enjoyed was the focus on the tough, independent female characters who feature prominently in both works.
Gunsmith Cats’ Rally Vincent is a bounty hunter, sanctioned by the police to capture and bring in alive any criminals who are on the run from the law. This of course means that unlike Revy from Black Lagoon (a mercenary for hire) she has to watch her trigger finger, and more than once her quarry has escaped due to her professional obligation (as well as her personal judgement) not to fire. Rally is tough, she is uncompromising and relentless in her pursuit of justice for all, but especially for herself and her friends. The America of Gunsmith Cats is by no means a black and white world, but there are lines which the good guys will not cross but the bad guys will happily trample over. Rally might bend or sneakily rip the odd page from the rulebook when no-one is looking, but Revy tosses it straight in the nearest trash can with a look of disgust and Balalaika grins as she sets it on fire. In Black Lagoon there is hardly any such thing as a good or a bad guy. Roanapur and indeed the entire world which Revy & Co. inhabit is a murky grey sludge, even the different shades of grey can barely be discerned and are liable to change with the winds at any moment.
Both Revy and Rally are ace gunslingers, pulling off moves with their pistols which would leave olympic sharpshooters scratching their heads. While quick to pull her gun should the situation dictate, Rally has a responsible attitude towards guns and in one particular scene where she is haunted by the demons of her past after being injected with a new drug ‘French Connection 2′ style by the villainous Goldie (more on her later) she reveals that she is an advocate of the “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” school of thought. It is obvious though from the fascination and love she has for firearms that she does not view them simply as a tool. The ability to possess and use guns is very important to Rally as shown when she has her licence temporarily suspended, and when she holds back from shooting a foe precisely because the drugs in her system could get her licence revoked. This kind of thinking is at one point admonished and labelled as cowardly by probably the most grey character in Gunsmith Cats (being neither hero nor villain) Bean Bandit. His view is that Rally should, like him, follow her own moral code rather than the law.
This school of thought is far closer to Revy’s position, though she generally keeps her cards close to her chest with regards to how she feels about any situation which doesn’t require violence. While often openly hostile to the people closest to her even to the point of pulling a gun on fellow Lagoon Company partner Rock over an argument, like Rally she does still use her skills to defend her friends (even against business interests, as is seen when she is ready to shoot Russian gang boss Balalaika when she threatens to do the same to Rock) proving she is not as mercenary as first glances might indicate, and still has a certain bias towards those she knows and to some extent, trusts.
Balalaika herself makes for an interesting comparison to Gunsmith Cats’ archvillainess Goldie Musou. Both are powerful women in a men’s world, heading up criminal gangs where they are in the position of power over most men. With this power and isolation though, comes a sense of sadism and even reckless abandon in both characters. Unlike Rally or even Revy, Goldie and Balalaika’s moral compasses have entirely ceased to function, and they do what they do primarily for their own amusement and love of the power they exercise over others. Balalaika’s domineering personality is satisfied by her continual and often unprovoked warfare with other underworld elements, a taste for which she developed while fighting in Afghanistan. Goldie however is driven by more materialistic sexual desires, and from her point of view her feud with Rally is an amusing (if particularly violent) game. She doesn’t want to kill her at all, rather to posses her for her own. Due to her mercenary outlook and the fact that the two rarely come up against one another, Revy can and does work with Balalaika, although uneasily.
The supporting casts of each story are a little different. While both Revy and Rally’s worlds are full of colourful characters, Rally tends to be at the centre of her group of friends and acquaintances, the strongest and most capable among them. Rally’s friends Minnie-May, Becky and Misty are all capable women in their own right, their skills at explosives, intelligence gathering and breaking and entering respectively complimenting each other. The same cannot be said of Black Lagoon’s extended cast. Characters such as Eda the gun-running nun, Jane the counterfeiter and Shen-Hua the bounty hunter more often than not find themselves in opposition to or competition with Revy, or forced through circumstance into grudging alliances. Such are the different worlds they inhabit. There is room for trust and friendship in Rally’s life, far less so in Revy’s. It is fair to presume that personal circumstances are as much to blame for these differences as the places in which they live.
The thing the women of Gunsmith Cats & Black Lagoon value most is their freedom to do as they please, but each woman’s idea of how far they should be able to take this freedom (especially where the lives of other people are concerned) differs greatly. Some might say that their passions, thoughts and actions (love of cars, guns, power or sex) are more male due both to the writers and the target audience, but I would suggest that anyone, male or female, who finds themselves on occasion despairing at the portrayal of women in manga and anime check out both of these titles. There may not be a Revy for every cute, naïve and helpless girl in the world of manga… But that wouldn’t be a fair fight now, would it?