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Dated 16 November 2003: Gunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl is a new anime by Madhouse Production based on the eponymous manga. It is fairly serious show about young cyborg girls who work as a special forces unit, kicking asses and taking names. At least one of the girls, Henrietta, was recruited (or enslaved—depending on your point of view) by the Social Welfare Agency, which rescued and reconstructed her Robocop-style after Henrietta and her family were brutally assaulted by persons unknown.

Henrietta
Henrietta

Gunslinger Girl started off slowly, but wow, this show really took a turn for the better in Episode Four—easily the most interesting one so far.

And let's get this out of the way right off the bat:  Triela > Henrietta > Rico.

As you probably guessed, Episode Four is the Triela introductory episode. If I understand the inferences correctly, Triela is the seasoned veteran of the group, who will be called upon to impart wisdom on the rookie(s), Henrietta and possibly Rico.

Triela
Triela

What really struck me this episode is how much autonomy each of the "brothers" has with regard to their treatment of the girls. For example, Triela's handler adopts a much colder method of instruction than the method Jose uses for Henrietta, but neither is as strict as Rico's handler.

Jose and Henrietta
Jose and Henrietta

There are also signs that the girls themeselves retain different degrees of humanity. Rico seems like she is practically all robot when compared to Triela, who seems the most human of all the girls introduced so far.

One thing that is bugging me is the show's bizarre 4:3 letterboxing. Why make the opening and closing credits 4:3 and then slap bars in the frame during the actual show? They should have just made the whole thing widescreen. What are the people watching this on television in Japan supposed to do if they have 16:9 televisions? Zoom in and out during the course of the show? I just don't understand.

Gunslinger Girl is being fansubbed by The Triad, and a few other groups. Downloads are available from the usual sources.

ADV Manga has licensed the original manga. The first volume has been released and is currently available for sale in the United States. Unfortunately, it's not as big as I was hoping. It's roughly the same size as the U.S. prints of the Kare Kano and Love Hina volumes. Frankly, I wanted it octavo-sized. The paper isn't particularly good, but is certainly acceptable. Thankfully, it does read right to left. Hopefully, the days of flipped manga will soon be behind us. (On a related note, I hope to God someone wakes up and re-releases the Kaze no Tani no Naushika manga printed properly.) Volume One has a cover price of $9.99. Here's a scan of the cover.

Dated 24 November 2003: Gunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl continues to impress.

Rabaro, Claes, and Jose
Rabaro, Claes, and Jose

Episode Five deviated from the manga's continuity to introduce Claes, the newest rookie in the organization.

If the relationships between the girls and their handers thus far can be characterized as brother-sister, master-slave, and father-daughter, then Captain Rabaro and Claes are teacher and student. There's another girl in the credits that hasn't been introduced yet. It makes you wonder if she's going to be part of a lover-beloved pair—metaphorically, that is, as these girls are quite a bit too young for that sort of thing.

There's quite a bit of intrigue thus far. From Episode Five, it is apparent that there may be different groups and factions involved, each with their own goals and pursuits. It's obvious already that the Social Welfare Corporation is not exactly comprised of particularly nice fellows, and it'll be interesting to see how things develop now that the plot is branching out geometrically.

Also of note, it's obvious that the girls' personal loyalties and their conditioning are going to play major parts in how things shake down. Five will get you ten that the girls end up gunning down their own when the shit hits the fan.

Dated 3 January 2004: Gunslinger Girl

So, I've been listening to the Gunslinger Girl soundtrack. Somewhat curiously, it contains a love theme. Go figure.

Dated 26 July 2005: Gunslinger Girl episode guide

After re-watching Gunslinger Girl, I thought I'd put together a short episode guide to the anime.

Episode 01, Fratello: This is Henrietta's introductory episode. Henrietta is ostensibly the star of this show, although it does have an ensemble cast. Henrietta is the rookie on the team. Like the other girls, she is a cyborg with enhanced strength.

Each of the girls is paired with an adult male human partner, who serves as an instructor and as the other half of each Fratello team.

Henrietta is paired with Giuse, one of the more sympathetic Fratello males. He is reluctant to subject Henrietta to too much "conditioning." He hopes to allow her to retain more of her humanity.

In episode one Henrietta goes ape shit and wipes out a bunch of people wholesale. Some of the other characters make brief appearances in this episode, including Rico as the sniper.

Episode 02, Orione: Episode two contains a lot of flashbacks. The Gunslinger Girl anime approximately follows the material in the first volume of the manga. There wasn't enough material between the Henrietta and Rico manga introductions to fill an entire episode, so episode two uses a lot of flashback while demonstrating how pathologically protective the girls are of their "brothers."

Episode 03, Ragazzo: This is the Rico episode. Rico's handler is Jean, who clearly views Rico as merely an instrument and a weapon instead of as a person. We see that the conditioning the girls endure removes a lot of their humanity.

Episode 04, Bambola: Episode four is the Triela episode. Triela is one of the most human of the girls. She is clearly the oldest, and the episode implies that she has been with the Social Welfare Agency and teamed up with Hirscher for the past six Christmases.

It becomes clear in the course of episode four that each Fratello pair has its own theme. Henrietta and Giuse are the sister-brother pair, Rico and Jean are the slave-master pair, and Triela and Hirscher make up the daughter-father pair.

Episode 05, Promessa: Episode five is the Claes episode. She apparently joined the Social Welfare Organization at about the same time as Henrietta, but underwent an accelerated training program (with mixed results) while Henrietta spent her time working on her coordination and getting used to her new mechanical limbs—specifically, by playing the violin.

Claes' instructor is Ravalo, a veteran of the military police who agrees to a deal with Jean: By joining a Fratello, Jean will pull some strings to help him re-join the military police.

Claes and Ravalo make up the student-teacher pair.

Episode five demonstrates how powerful each girl's conditioning is, and shows how dangerous their protective instincts can be. It also reveals how damaging the conditioning can be to the girls themselves; their memories and free will can be easily wiped clean.

However, this conditioning is not always 100% effective. Claes makes Ravalo a promise involving eyeglasses that survives further conditioning attempts. Claes also demonstrates behavior learned from Ravalo, even though she does not necessarily remember these early lessons explicitly.

The viewer also learns why Claes has spent the first four episodes reading in bed while the other girls were out tearing shit up.

Although the signs are less obvious, it is also clear that Claes is the most human of the girls—even more so than Triela—despite Claes' sometimes peculiar behavior. These ties to humanity manifest themselves quite powerfully towards the end of the series.

Episode 06, Gelato: Episode six is the Roman Holiday episode with Henrietta and Giuse manuevering against terrorists from the Five Republics. Rico and Triela make brief appearances in the assault. The episode also introduces the Eurotrash pair of mercenaries with ethics—the good bad guys, as it were.

Episode 07, Protezione: Episode seven features Rico and Jean working undercover to protect an informant who provides the Social Welfare Agency with important information regarding a planned kidnapping. Henrietta and Giuse make brief appearances.

Episode 08, Il Principe del Regno della Pasta: Episode eight is the Angelica episode. Angelica was the first of the "Gunslinger Girls." It is unclear how long Angelica has actually been a member, since her age upon joining is indeterminate. The episode explictly says that Angelica is the first of the girls, and the episode focuses heavily on the Agency's growing pains, back in the early days when its members didn't have much to do. However, episode four strongly suggested Triela has been working with Hirscher for the past six Christmases, and she clearly serves as the seasoned veteran confidant of the group. Either Triela receives her teddy bear presents more frequently than once per year, or Angelica was very young when she joined the Agency, or Angelica is older than she looks now, or there's just a simple contradiction in the continuity. Hopefully the manga provides some clarity on this point.

Angelica is paired with Marco, but being the "beta test" version of the mechanical girls, she suffers a debilitating memory-loss problem that severly limits her usefulness. Also, Angelica just kinda sucks.

Episode 09, Lycoris Radiata Herb: Episode nine is the Elsa episode. Elsa does not appear with the other girls in the opening credits, although she has an important role in series. She's an effective fighter, but can be inconsistent for reasons that become evident later.

Elsa is paired with Lauro.

Elsa is the loner of the group. She spends all of her free time alone, sometimes passing the time sitting alone in the dark, polishing a rifle. All of the other girls have roommmates, but Elsa lives alone, in a bare room empty of any warmth or decoration save a lone framed photograph.

Mamiko Noto fans may be amused at hearing her voice a somewhat pathological character.

Also, Elsa is hard core. HARD CORE.

Episode 10, Amare: Episode 10 is the second Elsa episode. It highlights some of the friction between Section One and Section Two of the Social Welfare Corporation.

Episode 11, Febbre Alta: Episode 11 is the conclusion of the events featured in Episode 10. Giuse and Henrietta spend some time in Sicily along with Eleanor and Fermi from Section One.

Episode 12, Simbiosi: Episode 12 features all the girls working together to thwart a kidnapping scheme the Social Welfare Corporation uncovered with the help of the informant from episode seven.

Episode 12 shows how Angelica is kinda useless while Claes is possibly the most capable and dangerous of the girls, despite her bookish appearance.

The decent Eurotrash mercenaries play a key role in this episode.

Episode 12 is one of the best episodes of the series, if not the best. It features lots of action while also directly addressing the difficulties the girls face due to their conditioning. It also reminds us that Claes has retained much of her humanity and individuality—qualities that are almost lost to a heavily conditioned girl like Rico.

Episode 13, Stella Cadente: Episode 13 is the final episode of the Gunslinger Girl anime. It is somewhat anticlimactic. It resolves the Angelica arc, but leaves many questions both unanswered and sometimes unasked. The Gunslinger Girl anime ended approximately while the manga was in its second volume. There are now four or five volumes of the manga, and I believe new chapters still appear monthly, so it will probably be quite some time before the story's final resolution. There is no indication at this time that any future Gunslinger Girl anime will appear.

Final Tally: Claes > Elsa > Triela > Henrietta > Rico > Angelica.

I'd also like to point out that FUNimation's R1 DVDs are very well done. The quality of FUNimation's DVDs in general seem to be quite good for their recent releases, at least as far as I've seen. I'd rank FUNimation right beside Bandai and Geneon in terms of quality right now. (Actually, I've noticed a bunch of careless errors in some recent Geneon discs.)

Dated 4 September 2006: Gunslinger Girl

I'd just like to point out that those deadbeats at ADV's manga division haven't released a volume of Gunslinger Girl in over a year, and are now three or more volumes behind. Step on it, eh.

Dated 7 June 2007: Gunslinger Girl

Amazingly, ADV's stillborn manga division is not quite dead and apparently plans to release additional volumes of the Gunslinger Girl manga.

This is great new made better by reports that future seasons of the anime are also in the works.

Dated 22 December 2007: Gunslinger Girl II - Il Teatrino

I was initially pleased to hear that Gunslinger Girl is getting a second season, but after reading Hashihime's report I'm a little hesitant. Changing the voice cast and the animation studio does not sound like a recipe for success. Quite frankly, I'm hoping that it's not going to be a low-budget attempt to milk an established title. If you're going to milk a series, the way to do it is via OAVs, as Sunrise is doing with its My-HiME/My-Otome franchise.

At least ADV's manga division has released more volumes of the Gunslinger Girl manga. Dag.

Dated 5 January 2008: Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino

www.gunslingergirl.com splash page
Pinocchio, Triela, Henrietta, and Hilshire.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a little wary about Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino because it has a different voice cast and animation studio. The character designs depicted on the official website are also a little different compared to the first season as well as the manga. Henrietta and Rico look downright freaky, although Triela and Claes are not as changed.

Triela
Triela. Shot a guy because of PMS. True story.

My guess is that the second season's 13 episodes will focus more on Triela and Pinocchio and likely conclude with the events from volume five of the manga. I hear there will be a two-episode OAV following the Il Teatrino DVD release. Presumably that will feature the introduction of Petrushka, the 16-year-old cyborg girl assassin version two-point-oh, arousing interest for further OAVs or a Bee Train third season (more on that later).

Claes
Claes. Best megane shtick of all time.

Somewhat curiously, the general mood along the ol' blogway seems to be one of trepidation, but not due to technical concerns—from uneasiness with the subject matter. What in Hell? Do y'all watch anime? How are brainwashed cyborg little-girl assassins in any way creepy? Relatively speaking, I mean. It's you people who are standing in the way of my glorious Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha prequel about Fate Testarossa roughing up deadbeats and collecting Jewel Seeds for her mom.

Henrietta
Henrietta. The ostensible first-season lead character.

To be honest, I do have one problem with the Gunslinger Girl premise: There is no need for the Social Welfare Agency's assassins to be brainwashed cybernetically-enhanced little girls. Nearly all of their missions seem like the kind of thing regular ol' special forces teams could handle—doubly so when you consider that one of the recurring aspects of the Gunslinger Girl-verse is the girls' poor marksmanship. Even the element of surprise kinda goes out the window once word gets out that little girls carrying violin cases for no particular reason are probably out to kill you, especially if you're a terrorist or an inconvenient government official. For the really tough jobs, it seems like they would save a lot of money by just sub-contracting Noir.

Rico
Rico. Develops a personality and occasionally acts cute in the manga.

Speaking of Noir, if Il Teatrino turns out to be an unmitigated low-budget disaster, it's going to take me a long time before I stop wishing animation production had been assumed by Bee Train. Even Bee Train-wrecks have some totally bitchin' moments on occasion at least.