In a final surprising narrative swerve, the last episode of No Guns Life's second season focuses on the minor recurring antagonists Pepper and Seven. It's an interesting move, albeit not the most seamless. I was actually wondering, until about halfway through the runtime, whether or not I had missed or completely forgotten the conclusion to last week's episode. That would've been especially embarrassing for someone who's been reviewing this show for the past three months, but thankfully it was just some weird jumbling of the timeline on the show's part. That said, I don't believe disorientation was the desired effect, so I can only assume it was done to inject a little draught of mystery into this season finale, as well as to accommodate the opening scene.
The opening is most interesting for all of the questions it raises yet doesn't answer. On the surface level, it provides Pepper's appropriately upsetting backstory, but there are a lot of background and incidental details that dovetail into a more compelling overall portrait. For instance, I really like the religious (and specifically Christian) iconography that keeps popping up around Berühren. Pepper is guided by a nun through a cavernous and cathedral-esque structure until they drop her into a pit. These orphan holes are self-evidently fuel for Berühren's many illegal Extension experiments, but here it's treated almost like an ascetic practice. Pepper, at least, exhibits no desire to escape. And Seven looks like he's crucified in concrete. I really couldn't say whether this has a more significant meaning beyond Berühren's quest for immortality and godhood, but it works perfectly well on a menacing aesthetic level.
Pepper's backstory doesn't provide much information we couldn't have already presumed based on her current personality. Plus, up until last week, the narrative treated her little more than a flamboyant and oversexed antagonist, so I instinctively questioned the wisdom of putting her in the spotlight in this episode's opening minutes. My worst case scenario would have been for this flashback to end and reveal a dying Pepper in the present. I'm super weary of wringing cheap, last minute tragedy out of a villain's still-warm corpse. Therefore, I'm quite glad Pepper is still alive, and I'll be even more pleased if she ends up becoming a regular cast member in the future. Let this be the start of her character arc—not the conclusion. And despite these textual gripes, I adore the gross, visceral imagery behind the genesis of Pepper and Seven's relationship. Nothing says “love” quite like regurgitating a tarantula, stepping on it, and planting a sloppy, blood-soaked kiss onto the metal mouth of a gun boy. They're two wounded animals licking each other for comfort, and this portrait alone is enough to warm the cockles of my problematic heart.
This also reveals their relationship to be a lot more reciprocal than it had previously let on. Pepper gave Seven stability, and Seven gave Pepper an identity. They weren't simply a user and her tool. While this does undermine some of the thematic opposites I pointed out in last week's review, they're still enough of a mess to provide a meaningful contrast to Juzo and Tetsuro's healthier dynamic. In other words, it's not sufficient to merely be aware of your agency – you also have to exercise it in tandem with those close to you for your mutual benefit. Pepper and Seven obviously cared a lot for each other, but they weren't able to express that to each other in a way that would've transcended the boundaries of their working relationship for Berühren. Not until it was too late, anyway. However, with Pepper alive and Seven's fate deliberately ambiguous, there is still hope for a reunion and reconciliation in the future. Pepper's loss of her Hands might have caused her to sink into despair this week, but it'll also be the thing that lets her interact with Seven on a more equitable level should the opportunity ever arise.
To be completely transparent, I didn't expect to devote most of this review to Pepper and Seven, so that at least proves some of this season finale's effectiveness. And outside of those two, this episode just ties a (mostly) happy bow on the events of this arc, while looking ahead to the next conflict. It's exactly what I would've expected from an ongoing manga series and an anime that wants to leave the possibility for a third season open. It's satisfying, if not exactly compelling stuff. Both Oliver and Juzo state their resolve to go after Berühren, but there was never any doubt that the evil child-killing dystopic megacorporation was going to be their ultimate target. I mean, their board of directors looks like a Final Fantasy boss. No Guns Life isn't subtle.
Overall, this second season of No Guns Life neither reinvented itself nor regressed. Despite the pandemic and the ensuing delay, this production felt about as smooth a continuation from the first season as I could have expected even in the best of circumstances. And on its character, narrative, and thematic levels, I think No Guns Life was on target and developed them all satisfactorily. It even managed to fix some of the cyclical and frustrating character tendencies from the first season. It's all still a bit too deliberate and derivative to carve an identity for itself in the cyberpunk sphere beyond the imposing profile of its main character, but it still makes for a consistently good watch. Should it decide to return for a third season, I'll be perfectly content to pull the trigger again.
No Guns Life is currently streaming on FUNimation.
When he's not writing about sentient gun detectives, Steve can be found on Twitter probably talking about vtubers or something.