Based off of a manga by Yu Aida, Gunslinger Girl is a thirteen episode anime that has done well for FUNimation. It is one of the titles with an upcoming collection and recently they have decided to re-release the series as a more affordable way to visit the individual volumes. With a moody atmosphere, violent young girls, and fantastic sense of style it's safe to say that if you haven't seen the show before there has never been a better time to check it out.
The basic premise backing Gunslinger Girl follows the creation of an ultimate assassin team. The series takes place in Italy which instantly sets it apart from most other anime on the market. I don't know about you but I think it's always nice to see anime take a look at the world beyond the borders of Japan. That fact helps this show gain its unique sense of self-being though arguably it's the cast that propels it forward and ushers in that The Professional mentality.
The main stars of Gunslinger Girl are a group of girls that have found their way into the employ of the Social Welfare Agency. On the surface the agency deems to aid the injured, assist orphans, and help people out through charitable contributions. Deep within the agency is a hidden agenda that works directly for the Italian Government. With some nifty cybernetic implants and mental conditioning there is a military project at play to fix up some girls and induct them into their ranks as ultimate assassins.
In the world of Gunslinger Girl the girls who go through this project are placed in the hands of a trainer who helps them through the process and stand over them as instructor. These handlers are essentially big brothers to these little girls two work hand in hand within the confines of the assassin unit. Henrietta, Rico, Triela, Claes, and Angelica all proved to be unique in their own right and their relationships with than handlers were equally so.
In the first volume of Gunslinger Girl we were introduced to each of the five girls and the strange world in which they live. When we weren't watching the girls train or kill people the show spent a fair amount of time just setting everything up. A little bit of the main characters' histories were displayed and though everything moved at a slow pace you got the sensation that it was building up to something. Does that "something" come through in the second installment?
In the second installment of Gunslinger Girl the same premise is pushed forward though with most all of the background of the show set already it's given some room to breath. The first episode here features Henrietta and her handler, Jose, working together with a contact to stop a terrorist bomb maker. Honestly though, is there any other kind? It's not like they would be called "Your friendly neighborhood bomb maker. At any rate, I digress. Things progress towards a museum and the duo eventually brings in Triela for some assistance. There is quite a lot of nail-biting action in this opening episode and it features one of the things that make this show so unique.
The thing to understand if you haven't seen Gunslinger Girl is that these cold-blooded assassins are just that; trained killers. They go beyond Natalie Portman's character in The Professional and are not afraid to get right up and personal with their prey. Bodily harm? Who cares! They have cybernetic implants for crying out loud. It's their cute exterior and violent interior that makes them as dangerous, deceptive, and appealing as they are.
Following this trend the second episode on this disc features some more terrorist antics but drops Rico into the role of main protagonist. With so many different characters to watch it's interesting to see how they deal with each of their respective situations. Things slow down for the third episode as the series takes a look at the downfall of conditioning and memory loss. This is used to create a sense of pity for the girls despite the appearance that they more or less are leading better lives. And finally, the last episode here introduces a new girl to the Welfare Agency and her involvement adds some new flavor to the program.
If you're looking for a powerful show with a unique atmosphere Gunslinger Girl is definitely one to check out. The interesting premise and setting helps the show stand apart from others and it's hard to deny the influence this project took from The Professional. Watching these young girls turn into cold-blooded killers at the drop of a hat (or flash of a knife) can be haunting with its effectiveness. Like the first volume I had a blast with this second one and it stands on its own feet as an impressive series from the ground up.
Presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for anamorphic widescreen playback, the image quality for Gunslinger Girl is stellar. I suppose it helps that the design of the characters and world they live in is slick and stylish. Everything from the backgrounds to the purposeful animation gives the show a unique look. There is a good amount of contrast within the production of this show and you'll notice that some colors appear more prominently than others so they jump from the screen. Some compression artifacts crept in during the darker scenes but otherwise this transfer by FUNimation is impeccable and virtually flawless.
The sound direction here is another feather in the cap where the show's presentation is concerned. For both the English and Japanese dubs the quality is perfectly handled and there is fantastic voice work all around. Along with the dubbings it's safe to say that the musical scores help set the mood and solidly reaffirm the fact that the show takes place in Italy. The show comes with English 2.0 and 5.1 options as well as the original Japanese 2.0 track. Each audio selection here offers some fine quality though I have to give the most points in favor of the English 5.1 track. The sense of immersion is much better and the way the rear channels pick up the sound effects helps draw you into the show.
This time around some of the bonus features a similar to the first volume but there are a few alterations afoot. The textless songs are included here as well as character dossiers and a character building mini-video for Rico. A very interesting feature included on this volume is a collection of videos compiled for the five main girls. Each girl's voice actor talks about the character at length and they really get into what they like what their part. They are interesting to watch and offer more information than you'd typically find in a commentary and the like. Nice stuff!
Gunslinger Girl is just one of those shows that will leave its mark on you after you sit down and watch it. The deliberately slower nature of the series combined with a lot of action and character development compliment the atmosphere very well. This was one of the hidden treasures of 2005 and it's nice to see FUNimation re-releasing the title at an affordable price. This second volume continues the trend in quality and the four episodes here rock. They do keep in line with the slower pace and offer a lot more background for the characters but there's still plenty of action to break things up. Check it out and you won't be disappointed.
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