WORLDLY WEDNESDAY: "CANNON BUSTERS" ON NETFLIX
"Cannon Busters" started life as a 2005 American comic book series, by a guy named LeSean Thomas, who later moved to South Korea and got involved with TV animation. (His TV credits include "The Legend of Korra" and "Black Dynamite.") Thomas has been developing an animated series based on the book for about five years now, and the first 12-episode season has finally landed on Netflix.
I bring up all this backstory because Thomas' own background and experience helps to explain the unique melting-pot sensibility of the "Cannon Busters" series. It's a fundamentally American story, largely inspired by not only serialized Westerns but also both hip-hop and cowboy culture. (The lead character is a black dude who drives a car that turns into a murderous cattle robot. It's basically if Lil Nas X were a cartoon.) But it's also VERY MUCH a Japanese anime series, produced in Japan by largely Japanese animators, in the Japanese language. The show is funny, and even silly, but also frequently melodramatic, and with a surprisingly ugly, violent streak running through some episodes. Though it looks and feels like a contemporary show that's suitably of-the-moment, "Cannon Busters" also has a timeless quality and recalls some of the great Western-influenced anime of the past. (Most notably: "Cowboy Bebop" and "Trigun.") What I'm saying is, there's a lot going on here.
Most of the action takes place in the kingdom of Gearbolt, a Western-looking frontier that's nonetheless populated largely by sentient robots. It's home to Philly The Kid (Kenn Michael), an outlaw who also happens to be entirely unkillable. He can certainly be injured, brutally, which happens all the time, because he's reckless and not actually very good at fighting. But, like Wolverine before him, Philly's body seems to have adapted the ability to heal and recuperate from just about any damage.
Next to Gearbolt is the fantasy kingdom of Botica, which looks less like the Wild West and more like Middle-earth, though it's also full of robots. They include SAM (Kamali Minter), a friendship robot who was designed to befriend the self-centered Prince Kelby (Zeno Robinson). She's become stranded in Gearbolt, and uses her friendly programming to connect with both Philly and a repair droid named Casey Turnbuckle (Stephanie Sheh). The episodes find these three journeying across the frontier and attempting to return SAM to Botica, while learning more about one another and getting into scrapes and side adventures.
As with most animated shows of its kind, there's a lot of mythology and backstory packed into "Cannon Busters," but the show nonetheless feels a bit lighter on its feet than many other recent animes I've seen. Complexity always takes a backseat here to comedy and adventure. There's worldbuilding aplenty to make Gearbolt feel expansive and lived-in, and much of which is hugely imaginative and strange, but it's rarely intricate or more elaborate than needed. The animation, is well, is top drawer, and remarkably fluid, with well-designed action sequences that all have a rise and fall, like mini-narratives within the larger episode. (Thomas served as the chief director himself, in collaboration with Takahiro Natori.)
I enjoyed "Cannon Busters" more than I expected. And at just 12 episodes, under 30 minutes each, it's a breeze to binge through quickly.
Title: "Cannon Busters"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Episodes: 12 (1 season)
Running time: 24 minutes each
Genre: Animated fantasy-comedy
In Japanese with English subtitles or dubbing