Created by: LeSean Thomas
Synopsis (LeSean Thomas): Follow the adventures and exploits of S.A.M, a high-end, royal-class friendship droid who’s joined by a quirky, discarded maintenance robot and a brash, deadly fugitive. Together, the unlikely trio embarks on an unforgettable journey in a fantastic and dangerous world in search of S.A.M’s best friend, the heir to a powerful kingdom under siege.
Starring the vocal talents of: Kenn Michael, Kamali Minter, Stephanie Sheh, Zeno Robinson, Billy Bob Thompson, John Eric Bentley
Cannon Busters is undoubtedly LeSean Thomas’ love letter to the popular anime of the late ’80s and ’90s. The characters and the plot all resonate with those of us who grew up with shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, and others. It’s also a history-making show in the sense that it’s a Japanese anime created by an African-American starring Black characters with Black voice-over actors for the American dub. As a Black anime fan myself, that alone makes it important to support this anime.
Don’t just take my word for it–take my other word from Shadow and Act!
Overall, this show is something Black anime fans have been waiting on for years, so it’s exciting to finally see it on a large platform like Netflix. Also, because the series was created in Japan by animation studios Satelight and Yumeta Company, it begs the question if this series will broaden the scope of how Blackness is perceived in anime and Japanese culture at large. Thomas isn’t just making Black anime fans happy with Cannon Busters; he’s also expanding consciousness regarding the idea of Blackness abroad.
Take Philly the Kid (voiced by Kenn Michael). The character is overhelmingly influenced by Cowboy Bebop‘s Spike Spiegel, from the dress shirt and tie, the fluffy hair, to the devil-may-care attitude. Joyous android S.A.M. (voiced by Kamali Minter) is part Mihoshi from Tenchi Universe and Milly Thompson from Trigun. Like S.A.M., both characters represent that less-than-smart, but beautiful, blonde and good-hearted woman character type. Sam’s android friend Casey Turnbuckle (voiced by Stephanie Sheh) has spiritual DNA with mature kid characters like Outlaw Star’s Jim Hawkins, Cowboy Bebop‘s Ed, and Tenchi Muyo‘s Sasami.
The show itself gives fans that western sci-fi feel that many of the aforementioned anime shows, specifically Trigun, Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, gave. That’s both a good and bad thing. While there’s a lot for those of us early Toonami and Adult Swim fans to love, the familiarity could also be a hinderance to the show. Does the show say anything new? Does it provide anime fans with great nostalgia and an inventive story? To me, I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the show for how it instantly took me back to my childhood when I would plop in front of the TV and watch tons of afternoon anime. But perhaps it only resonates with me because of those nostalgic markers. And perhaps that’s why the show is so popular to so many people.
For instance, did we get a complete story within this first season? I don’t think so. We got inklings of backstory about Philly, Sam and Casey, but we were never fully introduced to them the way Cowboy Bebop, for instance, told us about Spike’s past with Julia, or Faye’s accident that caused her amnesia. We know Philly’s parents murder at the hands of the Botican Empire, the very empire where Sam and her “best friend” Prince Kelby (voiced by Zeno Robinson) reside, led Philly to want to take revenge. However, why did that result in Philly selling his soul to gain immortality instead of just developing a plan to charge into Botica? And why did Philly forget his plan after risking so much to get his powers? How did he forget? Why did it take two separate villains to remind him of what his motivation (i.e. the plot of the series) is supposed to be?
S.A.M. also suffers from lack of a fleshed-out backstory. Aside from us knowing she as close to “in love” with Kelby as a robot can be, we don’t know what exactly her true power as a Cannon Buster means. Why was she created as a Cannon Buster? What is truly special about her? And why does it seem like her Cannon Buster form shifts each time she transforms? There’s not much rhyme or reason to it. Even worse, Casey gets virtually no backstory. We know she’s an older model, but we don’t know how she became as sentient as she is, or why she’s without an owner.
To that end, we don’t ever get complete satisfaction storytelling wise. Yes, the show is fun and beautifully animated, but the story and the characters remain at a surface level. Even the villain Locke (voiced by Billy Bob Thompson) has a deeper past that’s hinted at–he’s the forgotten, illegitimate son of Prince Kelby’s father, King Bulgher (voiced by John Eric Bentley). It seems like Locke, like Philly, has also done some dark deal to gain some grotesque powers. But why exactly? Who is his mother and what was her true connection to King Bulgher? Why did King Bulgher dismiss her and her son? Sure, we might get to see how these disparate storylines develop over the course of seasons, but that’s assuming Cannon Busters gets a second season. As we have seen from how Netflix will axe a popular show, it’s assuming too much. I wish Cannon Busters had, instead, focused as much on its story as it did on its anime references and tone.
The lack of proper storytelling provides us with an ending that feels more tacked-on and rushed than it does feel earned. And yet, despite all of the negatives I’ve listed, I can still say that I’d recommend this show to those of us who have been yearning for a show that reminds us of our ’90s childhoods with Toonami and Adult Swim. Cannon Busters isn’t a perfect show. But it’ll be one that will soothe you into fun memories hanging out with your favorite anime shows. The show’s saving grace, in fact, is its masterful handling of nostalgia.
In short, check out Cannon Busters if you want a fun ride back down memory lane. But make sure that your memories help guide you through the show, because otherwise, you will end up getting lost.