Following an attack on the Kingdom of Botica by mysterious forces, S.A.M, a Special Associate Model friendship droid, finds herself separated from her friend Prince Kelby. In her search for Kelby, Sam is joined by the robot mechanic Casey and the two locate the infamous immortal outlaw Philly the Kid in the hopes that he will escort them to Gara’s Keep, where they believe the prince is heading. With his own motives for escorting the two robots, Philly agrees to drive Sam and Casey to the keep in Bessie – his vehicle that transforms into a massive bull-shaped battle mech. The three begin their journey across the landscape, dodging bounty hunters and dealing with supernatural entities and mechanical hiccups as the mysterious forces behind the siege of Botica continue to hunt for Prince Kelby.
Cannon Busters has an interesting history. It started out as an American comic book series in 2005 with plans by author LeSean Thomas (known for his work on The Boondocks, Legend of Korra, Yasuke) to republish the series as a standalone graphic novel. At the time of writing this review, that plan is yet to eventuate. Cannon Busters was then the focus of a crowd-funding campaign to develop a pilot anime episode which was released to backers in 2016. Netflix then entered the scene in 2017, and the series found a new life as a 12-episode anime, animated by Satelight and Yumeta studios.
The story of the show’s creation is almost as frenetic as the story of Cannon Busters itself. The series jettisons its characters from one situation to another while on their journey to Gara’s Keep, facing a myriad of hectic and hostile situations imbued with a heavy helping of stylised carnage and dark comedy. The impressive visuals and electric soundtrack match the series’ chaotic pacing, with each episode placing Sam, Casey and Philly in a new location (and often genre), as the series’ narrative forges ahead with its road trip concept. However, while the result is a flashy spectacle of madcap proportions and some zany concepts that feel right at home in the anime aesthetic, the breakneck speed and somewhat clumsy delivery results in a loss of engagement with series’ cast of characters, as well as the narrative taking place.
Cannon Busters is a dark road trip comedy depicting the journeys of Sam, Casey and Philly as well as Kelby and his bodyguard Odin, as both groups make their way to Gara’s Keep while attempting to avoid their pursuers. The series shares some similarities with the comedic space road trip series Robihachi, which also told the story of two groups travelling to the same destination and encountering a variety of whacky situations along the way. However, while the road trip in Robihachi was simple and effective with a comedic focus, Cannon Busters complicates its road trip narrative with a few too many concepts that it is not able to deliver effectively.
There are plenty of cool concepts on offer to enjoy in Cannon Busters, such as Sam’s defensive droid capabilities, the extent of which are revealed as the series progresses, as well as the semi-mundanity of Philly’s immortality. However, the series often feels weighed down by these concepts rather than sustained by them, presenting them in an awkward juggling act of genre tropes (including fantasy, sci-fi, mecha, Western and horror) that never feel cohesive within the narrative. As a result of this disconnect, character motivations and backstories are often difficult to engage with and remain invested in, as they feel like separate elements rather than a cohesive whole. As an example, though their actions are the catalyst for what happens in much of Cannon Busters, the mysterious forces attacking the Kingdom of Botica serve little narrative interest. As a result, the political drama aspects of the series feel disconnected and shockingly irrelevant alongside the fast-paced road trip taking place. The swordsman 9ine who joins the gang briefly on their journey is another good example of this. 9ine brings a samurai backstory and aesthetic to Cannon Busters, but is present so briefly that when he departs the story it feels as if his presence only served as a distraction from the narrative rather than a meaningful addition to series. The lack of cohesion of all these differing elements is a constant in Cannon Busters, making it difficult to enjoy the main narrative as so many different plot threads vie for the audience’s attention.
I have no doubt that Cannon Busters will be somebody’s new favourite anime. The series is flashy, stylish, quirky, with the original American comic book concept translating well into the anime genre. Additionally, the soundtrack is energetic and the concepts are fun, if under-realised and resulting in some narrative dissonance. If a mishmash of concepts that includes road trips, constant brushes with danger, droids, robots and mechs, and immortal loudmouths sounds like the kind of chaotic narrative that would be up your alley, Cannon Busters is the series for you.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.