Judge Joel Pearce thinks the title of this disc might have been clearer had it been named Gun Girls: Girls, Guns, and Guns Engraved with Girls Carried by Girls with Gun Tattoos.
The girl has a mechanical body. However, she is still an adolescent child.
Young female cyborg assassins at a secret government agency? This must be an anime series…
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Although there's something disorienting about watching a Japanese series that takes place in Italy translated into English, this first volume of Gunslinger Girl shows promise.
In Italy, a secret agency has been formed to take care of sensitive matters of national security. Technology has been developed to turn people into conditioned, bio-mechanical killers, but it works best on young children. In response, they create teams of "brothers and sisters." A male agent chooses a young girl who has been seriously wounded and gives her a new name. She is brainwashed and trained, and they are sent on missions together.
For the most part, this first volume just introduces the characters. The first girl we are introduced to is Henrietta. She is the newest addition to the team, chosen after she witnessed the death of her family and was seriously wounded by a serial killer. She quickly latches on to her training, but her stability is called into question when she gets out of hand on one of her first missions. Giuse, her handler, believes that Henrietta will develop better judgment if she is allowed to experience a full life. We also meet Rico, who is grateful for the chance to live a full life after her childhood was spent in a hospital bed. Claes has been constrained to the Agency without a handler, and appears to be better adjusted than the other girls. Triela is the most mature of the girls, as well as the most experienced.
The dichotomy that these girls live with is the most interesting aspect of the show. They have been conditioned to kill, and show little emotion in the field. They seem quiet and shy until they burst into action. And yet, when they are alone together they seem like very ordinary young girls. Some have crushes on their handlers, which they discuss in standard terms. They try to get used to their new bodies, trapped forever at the awkward verge of womanhood. I'm looking forward to seeing how this interplay between killer and child develops through the series, whether these girls will remain girls or transform gradually into monsters.
After watching this volume, I feel ready for a larger plot thread. Each of the characters has been carefully introduced. The relationships between the characters have been well established, and the position of the agency as well as some of its moral challenges have been laid out. I respect that this much time was put into these introductions, since so many anime series jump into the action and let the details get sorted out later (if ever). That said, this volume does include several solid action scenes that show what these girls are capable of. Things could get very messy once they are up against serious foes, and it should be lots of fun. Henrietta's hotel rampage is beautifully shot, using angles and attention to detail to give the fight the impact that it needs. The animation throughout is detailed and attractive, creating a fascinating and unique version of Italy.
I do have a few concerns with Gunslinger Girl. The first two episodes overlap so much that I thought I had bumped the wrong button on the remote. If that trend continues, it could become a major annoyance. Also, this is a short 13 episode series. This much time on character development is great, but the larger plot must arrive soon if it is to be well developed over the course of the series.
The disc has been very well produced. The video transfer is great, with only minor compression errors keeping it from a flawless rating. The lines are sharp and clean, and the color transfer captures the tone of the animation perfectly. Digital blurring is handled without any haloing. The audio transfer gives viewers a difficult choice. The English 5.1 track is by far the strongest, skillfully mixing the music and ambient noise into the surround channels. The Japanese language track is much stronger, though, thanks to lackluster performances from the English voice actors. I also prefer the subtitle translation, which isn't as loaded up with generic action movie phrases. The stereo track is strong too, but lacks the enveloping quality of the surround track. I really wish we'd get more Japanese surround choices.
There are a few extras on the disc, such as the requisite textless credit sequences, as well as an animation sample showing how a character is animated in layers. The process is different than traditional cel animation, so it's interesting to watch (if very short). There are also dossiers of each of the girls, showcasing their histories, artwork, and the weapons that they use.
Despite its promise of girls and guns, Gunslinger Girl is a unique entry in the genre. It is relatively humorless, and takes the artistic high road in developing the characters and the situation. Although I'm not sure I'm ready to compare it favorably to Léon, as many other critics have, this series is certainly reminiscent of Luc Besson's female assassin training sequences. And that's a good thing. This first volume shows a lot of potential, making it a worthy addition to anime collections.
Although I would have liked to see more plot this time around, I can live with waiting for it in the next volume. Not guilty.
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