The Insipidness of Cannon Busters: What went wrong with a Netflix Original “Anime” that Disappointed

Before I begin with this critique, I’d like to make it clear that I genuinely tried to enjoy this Western cartoon (it is not an Anime, as much as it wishes to be), but the story’s weaknesses were far too problematic. If it had just been, as it was commercialized, a comedic adventure between a polite and precocious robot, her ditzy but energetic companion robot, and the snarky Philly the Kid then perhaps I would have been motivated to finish it. As it stands, I stopped at Episode 8 and while I thought Episode 8 was a fun episode that finally made me chuckle with its jokes, I couldn’t justify watching any further. That may seem odd, but I’ll be sure to explain. If I had to name the two main aspects of this series that made me stop watching, then it would be the lack of build-up behind any of the tense moments and the utter repetitiveness of most of the comedy, especially in the early episodes. Witnessing SAM (the robotic girl) blow things up is nice and all, but there is no satisfying build-up to the events where she unleashes her power throughout the story nor even really a narrative arc for Philly the Kid when such moments occur with SAM protecting him. Despite Episode 8’s first bit of funny jokes, most of the humor is some of the most repetitive and banal nonsense such as Episode 4 where SAM and Casey (SAM’s robotic friend) constantly get shocked unconscious by two thugs while stuck in a ditch. It happened four times with the same bit of “humor” and I didn’t even find it funny the first time.

Perhaps the most salient failing of Cannon Busters is that it tries and spectacularly fails at juggling three different stories and intersecting them. Instead of being excited for the world opening-up to show a larger plot to the story, I’m left wishing it had remained in the backburner and left vague. If it had just been Philly the Kid, SAM, and Casey’s adventure then I think I’d have been able to watch it to its entirety, but the humorous scenes of Philly and the group is awkwardly shared with banal scenes of Prince Shelby of the Bodicka Kingdom and his faithful Knight Odin who have some of the most boring conversations imaginable with stereotypical babble that you’ve heard millions of times in your average “Prince of a fallen Kingdom seeks to beat evil brother / uncle who usurped the throne” stories. Even worse, the third story – if it can be called that – is the usurper and “true” heir to the throne torturing the King (Shelby’s father) for fun or ostensibly for the purpose of finding Prince Shelby’s whereabouts, but mostly for his own sick amusement. So, we have an underutilized cast of genuinely interesting and sometimes funny characters with Philly the Kid, SAM, and Casey, but add their humorous escapades being switched with scenes of evil badguy Mcbadguy torturing someone for fun in some of the most awkward and tonal jarring moments, and then atop of that is the banal journey of a Prince and his Knight who I sincerely wish were dead because it would make for a more interesting story than what I’m being forced to endure when they talk to each other. It seems as if the author wanted to do something fun atop of something grand, but then didn’t bother doing any real work in building up the plot, characters, setting, or – most importantly – the personalities of the rest of the cast. I don’t care about Shelby, I didn’t come to watch some old man being tortured by his bastard son, and I don’t give a damn for any of the dialogue in these scenes as they’re some of the weakest and most poorly done. It’s so weak that I had to surmise the villain’s motives from inference since what he says about his past lacks any greater context than the few minutes he spews on about some mysterious and presumably horrible action that the King did in his past that we’re not privy to. As such, I have no way of caring.

This takes me to one of the most surprising reasons for why I decided to drop it. Despite the triad of stories, there doesn’t seem to be any actual build-up, set-up, or foreshadowing for any future events. The Philly/SAM/Casey segments seem relatively self-contained with no meaningful long-term storytelling despite the lengthy torture sessions by McBadguy and the King or the long – seemingly pointless and most certainly banal – journey of the Prince and his Knight. When SAM transforms, there’s no build-up before she becomes a weapon of death, no payoff for the reactions since most of the time the two other characters don’t understand what happened or that SAM was the cause, and when Casey is confronted with the reality of what SAM is; Casey decides to keep it a secret for no explicable reason other than the fun in having a secret despite Casey and SAM presumably valuing their friendship with Philly the Kid. Naturally, it seems like forced plot stupidity. Other parts of the story’s set-up and build-up are just as bad. This one old Samurai who had joined the group ended-up leaving the very next episode and we were never given any reasons for either of his decisions or any clue as to whether he’ll even be relevant to future events. The most confusing was the introduction of the Usurper King’s five royal henchmen who are quite prominent in the opening and who we’re introduced to by one of them killing throw-away mercenaries that Philly had previously beaten. This merciless act of brutality was done at the end of an episode and so I anticipated that the five henchmen would be fighting Philly, SAM, and the Old Man Samurai and I was excited for the next episode. Yet, those five henchmen never make an appearance in the entirety of the next episode and instead the old man – who had just joined the previous episode – ended-up leaving in the episode. If I may articulate my feelings when witnessing this sequence of events: “HUH!?” – in a way, that says it all. The next time I saw any of the henchmen, they were back in the Brodicka castle talking to McBadguy. This was perplexing because Brodicka is insinuated to be hundreds of miles from where Philly the Kid was in one of the earlier episodes. I was left very confused because the five henchmen had been on the trail of Philly the Kid, they were just one town away from finding him, and seemed to be closing the distance quickly but suddenly they seemed to have gone hundreds of miles back to Brodicka? Why have an episode end with them closing the distance, if absolutely nothing was to come of it? Why have the Old Samurai join them for only one episode, the narrative providing his backstory with a flashback, and then have him abruptly leave with no hints as to his whereabouts or what his significance even was? What is this story even trying to say? Is it a comedy adventure, a dark fantasy with torture, or a boring hero’s journey quest?

The saddest part about Cannon Busters is that it could have easily been better by reworking certain sections. For example, instead of us being introduced to a bounty hunter woman who has her sights set on Philly the Kid, with no discernible reason why we should care since she seems no different than the hundreds who’ve been after him in previous episodes, and then being given Philly the Kid’s background on her; Philly could have first told Casey and SAM about the bounty hunter woman’s tenacity, the history between Philly and her, and then we could have been introduced to her. In fairness, there are ways in which a narrative can introduce a character randomly in a surprising manner, but the way Cannon Busters did this doesn’t seem to have been put together well. I can’t help but make comparisons to Grenadier: The Smiling Warrior due to the similar outline in plot. Unlike Cannon Busters, Grenadier knew how to form set pieces to foreshadow future events. When there were moments where the main story was pushed aside to show us something else in Grenadier, it usually had major relevance for both the plot and Tendou Rushuna’s character. When we saw the flashback of Rushuna being told by the Queen that she must go on a journey, we’re not privy to why Rushuna was wearing the same outfit and even a wig to look like the Queen. It isn’t until late in Grenadier that we learn this was clever foreshadowing for the identity of the main antagonist and why Rushuna was so skilled in gun-kata. Cannon Busters offers nothing for the viewer on making set pieces that clue viewers in on future events nor seems to have made an honest effort in building a cohesive narrative that is building towards anything. This would have been fine if it was just the comedic adventures of Philly the Kid, SAM, and Casey but the other two storylines make it worse on the narrative and for the viewers. None of these three storylines have any set pieces or interesting clues as to where the story will be going. Unlike Grenadier’s generic story, the side characters and villains of Cannon Busters aren’t intriguing or don’t have sufficient characterization for me to really take an interest in the conflict.

Despite what some of you may think, I really did go into this with an open-mind and I really did try to enjoy it, but I’m given a compounding number of reasons for why my review of Blood of Zeus was spot on. I’d expand on that, but it is a topic for another time. Cannon Busters is not an anime. Perhaps it is anime-“inspired” at best, but it will never be an anime. I’ll just hold back on saying anything further on that. I’m sorry, I really didn’t want to but this show was just too disappointing and it fell far below my expectations from the excitement I had felt from watching the Netflix mini-trailer. At least the opening music was nice.

Cannon Busters gets a 2.5 / 5.

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