The basic premise: dehabilitated, parentless girls are healed, brainwashed and then forced to work as cyborg assassins for a government institution.
In my mind, there would have been a far easier way to make this anime. With almost no mental effort whatsoever, one could very easily use its pretext as a jumping board for a lighthearted, mindless action anime. The plot could have been the kind of meaningless, unimaginative action fluff found in animes like Naruto, Noir or Scryed. If one made the girls older and the men younger, one could effortlessly throw in a few love triangles as well. All in all, the series would most likely be outrageously successful, and there would be sequels upon sequels to harvest money from.
Or, even better, they could have transformed Gunslinger Girl into a manipulative, super-obvious morality fest. The message of the anime could oh-so-easily be the no-shit statement, "Its wrong to brainwash young girls!" After a few painfully preachy expository episodes, the anime could punctuate its "point" by finding an excuse to murder a million or so people, Saikano-style. This would ensure a hardcore following by anyone "with a heart," and would soon spawn hundreds of reviews on animenfo praising the animes "symbolism" and "realism" (have you ever noticed that people who say a work has symbolism without mentioning whats being symbolized are full of shit?).
Lets thank God the creators didnt do either of these two options. Instead, the anime opts for a much more intelligent approach. Rather than dwelling in the blatantly obvious (what this organization is doing to these girls is obviously wrong), it asks a much harder question: "Are these girls still human?"
The anime thinks hard on its seemingly unanswerable question, and carefully ponders the girls humanity. At the end, rather than have a traditionally violent climax, the anime answers its own conundrum. I wont reveal the direction the series goes in, but allow me to say that in the final episode it is very clear what the anime thinks these girls are.
To accomplish its study, Gunslinger Girl is very heavy on character development and somewhat light on actual storyline. Furthermore, action scenes are well done when they appear, but far less frequent than fans of Noir will probably expect. Many people may be put off by this somewhat unconventional method of storytelling. I, however, enjoyed the approach immensely. Contemporary entertainment nowadays seems to be focusing far too much on the What, When, Where and How. In my opinion, the Who and Why are much more important. The creators of Gunslinger Girl clearly agree with me.
Although not particularly necessary for this kind of character study, the animation is nonetheless surprisingly good. As mentioned before, when action scenes occur, they are nothing short of exceptional (unlike Noir and Witch Hunter Robin, they dont skimp out on blood either). The rest of the time, the animation is still pretty good. All of the girls character designs are deceptively pleasant to look at, with pretty, guileless faces that belie their true nature, while the "brothers" character designs realistically show the lines of guilt creasing their faces.
As for sound, I enjoyed the OP immensely. The rest of the OST is very introspective and classical, and while it isnt very good to listen to by itself, it works very well when combined with the anime itself. Voice acting is done in a very low-key, charming sort of way.
There are few anime characters that are as simultaneously frightening and sympathetic as the ones in Gunslinger Girl. Put simply, the characters are what make the show as compelling and memorable as it is. Over the course of the series, the viewer is constantly thinking about these girls' humanity. Are they the monsters they were manufactured to be, or the innocent children they were born as?
Over the course of the anime, the creators carefully weigh both sides. On one side, the girls at first glance certainly SEEM normal. In many ways, they ARE normal. They carry the same naivete characteristic of an adolescent girl and also share the overwhelming desire to please their (surrogate) fathers. The fact that their love has been artificially misplaced by the government doesnt make the love feel any less real. On the other hand, these girls have absolutely lost their morality. They no longer feel any guilt whatsoever for murdering hundreds of men, so long as they feel their "brother" (a euphemistic term the agency uses in place of "master") wishes them to. The total absense of hesitation with which these girls slaughter is remarkably chilling.
One of the animes best and most moving moments is an almost throw-away scene that effectively combines both arguments. When one of the girls feels that she may be temporarily removed from her "work," she panics; to stop killing, even for a little bit, would prove that she was unsatisfactory to her master. In desperation, she pleads, "though Ive only killed four people this month, last month I killed ten!" Do we love her for her earnest desire to be loved, or do we hate her for her amorality?
All in all, I really enjoyed this series. Gunslinger Girl could have easily devolved into one of the aforementioned anime archetypes, but instead it manages to maintain a good deal of its integrity and originality. Others may be put off by its generally philosophical nature, but those with an open mind will most likely be pleasantly surprised.
The Social Welfare Agency, an agency created by the Italian government to help those who have physical injures with rehabilitation is what the public is told. In reality while they do this, they also do counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism for the Italian Government. The groups while using regular people; Section 2 uses young females who have been fitted with cybernetic implants for their operations.
The episodes are character based and focus usually on one of the girls and their handler, though there are some episodes that focus on several girls and their handlers. Usually the episodes focus what happened to the girls in their previous life before coming to the agency and their new lives after getting their new bodies. The intent of the series is to make you think, and think you will. The girls go from terrible or bad past lives to new ones, which they now kill without hesitation and without remorse. Even with their new bodies there are terrible side effects to what has been done with them.
The subject matter of the show is almost something that has to be looked at. The idea of turning young children into cold-blooded killers is going to be off putting to some people and may be morally wrong. You want to feel sorry for the little kids because of what has happened to them, but at the same time you are shocked by what they have become and it makes you want to vomit in disgust. That is the intent of the show, to shock you about what you are seeing and at the same time makes, you think about what you are watching and why it is so gripping to watch.
While not ever episode does this, there are episodes dedicated to looking at the relationship between the handlers and their cyborg partners. Each handler treats the girls differently and has various viewpoints on their relationship with the girls. Some treat their partner as a sister, and others may view them as just tools to get the job completed. Now ever reason why they treat the girls as they do is not explained at least with the first season, the second season does bring this to light.
In terms of pacing, the episodes move along in a slow matter, but for this series, it does fit perfectly. Moving at a fast pace this series would ruin the effectiveness of what the show is trying to do and turn it into something that it is not.
Art and Animation:
As an upscale it is not bad looking, but this is not going to set the world on fire by HD standards. It is better than the DVD version and the images do appear better, but as a non-native HD show there is only so much that can done to make it look good. Some scenes do look better, but there are others that just don’t look good either on the DVD or BD version.
Even without taking into consideration that this is an upscale, the action scenes and overall animation are done well even when looking at the DVD version. The fight scenes are fluid and they do not feel boring.
Dub (English and Japanese):
Funimation did the English dub for the series and is one of their better dubs out that they have done in their history. Any listener of any Funimation dub or English dubs for that matter should be able to pick up the English VA’s in their respective roles. The voices for the girls are the highlight of the dub, which all of the English VA’s who provided their voices fit their characters and nobody sounds too old for their role. The other English VA’s who also give their voices also do very well. There are a few changes from the Japanese script in the English translation but the changes give a very similar meaning from the Japanese so it is not a huge difference between the two.
The Japanese dub is also very good and the voices fit the characters quite well. The Japanese females VA’s doing the voices for the girls do an excellent job with their voices and they fit very well. The other Japanese VA’s also do a very good job and it comes across as solid Japanese dub.
The music is another area where the show shines brightly. The OP which is called “The Light Before We Land” which was sung by the Delgados a Scottish indie rock band that disbanded in 2005. The OP fits the show nicely and fits the theme of the series greatly. The ED which is called “Dopo il Sogno ~Yume no Ato ni~” (After the Dream ~After The Dream~” also fits the shows tone nicely and is also sung well too.
The music that plays during the series also fits and gives the actions scenes that needed touch that it needs to make them fit and feel even more exciting to the watcher.
The extras from the DVD’s have been brought over, which include dossiers for the girls, five conversations (mini commentaries) from the VA’s who provided the voices for the girls in English (This are sadly in SD) two features which draw the girls, along with textless OP/ED, trailers, and two English commentaries from the ADR production staff and directors.
Where it can be obtained:
Gunslinger Girl Blu-ray can be obtained at any major online retailer that sells anime in large amounts or any anime specific distributor.
Gunslinger girl is a series that will make anybody who watches it think, be it pity to the girls and what has become of them, or disgust for what has become of them. While the subject matter of the series may turn some off, those that choose to continue to watch, will be get to enjoy the wonderful dub in both languages along with exciting action scenes and a wonderful music score.
Plot *** out of ****
Art & Animation *** out of ****
Blu-ray Image Quality ** ½ out of ****
English Dub *** out of ****
Japanese Dub *** out of ****
Music: *** out of ****
Overall Score: *** ½ out of ****
Pros: Good English and Japanese dub, excellent music, though provoking plot
Cons: Slow pacing, Video quality with the BD transfer, subject matter is very subjective and may be off putting to some.
I don't know if I'd recommend Gunslinger Girl. I've got mixed feelings about it. It's thought-provoking and its unusual theme is developed in an interesting, provocative and moving way. But. But the pacing is godawful and extremely disagreeable: up to episode 8 I was still debating whether or not I should drop it. And there is basically no plot. As for the characters, while everything centres on them it's also true that there is little to no development. It's like a slow depiction of a situation that is rendered via the description of the characters involved in that situation and their interactions. Don't know if I managed to get the idea across...
There is a shady antiterrorist government agency in Italy, the Social Welfare Agency, which "saves" little girls who have had terrible life-threatening accidents by transforming them into cyborgs and then brain-washing them in order to make them perfect killing machines. Each girl has a male handler who is responsible for the girl and to whom each girl is attached in a morbidly obsessive way. Each handler establishes the relationship with the girl in his care in a different way, ranging from viewing them simply as tools to treating them as human girls to be looked upon with pity or little sisters to be spoilt. It's obvious that seeing young girls embracing huge guns is shocking and watching them coldbloodedly kill people with no inkling of remorse or guilt is distressing and sickening - so there is no doubt that what the Social Welfare Agency does to them is morally and ethically wrong. That's not the focus of the anime. A previous reviewer claims that the question the anime poses is whether these girls are human or not. But I don't think I agree. If you watch how they behave, their reactions and feelings - it's quite obvious to me that they are human. What's interesting to watch - but not amusing at all - is how the conditioning they have received strips them of any kind of morality or conscience, thus concentrating all their extremely human emotions and feelings - the need to love and be loved and to be recognised and to have a purpose - within their handler, in one exclusive relationship: which is also wrong and sickening to watch. Sometimes this is rendered very well, especially towards the end of the anime - while, as I already said, the first half of the show could have definetely been done better.
What I Liked: The varying dynamics in the fratello relationships. The ending theme suited the series down to a T. Generally well-animated, with fluid action scenes and beautiful set designs. The premise of preteen assassins and political tension in late-90's Italy is a great hook. Sound design is great, especially in regards to the guns. The muted colour palette, which is admittedly a hallmark of its time, works nicely here. Most of the girls get a considerable amount of development.
What I Didn't: The pacing is as slow as watching paint dry, but does suddenly speed up a little in the final third. The dead-eyed designs of the girls is a bit off-putting. The open ending left me feeling empty. The opening theme is boringly dreary. The aforementioned premise of political tension isn't really explored in much detail, more serving to loosely connect episodes. Rico and Elsa's storylines felt lacking.
Final Verdict: Acting as more of a series of character studies than a run-and-gun action drama, Gunslinger Girl depicts teenage assassins in late-90's Europe with a beautiful flair aided by dynamic animation, a sober colour scheme and perfect sound design. Admittedly, the tone can get a little overly bleak at times, with the girls' character designs and colourless opening theme exemplifying this. Despite all this, Gunslinger Girl is still a good (if not slow as heck) girls-with-guns anime with plenty of drama and gunplay to sink your teeth into.