Bang, Bang, Pop!: Reviewing Girls With Guns Anime

girls with guns
Created in Microsoft Paint.

In recent years, there have been even more anime featuring girls with guns, expanding the genre. I decided to examine this genre and offer my thoughts.

When you think of girls with guns in popular culture, you might think of Lara Croft, Sarah Connor, Alien, Foxy Brown, or Coffy. However, there are more than just hundreds of films featuring girls with guns. In anime, there are over 20 girls with guns series.

While there are many strong anime gunslinging girls, there aren’t as many anime which are truly “girls with guns”. It is a genre defined by series such as the 1980s sci-fi comedy and space opera, Dirty Pair, centered on two women: Kei and Yuri.

Since then, there have been many more series, including the recently-ended Vampire in the Garden and currently airing Lycoris Recoil. There are also older series such as Gunsmith Cats, El Cazador de la Bruja, Noir, and Otherside Picnic. This article reviews these six series and four others. It is sample of a much wider array of girls with guns anime.

This post contains spoilers for the ten series that I’m writing about.

Girls with guns are stars of the show in Lycoris Recoil 

Chisato Nishikigi defends herself from those trying to kill her in the show’s sixth episode

This original anime series by Spider Lily and Asaura is all the rage. The /r/yurimemes subreddit is filled with posts of Chisato (Chika Anzai) and Takina Inoue (Shion Wakayama), the show’s protagonists, as is /r/wholesomeyuri. The show’s yuri subtext is often noted. Furthermore, the show’s subreddit, /r/LycorisRecoil, has over 4500 subscribers. The show’s story, characters, animation, and dialogue make it easy to like.

The series begins when Takina brazenly uses a machine gun against criminals, threatening the life of a fellow “Lycoris”, an armed intelligence agent. The covert organization, Direct Attack (DA), fires her. She is then transferred to Café LycoReco, a DA front organization, where she meets Chisato, a fellow Lycoris. She also meets a former DA member named Mizuki Nakahara (Ami Koshimizu) and an Afro-Japanese man named Mika (Kosuke Sakaki) who runs the cafe.

The series pulls you in due to Takina’s struggle with fellow DA agents who resent her, and villains who attempt to take down Lycoris. The same can be said about Chisato’s mysterious past and a hacker named Kurumi (Misaki Kuno) joins the show’s heroes. The series often focuses on growing friendship between Takina and Chisato, arguably with romantic undertones. Unlike other anime about girls with guns, Chisato only uses rubber bullets. This means that those she does not kill anyone, a practice Takina adopts, as they work together as a team.

Momo shines through in Vampire in the Garden

girls with guns
Momo defends herself from a vampire girl, Alicia

This original dark fantasy net anime features many girls with guns. Front and center is Momo (Megumi Han) who runs away from home, where she is a soldier, and trainee in a war against vampires. She meets Fine (Yū Kobayashi), queen of the vampires, learning to love life and experience music all at the same time. Unfortunately, her controlling mother, Nobara (Rika Fukami) sends out a search party to find Momo. She wants to bring her “back” to “civilization” and way from the purportedly “barbaric” vampires.

In the process, Fine and Momo grow closer to one another. Like many other girls with guns anime, there are many yuri vibes in the series. In fact, neither of these protagonists gets a chance to live together. They are chased throughout the anime and do not have a chance to rest. This is because society sees relationships between humans and vampires as “unnatural” and does not accept them.

The focus on the relationship between Fine and Momo parallels those who do not accept queer relationships and those othered by society. Rather than an anime solely about girls with guns, Vampire in the Garden is a mature dark fantasy filled with blood, death, explosions, and serious injury. Even so, there are scenes with a slice-of-life feel. This five-episode anime ends positively. Momo founds a society many years later where humans and vampires can live together in peace.

Gunsmith Cats exemplifies the girls with guns genre

girls with guns
Irene “Rally” Vincent at the shooting range in the episode “Neutral Zone

This adventure-crime series is based on an eight-volume manga of the same name illustrated, and written, by Kenichi Sonoda. It is different than other series in this post because it is loosely set in Chicago. It centers around Irene “Rally” Vincent (Michiko Neya), a 19-year-old woman who operates “Gunsmith Cats” gun shop. She works with 17-year-old explosives expert and former sex worker named “Minnie” May Hopkins (Kae Araki) as a bounty hunter in the underworld.

The anime is an original video animation (OVA), released between November 1995 and September 1996. It is only three episodes long.  Some reviewers praised the animation as colorful, fun, and a “solid piece” of filmmaking. Others praised the action, artwork, and said it sounded like a “gritty” suburb of Chicago. Moreover, there were those who described the animation as smooth, said it has the same amount of humor as the original manga, but complained that the series should have been longer.

Like Vampire of the Garden and Lycoris Recoil, yuri themes are implied. Although Yuricon’s founder Erica Friedman does not write about the anime on her blog, Okazu, she did review each volume of the five-volume manga, Gunsmith Cats BURST. In her reviews, she notes the yuri subtext between Rally and Minnie. She also noted that mafia donna Goldie Musso is a stereotypical “evil” lesbian. In the manga, all three of them live together. Otherwise, the series fits within the girls with guns anime genre.

Love, amnesia, and guns in El Cazador de la Bruja

girls with guns
Nadie, Ellis, and nuns shelter in a basement, hiding for people out to get them, in an episode

This 2007 series, a mix of modern Western, adventure, and yuri, is a classic girls with guns anime. It centers around Ellis (Ai Shimizu), a fugitive who has amnesia, an unknown past, and powers of some kind, and a bounty hunter named Nadie (Shizuka Itō). Both travel south in hopes of finding the key to who Ellis is, where she was born, and what she did.

In a review of El Cazadar de la Bruja first episode, Friedman noted that there were clear yuri vibes. But, she worried there would be another “ambiguously yuri” relationship like other Madlax series. However, in a review at the end of the series, Friedman praised the growing romance between Nadie and Ellis. She said it is different than Noir in more ways than one.

Others were more critical of this series, especially purported “filler” episodes. They noted that even the show’s gun violence is restrained. This series is unlike other anime in this genre as it is set in the Southwest United States and Mexico. As a result, it shares similarities with Western animations like Nomad of Nowhere and The Legend of Calamity Jane. Both series have gun-toting female protagonists.

Girls with guns are at the center of Noir 

girls with guns
Kirika and Marielle in the front, with Chloe in the background, in an image on the show’s now-defunct official website in 2003

This adventure anime is as well-known as El Cazador de la Bruja. It is often noted as exemplary of the girls with guns genre in anime. It centers on two female assassins, a Corsican woman named Mireille Bouquet (Hōko Kuwashima) and a Japanese woman with amnesia, Kirika Yuumura (Kotono Mitsuishi). Both journey together to learn about their past. They ally together and assassinate “bad” people under a code name: Noir. They face a French secret organization named Les Soldats, led by Altena (Tarako), which is out to kill them, and a skilled assassin named Chloe (Aya Hisakawa).  

Friedman, who I’ve mentioned earlier, criticized the series for weak animation at times. But, she praised the show’s music, settings, and yuri vibes in the series. She added that people will put up with the series, despite absurd storylines because it has an attractive woman with a gun. TV Tropes, on a page about LGBTQ fanbase of anime and manga, stated that the series garnered a “sizable lesbian fanbase” due to the “ambiguous” relationship between Mireille and Kirika. They also noted the subtle lesbian attraction shown later.

Director Koichi Mashimo described this series, Madlax, and El Cazador de la Bruja, as his “girls-with-guns genre trilogy”. Some praised the 26-episode series for redefining girls with guns series, with an elegant, and sleek story. But they criticized it for having repetitive actions sequences. Others said that Noir was an original anime which “stands out”. In the end, the series changed the girls with guns genre for years to come, although no series since then has been exactly like it.

Girls with guns are focal point of Otherside Picnic 

girls with guns
Sorowo aims a military-style weapon while Toriko sits next to her

This adventure sci-fi yuri series centers around two women. One is a college student named Sorawo Kamikoshi (Yumiri Hanamori) who enters parallel worlds named the Otherside. The other is the woman who saves her, a former Canadian special forces soldier named Torika Nishina (Ai Kayano). The series focuses on Nishina’s quest for her friend, and their repeated attempts to return to the Otherside to gain artifacts, with the help of Kozakura (Rina Hidaka). However, the world affects them physically and mentally in ways they didn’t expect.

Early last year, I began watching this series, excited to watch it since too many yuri anime are either set in schools or fantasies, with the implication that lesbian relationships will be short-lived and even replaced by heterosexuality. Unfortunately, this series did not deliver on that promise. Friedman criticizes the series for being a “children’s version of the novels”. My bigger qualm is that the series did not deliver on the yuri that seemed present from the beginning, despite romantic vibes throughout.

Otherside Picnic remains within the girls with guns genre. Even in a few episodes, Sorawo and Torika save U.S. military soldiers from Okinawa who are stuck in the Otherside. Unfortunately, this becomes imperialist apologia. It glosses over problems with U.S. military occupation, and presence, in Okinawa, and Japan. It marks a low point for the entire series.

Girls with guns have an important role in Blue Drop

girls with guns
Yūko takes out a gun to defend Mari from harm in the show’s sixth episode

This 2007 yuri sci-fi drama contains some girls with guns. On the manga cover, a girl named Shōta has a gun. On the other hand, neither of the show’s protagonists, Mari or Hagino, uses a gun during the series. Instead, secondary characters like Yūko and Tsubael have guns. Yūko even confronts Hagino at gunpoint. Otherwise, there are armed sentries on the ships from another world.

Blue Drop delivers more on yuri themes than Otherside Picnic or even, arguably, Lycoris Recoil. And you don’t even need on yuri goggles to see it. It is more than a “fun watch” with likable characters, some of whom are morally ambiguous. Instead, it is an enveloping story which draws you in, with its plot and animation. Even the ending is heartbreaking.

Since the series is usually put into the sci-fi and yuri genres, reviewers don’t often put it into the girls with guns genre. Although there are fewer girls with guns in Blue Drop than other series noted in this article, it has positives which go beyond other series. It is a classic that can be watched over and over. The same can likely also be said about the affiliated manga which ran from 2004 to 2008.

Badass girls with guns are central to Canaan

girls with guns
Canaan about to fire her pistol during the show’s opening

This 2009 mystery thriller is little-known, despite the fact that a Japanese game company, Type-Moon, created it. It’s based on a special scenario originally outlined in 2009 game, 428: Shibuya Scramble. This anime centers on a gun-toting assassin and mercenary named Canaan (Miyuki Sawashiro). She faces a rival named Alphard Al Sheya (Maaya Sakamoto), a skilled assassin who heads a terrorist organization named Snake. Canaan also has a pretty reporter friend named Maria Ōsawa (Yoshino Nanjō).

Canaan and Alphard are both skilled at using firearms, as is ex-mercenary Siam (Akio Ōtsuka), Alphard’s lieutenant, Liang Qi (Rie Tanaka), and many others. Predictably, yuri themes are spread throughout this anime. Canaan often saves Maria from sticky situations thanks to her ability to perceive people’s emotions as colors. They clearly are attracted toward each other. The series ends with Canaan being, in the words of Friedman, “awarded equal status to Maria in her heart.”

Otherwise, Canaan is action-packed, with fast-paced fight sequences and chases. In some ways, it makes me think of chase scenes in Carmen Sandiego, although the ones in that series are never filled with guns, but with other deadly weapons instead. This series is unique because Canaan is from an unnamed country in the Middle East, presumably Syria or Lebanon. It adds another dimension to the story.

Guns, love, and demons in Engage Kiss

girls with guns
Shu, Sharon, and Ayano pictured on the show’s official website.

In this ongoing, and currently airing, romantic comedy, one character stands out as a girl with a gun: Ayano Yugiri (Lynn). She is the former girlfriend of Shuu Ogata (Soma Saito). He lost his memories of their relationship after partnering with a demon named Kisara (Saya Aizawa). To give her the necessary demon powers to fight, he kisses her, which erases a memory every time he does so.

While it seems, at first, that she chooses his memories to erase at random, it is later shown that she can choose which ones to erase. She even eliminates a time that Shuu and Ayano have sex, enjoy each other’s company. She also eliminates a time when Shuu had sex with the demon-hating priest, Sharon Holygrail (Rumi Okabo), and poisoned her in a devious way.

Ayano has the most skills at using firearms apart from Shuu. It has not been revealed how she is so skilled, but she may have on-the-job experience. Unlike Lycoris Recoil, the only other people who use guns are the police, as the villains often manipulate demons instead. None of the show’s characters without faults, and have all likely done deplorable things.

A gun-toting protagonist in Venus Versus Virus 

girls with guns
Lucia fires her gun in the show’s opening

This dark fantasy and supernatural thriller centers around two girls with guns: Lucia Nahashi (Ayahi Takagaki) and Sumire Takahana (Minori Chihara). Although it has been rightly described as a series to avoid by Stig Høgset of THEM Anime Reviews. He argued that it is “lazy and dumb”, with mild fanservice and violence. That makes it different from others in this genre, which are usually more violent and bloody.

In Venus Versus Virus, Lucia, especially, is skilled with use of a firearm. She works to protect Sumire, along with others, from harm that demons, known as “viruses”, can inflict. Predictably they both bond in the process. Even so, the yuri themes in this story are not very strong, with neither Lucia nor Sumire appearing to be lesbians.

On the other hand, the series is strong as an anime that features girls with guns. As such, it is relatively well-established in the genre. In fact, when bullets hit Sumire, it causes her violent personality to surface, which can be harmful to anyone around her.

Closing thoughts

There are many other examples of girls with guns anime.  Some of the most prominent, apart from Dirty Pair, include Bubblegum Crisis, Miami Guns, Gunslinger Girl, and Burn-Up. One critic argued that while there aren’t many true girls with guns anime, the ones that do exist have been so influential, it has created “an entire thematic genre and stereotype of anime.”

Princess Principal and the film, Kite Liberator also fall into the genre. Even Izetta: The Last Witch might fall into the genre since Izetta rides an anti-tank rifle. Apart from Sabine Wren, Padme Amidala, and Zam Wessell, who tote guns in the Star Wars franchise, there’s no Western animated equivalent of the genre. On the other hand, there are some gun-wielding women elsewhere, like Millie in Helluva Boss.

There are many girls with guns within anime, but even with newer series, it remains to be seen if the current trend toward more girls with guns will continue. Many of the series within the genre, such as Strike Witches, Michiko & Hatchin, Grenadier, and Upotte!! are years old. The same is the case for Madlax, set in the same world as Birdie Wing.

With anime production companies flush with cash, there is a possibility of further girls with guns anime in the future.

Author: Burkely Hermann

Burkely is an indexer of declassified documents by day and a fan fic writer by night. He recently earned a MLIS with a concentration in Digital Curation from the University of Maryland. He currently voraciously watches animated series and reads too many webcomics to count on Webtoon. He loves swimming, hiking, and searching his family roots in his spare time.

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