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?
This show is...important. It actually had something to say. But the show itself is so minimalist that it never smacks you in the face with it. So obviously there's a few interpretations on what that message is. Find out for yourself what you'll take out of it.
Now more on that minimalism. The art is pretty bleak and realistic. This anime adds nothing and takes away nothing from the horrific reality of the violence these girls are perpetrating. The script is very understated and emotions are rarely spelled out, but every episode packs a serious emotional punch. This is a very sad, fairly disturbing and an all-around thoroughly interesting story. I think it's brilliant. But not one to watch when you want to feel happy.
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.
The overall story of this anime, though slow-paced, seems to know that it is. So it's no wonder that there isn't much to it to carry over the course of thirteen episodes -- just enough. I often wonder why the homepage for this isn't tagged with melancholy or something along those lines, because in reality, this is not something to watch if you want to feel anything along the lines of hopeful.
The first episode was exactly what I was looking for in this -- violent, intellectual, and wonderfully bloody -- but the following episodes less than met my standards. Oh, they kept the first three attributes I just named, but I can say for sure that my favorite scenes were still the action scenes. Whenever the girls talked about "loving" their brothers, it felt either like rape was to ensue or pedophiley. Since the girls and Fratello weren't actually related, I guess it can't be rated as "incest," per say, but it was almost there. The finale was sorta anti-climatic, with the attention for almost the entire plot focused upon the girls themselves instead of the mob or mafia or whatever they're infiltrating.
But why am I giving this such a hard time? I love this anime. I own it, for heaven's sakes. I only own, like three other anime DVD's, excluding most of the Miyazaki films. The reason I am so in love with this is for the controversy and feelings of distrust for our society tht it stirs up in you once you watch it. There's the obvious: people brainwashing little girls and making them kill doesn't sit right. Then there's the underlying view: This is an exaggerated metaphor for the horror that some people experience every day. This is the main factor that I tell people I like about this. Of course, I have to not make myself sound too morbid, so I include the good things about the music and such. Speaking of which...
The animation was flawless. No CGI to make it feel outdated, and seamless gun maneuvers just aid the beautiful, yet simplistic and realistic character designs of the girls and their Fratello. A side note that you may wish to know is that the setting of this is Italy, and the architecture is perfect -- not to mention accurate and a subtle but noticable and lovely change of scenery than the cold, dark tones usually compiled when sculping Tokyo.
The soundtrack was forgettable and unnoticable, but I fell in love with both the beginning and ending themes, even though only the opening was available on iTunes. (For anyone interested, it's The Light Before We Land, by the Delgados.) The opening is a mostly synthesized piece with impressive vocals, and the ending is a fitting opera ballad drenched in sorrow against a backround of rain, a gun, and a single bullet.
The American dub is intolerable. It makes all of the girls sound like variations on Barbie. The seiyuu are amazing, though. You can feel the weariness through Henrietta's Fratello's voice and expressions.
The girls were designed with reality in mind. Their appearance is "extra" ordinary, but stunning in their own way, although the fratello and members of the rest of the organization and villains could use a bit more... shimmer. Not that I am, in any way, implying that I'd wish for the animation to be like a Lucky Star ripoff or something. I understand completely that the dark, bleak tones represent the government, oppression, and overall gloom meant to be associated with GG, but really. Pushing it a little too far isn't great either. It only makes it seem like that budget was too low.
Their personalities are evenly distributed, ranging from the confident and reassuring Triela to the meek and sickly Angelica to the intelligent and able Claes.
To sum it all up, though this is my favorite overall anime, I give fair scores based upon the mathematical average of the four scores. The overall doesn't reflect my own opinion; it's the individual scores I value. Therefore, I'm oblidged to give this an 8.0. Personally, however, I'd rather go for 9.5 based on the sheer... reality of the series on a whole.