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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Gunslinger Girl
Gunslinger Girl
FUNimation // Unrated // May 10, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted May 28, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Movie: There are a lot of different types of anime on the market these days and I've seen quite a few but I was lucky enough to get my first DVD from Funimation recently. Keeping in mind that most of what I've seen in recent years came from ADV Films (also called "the home team" since they are headquartered in Houston, TX), Geneon/Pioneer, and Bandai; I was ready to see what other companies have been doing in the field and I'm glad I did since the DVD in question was for Gunslinger Girl 1: Little Girls, Big Guns. Owing as much to Gungrave, for the violence it showed, as Noir, for the thematic approach (amnesia-ridden assassins driven to kill for money), the story reminded me of La Femme Nikita as it dealt with girls who are forced to become hired killers with only one price for failure (death).

The five episodes included here, 1) Fratello (Siblings), 2) Orione (Orion), 3) Ragazzo (Boy), 4) Bambola (Doll),, and 5) Promessa (Promise), each dealy with one aspect of the larger whole, focusing on one girl and her handler. Set in the near future in Italy, the story centered on an organization called the Social Welfare Agency. To the public, the agency takes care of orphans in need but privately, it is a military style secret group that takes young girls (typically pre-teens) and brainwashes them in order to use them to carry out the various tasks governments need handled (primarily killing opponents). The girls are recruited from hospitals where most of them were dying of various diseases and given a chance at a new life, a life kept secret from the girls and their families who would probably go along anyway since they were terminal cases to begin with.

As part of the program, each gal is assigned a male handler to guide them through their duties; a man they must protect at all costs and serve in any capacity required. The gals are fitted with cybernetic systems to augment their abilities and the brainwashing program (called "conditioning") is adjusted by each handler according to his judgment. The more conditioning a girl has, the less free will she has in the manner she serves; a balance that each handler must come to terms with. Most of the handlers are cool and reserved, preferring to think of their charges as disposable cogs in a great wheel, but the lead girl, Henrietta, is handled by a slightly more compassionate man, Jose. They seem the focal point of the agency in terms of the story but the first DVD spent a fair amount of time on each gal/handler including Triela/Hilshire, Rico/Jean, Claes/Raballo (this dealt with one of the storylines so I won't go further on her handler), and a new gal Angelica (who seems like she'll figure more importantly in later volumes).

With a similar, slightly muted anime style like Kino's Journey and Witch Hunter Robin (a series with a similar theme about a government agency hunting down those it deems unfit), the show was multi-layered and complex to the point where I was very much anticipating seeing what would come next. While the plot slowly unfolded, it provided just enough detail to keep me on the edge of my seat and each episode stood more or less alone but contributed to the larger whole. The themes of control, servitude towards one's government, and deals with the devil (much like those in Rock & Rule) and individual identity all came into play here. The girls are all at an age when they are evolving into something different (womanhood) but without a past to root their future down, what bizarre results will take place of the young killers in training? I look forward to answering those questions for myself as I watch later volumes of a series I think is easily worth a rating of Highly Recommended.

Picture: Gunslinger Girl 1: Little Girls, Big Guns was presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio as it was originally made in Japan. I thought it looked slightly muted but this worked well with the thematic considerations and the colors, use of textures, and well composed shots made it a show you could look at repeatedly and find new things to marvel at each time. If you're looking for a brightly colored kiddy show to entertain your children, you'll want to look elsewhere but this one appeared to be a solid balance between the material and technical values for more mature audiences.

Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choices of a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English dub, a 2.0 version, or the original Japanese in the 2.0 track as originally aired, all with optional subtitles in English. The separation between the channels was one of those rare breed that actually sounded exceptionally solid with the music and sound effects displaying some very good separation as well as dynamic range. I listened to both the dub and original tracks with each offering some value to me although I recognize that some of the subtitle snobs will refuse to check out the dubs. For the most part, they were slightly different flavors of the same material so check them out (the 5.1 track was sonically superior in terms of bass and placement of soundstage elements but I liked hearing the original Japanese track too).

Extras: With five full episodes, I wasn't expecting much in the way of extras but the DVD still managed to provide some nice ones. I first noticed the clothe banner with the characters on it tucked inside the larger box of the collector version. It looked very interesting and fans will definitely want to pick one up before they are gone. There was also a character dossier on the lead gals with artwork and their choice of weapon with some personal background on most of them. The clean opening and closing were done like music videos and looked pretty cool. There was also a short featurette called Building Henrietta that showed her being drawn, and a few trailers to round out the package with the double sided DVD cover for icing on the cake.

Final Thoughts: Gunslinger Girl 1: Little Girls, Big Guns was one of those series that I immediately enjoyed on several levels, making it a priority for my future reviewing. Funimation did a great job with the domestic DVD release and if they continue to impress me this much, I may have to stop rooting for the home team so much (sorry ADV Films). Gunslinger Girl 1: Little Girls, Big Guns provided a lot to think about and did it in a very entertaining manner with some top notch animation, sound and extras. Even the dub impressed me as being well done so check this one out if you get the chance!

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk

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