Determined to find her missing friend and heir to her kingdom, friendship robot S.A.M. and companion repair robot Casey Turnbuckle attempt to recruit the notorious Philly the Kid to assist them in their task. However, travelling with a highly wanted, immortal fugitive like Philly brings alot of unwanted attention from the law and bounty hunters. Keeping a low profile with Philly can be difficult if he also drives an oversized Cadillac Eldorado that also transforms into a giant robot. Along with possibly the world’s greatest swordsman, this band of odd travellers just might have what it takes to survive the long road to find S.A.M’s best friend.
A hugely diverse animated galaxy-western featuring mechs, guns and friendship – Cannon Busters has recently been released globally on Netflix, featuring steampunk themes and gun shooting drama with added European high fantasy elements. This fast-paced show is engaging, kinetic and blends themes and characters that attach familiarly for viewers old and new to anime.
The first episode contains a lot for viewers to handle, but is delivered warmly with familiar themes for an older audience to get in and buckle up with. We are immediately introduced to Philly the Kid (voiced by Kenny Blank), the youngest wanted outlaw in the western regions of Gearbolt; Samberry, or S.A.M. (voiced by Kamali Minter), an android who is searching for her beloved owner and friend, Prince Kelby, and Casey Turnbuckle (voiced by Stephanie Sheh), a cute junk mechanic with a curiosity for tinkering. We also get introduced to Philly’s transforming pink mecha space cadillac (!), as well as S.A.M’s secret special powers, and a whole host of other characters later on. The show continues with each episode introducing new characters or situations our (anti-)heroic gang rolls through or escape from each time; Philly gets roped into S.A.M’s quests to track down Prince Kelby immediately, whether he likes it or not… S.A.M’s aggressive friendliness is both adorable and compelling. Will she be able to find her prince?
The retro nostalgia tick box is fully checked; even an “eye catch” included per episode as featured in many older TV anime, and developed into such a trope in itself – in the 80s and 90s, eye catch screen cards started to be included in direct to video rental anime even though the concept was intended for TV’s commercial ad breaks – the Cadillac is also super powered and goes into berserker-mecha-mode with the insertion of a few coins, pure 16-bit arcade style. The character designs are gorgeous and varied (just take a look online for fan art that has appeared already), and the opening song is a proper banger.
The 2D and 3D animation techniques are blended well, though there are a few rendering issues with foreground characters in 3D rendered with thinner lines than the 2D characters far away in the background which can pull the viewer out of the moment. This visually separates the media techniques when everything could be rendered a bit more seamlessly. Similarly, sometimes Philly’s bratty protagonist vocal outbursts are so energetic, the animation style is not as exaggerated to match this retro nod, too. This is of very little consequence to the overall quality of the whole show, but would be good to not notice this in potential future seasons.
Cannon Busters is one of the newest in a long line of Netflix Originals launched on the platform – the series of 12 episodes animation by Satelight and Yumeta Company was released on August 15, 2019. It all began as a short comic book series by LeSean Thomas (Black Dynamite, The Boondocks), back in March 2005. Fans loved the comic, but due to a hectic schedule, it was put on hold indefinitely, as Thomas clearly had envisioned the next stage for this series already…
In 2014, LeSean Thomas crowdfunded an animated pilot through Kickstarter for an animated adaptation of Cannon Busters, assisted by Tim Yoon (producer for The Legend of Korra, Batman: Under the Red Hood) and artist Joe Madureira (character design assistance); it was funded and released to backers in July 2016. Then, Netflix announced Cannon Busters would be released as a full-on show! Manga Entertainment appointed Reemsborko Ltd as a worldwide agent for Cannon Busters and in August 2019; the 12-episode series launched in full, directed and written by LeSean Thomas and a few other scriptwriters.
The show is Takahiro Natori’s directorial debut, alongside LeSean Thomas himself acting as chief director; anime character designs are handled by Tetsuya Kumagi, and features music composed by Bradley Denniston and Kevin Begg. Satelight and Yumeta Company produced and co-animated the series – a truly global effort. Netflix has already greenlighted the next project from Thomas called “Yasuke,” a story of a legendary African warrior in feudal Japan – magic robots and all – designed by animator Koike, produced by MAPPA Co., Ltd.
Some viewers may be put off by the clear influences that the show wears transparently on its sleeve, but that is a big badge of honour representing the inspirational shows this series has been writing love letters to – that’s over the past 20 years of anime influence, which new viewers can be introduced to afresh through this show for the first time.
Some jingoism of the anime community has been oozing through the cracks of the internet upon release, the anime not being listed on some anime sites presumably because of the co-production credentials. As fans and consumers, we need to be aware of when fandom mutates into nationalism, else creation will become stagnant.
This show is also one of the very few anime to feature a main cast of protagonists of POC. With anime’s popularity growing year upon year as a cultural phenomenon, it makes perfect sense for animation to be an openly collaborative effort, to reach out and appeal to as many viewers as possible. The only difference between the 80’s and now is that the studios are asked to be part and parcel of the show, instead of just being hired to produce a western concept using studios in Japan. Where would we be as kids without Dogtanian, Thundercats, Mysterious Cities of Gold? There is no hiding behind curtains anymore, this is a loud and proud movement. Collaborations with non-Japanese artists, financed and supported by international partners is showing not just the anime industry but it’s viewership to open its hearts and to kick down gatekeeper’s doors… and long may they stay down.
Here’s to many more shows utilising a global audience – raise a glass to Cannon Busters showing the world exactly what anime is made of. Get on board.
Laura Watton (PinkAppleJam)
Cannon Busters is now available to stream on Netflix
Better known as PinkAppleJam, Laura is one of the hosts of Hardcore Genki Hour! Listen to the show on Bunkazilla.