Gunslinger Girl has been around for a while now and chances are very good if you're into anime you've at least heard about it. Based off of a manga by Yu Aida, Gunslinger Girl is a thirteen episode anime that did well for FUNimation. The show originally came out in 2003 and it garnered a second season, Il Teatrino. From individual volumes to complete collections, this series has been released ad nauseam, but this edition marks its first step into the realm of high definition.
If you haven't seen the show before, then you're probably wondering what the whole thing is about. Otherwise, why check out this review? 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.
Each of the episodes here focuses on the girls and presents their unique situations though arguable Henrietta takes the center stage as the main character. The show often follows the pattern of presenting the girls with a mission, showing us the action, and then taking the time to explore their psyche a little more. Naturally each of these girls has a lot of issues that no amount of training can fix. Some are emotional and some have to do with their past lives but it's the way they handle these flaws that draws out their true character. There is also a tragic element associated with this as frequent memory wipes begin to degrade their personality.
As this is a complete collection I don't want to divulge too much of the plot at work here but if you want to check out my previous reviews for the series I do go into a little more detail regarding the story. Volumes one, two, and three were released not too long ago by FUNimation prior to other DVD collections, and this Blu-ray one. I left those summaries out of this review to keep spoilers at a minimum.
All you really need to know is that Gunslinger Girl is a blast of a show. It presents an interesting story, loads of action, and a unique atmosphere that isn't matched by any other. The pacing may be a bit on the slower side than most other shows about gunplay and assassins, but the world is so unique and interesting that you won't mind at all. If you missed out on the DVD releases, then you will definitely want to check this 2-disc Blu-ray set out.
Gunslinger Girl hits Blu-ray with its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The show has been enhanced for an anamorphic widescreen presentation and comes with 1080p output and an AVC encoding. The show hovers around 20 Mbps and looks marginally better than its standard definition counterpart. The show's design stands out with some contrasting details and a rather artistic spin on the world. Characters, backgrounds, and details are often soft, but things get much sharper when particular scenes call for it. There are still some flaws in the image though with some halo effect around characters, color banding, and some compression. These instances aren't enough to detract from the show, but it certainly doesn't "wow" when side-by-side to the DVD release.
The audio here comes in two Dolby TrueHD 5.1 packages with English and Japanese being the languages of choice. Having a Japanese 5.1 track is certainly appreciated, since earlier releases of this show only offered 2.0, however, it's not as robust as the English offering. The Japanese track feels more subdued somehow. In general, both tracks offer fine clarity and a decent presence on the soundstage with the English taking the sound direction cake for greater immersion and more atmospheric noise. The soundtrack for this show takes center stage quite a bit with harder beats and classical music filling all channels. The dubbing quality of both selections is very good and English subtitles are available.
It's nice to note that the bonus features made available with the previous collection have been ported over the Blu-ray release as well. Some lighter fair such as character profiles, trailers, and a line-art to full-art building of the girls. Each girl's voice actor talks about the character at length and they really get into what they like what their part. There are also two audio commentary tracks here as well. One features the voice director and some of the cast talking about the show's English production and cracking jokes. For the most part they goof around and have a good time while making fun of some bits of the show. The second comes to us thanks to the production staff but it features significantly less energy than the voice actor one.
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 releasing the title on Blu-ray. The show itself is highly recommended and it should be considered a must-see.
With that being said the quality of this Blu-ray disc isn't quite as sharp as one might expect. While the picture quality is certainly a step above, there are still little touches that could have been done to improve matters. Some of what's here seems to have been purely from the design of the show, but there are technical details that could have been sharper. The audio, however, definitely impresses. The TrueHD mix for both the English and Japanese languages really pack a punch. Ultimately whether or not you pick up this release will depend on what you already have in your collection. It's not really worth an upgrade over the previous set, but if you haven't checked the show out before then this edition is arguably the better of the two.