Cannon Busters review: An ode to ’90s anime

Netflix’s latest original anime offering Cannon Busters will bring you some old school 90s anime vibes, but takes its time with character growth and just where the plot is going.

Created by LeSean Thomas, who funded the project via Kickstarter, Cannon Busters, a Japanese-American and Netflix original production, follows the adventures of S.A.M. (Special Associate Model, programmed for friendship) from the Kingdom of Botica as she tries to find her best friend, Prince Kelby, who was taken to a hidden fortress after the Kingdom was invaded.

In order to do this, she befriends a maintenance droid named Casey Turnbuckle, who suggests that the find the notorious immortal outlaw, Philly the Kid, to take them there in his enormously pink car that can turn into a bright red bull mech named Bessie.

What follows is a wild road trip against combining tech and magic throughout a Wild West setting as this disparate group tries to take S.A.M. back to Kelby, who has his own adventures along the way.

First, the anime definitely will give you vibes from shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and Outlaw Star. If you were a kid who grew up watching these shows, then be prepared for a serious nostalgia trip.

Not only that, but it’s crisp clean animation and stylized appearance is definitely a feast for the eyes. From the details such as Philly needing quarters to power up Bessie in mech mode to the different landscapes to the character designs, there’s just something about the animation that will pull you in. Every character has their own unique look and feel, featuring a wide array of body types and unique silhouettes. One of the characters even has vitiligo, which is definitely a first that I’ve ever seen.

Another thing that will bring audiences back to their nostalgia is the opening theme song, “Showdown” performed by Marty Grimes and BJRNCK. It played over the trailer for the series and is pretty amazing. Theme songs, honestly, have become a lost art form in recent years. The opening theme, which plays over the trailer, is an earworm that will stay in your head for days and is just beautifully performed by the duo. It’s one of those songs that makes you not press the “Skip Intro” button in Netflix, just so you can listen to it.

That’s not to say that Cannon Busters isn’t without flaw. Some characters, such as Philly and Prince Kelby, can take a while to grow on the audience. Philly has an understandable chip on his shoulder and resents playing chauffeur for the two bots at first. Yet as time passes, he warms up to them. It really comes down to how much time passes before he does so. It just feels too long and like we keep hitting the same character beats with him until the relationship turns. That makes it a little boring and a little annoying to watch at times.

Prince Kelby has his own subplot in the series. While the majority of time is spent with S.A.M. and Philly, we check in with the wayward Prince and his escort/guard Odin from time to time. Kelby is a kind of a brat for most of the series, which is a little grating to watch, especially since S.A.M. is trying so hard to get back to him. It does make you wonder why should she. While the character growth for the prince is needed and nice to see, it’s one of those things that puts you on edge as well.

The plot is actually a little all over the place as well. It takes a couple of episodes for the whole picture to come into view. Some of the reveals feel like they should have been held off to later in the season versus so early on. Like it would have more of impact without a gradual build rather than just laying it out. When thinking about the season as a whole, it just needed a little more time to rearrange plot beats.

Not to say all the characters aren’t bad. S.A.M. and Casey Turnbuckle are both delights to watch from beginning to end of the season. There’s also a wondering 9ine, a drunk ex-ronin, who is definitely a cool if underutilized character. The side characters that pop up for an episode or so also have distinct personalities and are fun to watch. They feel like real characters rather than just one-offs for the episode, which is always important. My personal faves are a group of drunk girls who, when learning S.A.M. never had different flavors of potato chips, immediately start telling her about their favorites and what she should try.

It’s little notes like this which definitely hide some of the deficiencies for the series. It is definitely one to keep an eye of. Nearly the entire main cast are animated POC and voiced mainly (at least in the English dub) by POC voice actors. That’s a nice thing to see in anime. I don’t think I’ve really since that since Samurai Champloo, which has been a minute.

When the season hits its stride by the final episodes, it definitely hits it well. The two-parter season finale feels like everything clicks into place, despite the growing pains to get there. I hope that Netflix decides to give the series another season. There’s definitely a cliffhanger to end things on and it would be a shame not to, at least, resolve it.

If you like anime or have fond memories of shows like Outlaw Star or Trigun, then definitely check out Cannon Busters on Netflix.

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