Comic: Gunhed #2


Gunhed #2

English Comic Title

GUNHED Gun Unit/Heavy Elimination Device #2


Kia Asamiya


Kia Asamiya
Kia Asamiya
Lea Hernandez
Viz Comics


Kia Asamiya



By: Anthony Romero

I'm amazed this English comic series exists. Adapted from Japanese by James D. Hudnall, this series started late in 1990 and is a colorized manga based on the film of the same name, Gunhed (1989). This second issue was released in 1991, but again I'm perplexed Viz Comics (now known as Viz Media) took a chance on this obscure property from Toho and Sunrise. Reading the end of this issue does shed some light on this choice, though. This area provides some bios on the actors from the film, and notes that the "big hit" movie (I use quotes as it disappointed at the Japanese box office) will be coming to the US that Summer, 1991. Clearly that fell through, since it wouldn't get a release in the US until 1997 where it went straight to VHS. It does provide some incentive to Viz, who likely hoped their issues would lead up to the release and they would benefit from some synergy.

Regardless of the reason for its existence, how does this second issue in the manga hold up? Eh, not very well. I will be honest that I'm not a fan of the original movie. In fact, I gave it a pretty scathing review. This comic, while being an improvement over the source material, suffers from the same confusing narrative that the film did. The art is a bit mixed as well, although it does work for the mechs.

To touch on the story, the 1989 movie always felt disjointed. Like it was edited twice, with the second edit being a drastic butchering to make it fit a tight TV time slot. Being a theatrical release, that's not what happened and nor have I heard of any hostility in the editing room for this production. In the end, it was just massive oversight that led to a movie that struggles conveying a coherent story on a lot of the many details brought up. For this reason, I was interested to see if the manga had more clarity here. It does… but still is very confusing. In fact you need to see the movie to understand a few things in the manga. Chief among these is the "death" of Bebe, which happens early in this second issue. In the manga, they appear to destroy the Biodroid, a difference from the film, and then a giant… something falls from the ceiling. It's very unclear, I assume it's part of Kyron 5's defense system. Bebe dodges this, while the manga does a lot of close ups of the characters making the action hard to follow. Next thing you know Bebe is in the water, handing the main character Brooklyn a Texmexcium vial. Then suddenly you see her hand sticking above the water and… then a shot of the water without her there. Thank god a page later Brooklyn clarifies that she died, because the whole thing is very disjointed.

In the film, Bebe "dies" by accidentally falling in some neon goo around the same point as she does in the manga. This is more straightforward in the movie… but what follows is anything but that. Somehow this causes her to "merge" with the Biodroid, and she is literally trapped inside. The same thing happens in the manga, but it's much more clear here across the issues. In the film her entrapment is depicted like she is stuck in a virtual world inside the Biodroid, which if you haven't seen the movie trust me it's lame. Here it's more physical, where the Biodroid actually takes on the same mechanical eye mechanism that Bebe had. In fact, during the first confrontation between the "new" Biodroid and Brooklyn, the lead is startled and calls it Bebe. As a reader I was super confused, and had to read from online Japanese fan sites that this was because he recognized the mechanical eye mechanism. The detail is subtle, though. When you are told about it, you can recognize it, but again it's subtle enough where I wouldn't expect the average reader to pick up on the detail. The manga really could have benefited from zooming in on the eye, or even having Brooklyn just flat out say that he recognized the eye mechanism.

Now one thing I want to mention, if you fall into the "hardcore" Gunhed camp, technically the Biodroid in the film also changes appearances after Bebe falls in the neon goo. Originally it's face is more organic looking. A big however to that is that the audience doesn't see it, as the creature is rushing and frantically moving at all times during the early parts of the movie. It's not clearly seen until after Bebe goes into the goo. This is unlike the manga, which shows it before and after. In contrast, for the cinematic version one has to dig for some very rare production stills that show what the Biodroid looked like before.

Anyway, I blabbed enough about the Biodroid, but wanted to focus on this because it's one of the most confusing parts of the film. As for the rest of the manga, I will give it credit for making what is essentially the middle portion of the movie more interesting. The actual film really, really drags during this part where Gunhed is being rebuilt. I assume that was an attempt to make it seem more credible that really just one person can repair a giant mech all by himself in what's probably just hours but feels like a longer span of time in the movie. The manga doesn't bother with this at all. Literally Brooklyn says "let's put this Gunhed back together!" and we then cut to a page of what other characters are doing, before going back to now a fully rebuilt and functioning Gunhed. It's jarring, but I'll take that over the meandering rebuilding scenes in the movie.

Other changes to the manga are also for the better, including more nearby appearances of the Biodroid to give a bit more interest to this part of the story. The comic also tosses in a childhood flashback for Brooklyn, where he and his dad are trapped on a small sub. The dad sacrifices himself so that a young Brooklyn would have enough oxygen to live. This sequence is new to the manga, and I suppose was an effort to explain the character's phobia for being in the driving seat. Unfortunately, the scene happens early and it's much later that he tells ranger Nim he doesn't like being in an enclosed space driving, which Nim just laughs off anyway. It's not really brought up again too after a brief panel where he looks motion sick. In fact, he pilots Gunhed with no trouble at all. So, even though it was handled poorly in the film, it's handled worse in the manga.

As for the art, it's mixed. The mechs look very good here. In particular, Kia Asamiya does a really nice job with the Biodroid, although it looks nothing like the movie version. In the film, the human sized creature looks like it was lazily hoppled together from miscellaneous machine parts. In the manga, the creature is larger than a human while looking sleek and, honestly, intimidating. Gunhed here is much more movie accurate and looks just as good as in the film. So what's the mixed part? Aside from confusing paneling that makes action hard to follow, the human characters could be better. While they are distinct in appearance, they look very out of place and cartoony in contrast to the detailed world and machines around them. Part of this is because writer Asamiya decided to deage the cast, making them younger than in the movie. I don't know why, the characters being in their 20's versus teens made more sense given their roles.

Overall, I wouldn't really suggest this manga unless you have seen the film and are curious for a different take on the subject matter. It's better overall than the movie, but honestly I would say most of my praise for the comic comes from improvements rather than merits of the comic as a stand alone subject. Also worth noting that the start and end of this comic are very abrupt, and you really need all three volumes.