Title: Gunslinger Girl
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 9 Oct 2003 – 19 Feb 2004
Synopsis: In an alternate version of modern Italy, a terrorist group called the “Republicans” threatens the country’s political stability. A secret governmental organization codenamed “Public Social Welfare Corporation” fights a clandestine war against the republicans, using brainwashed and cybernetically “improved” teenage girls to kill the terrorists wherever they are found. Every girl works together with a special agent, whom she is mentally bound to obey. These teams are called “Fratellos”, and this is their story.
Plot: Gloomy parable about child soldiers.
Ending: Best “open ending” ever.
Animation: Great cinematography.
Music: Superb soundtrack.
Pacing: Slow beginning.
Characters: Too little information on background.
Art: Sketchy at times.
Child soldiers. Okay, what’s new? The theme of teenagers fighting wars is probably as old as the “giant mecha” genre and has spawned classics like Evangelion. This is about teenage girls in an anti-terrorist unit. So really, what’s new?
Everything! Gunslinger Girl is so unlike most other series of this genre that it breaks all conventions. So these girls kill terrorists and sometimes innocent bystanders, too. Surely there must be a hero who at least comments on the wrongness of this, right? Wrong! The girls are brainwashed to obey, and so they don’t question orders. So they are cold, hard, uncaring Ayanami Rei types, right? Wrong again! They are normal teenagers with their own hopes, dreams, moods and personalities. The partners in their “Fratellos” are father figures, friends or drill sergeants – there is no single standard which defines them all but this: they all kill people. Rarely have I seen such a gloomy parable on child soldiers – even Now and Then, Here and There had a “hero type guy” that abhorred all the killing. The only thing the viewer of Gunslinger Girl can do is sympathize with the girls.
The series works so well because it is mainly episodic in nature. Most episodes focus on the relationship of girl and agent within a single Fratello and shows them complete a mission. Only in the second half of the series is this concept broken with two two-parters revealing more about the true nature of the bonds that tie the girls to their partners. And while Gunslinger Girl ends without resolution to the terrorist conflict, it does end with the last thing you need to know to understand the world it is set in as a whole: You see the girls become killers, you see how they live… and you see what will happen to them in the end. Superbly executed – the best open ending to a series ever.
Gunslinger Girl has not only a great script but also notable technical qualities. All action sequences are directed very well, dynamic and suspenseful, and the animation is crisp and clean. The character designs are also top-notch, and the only thing that doesn’t feel quite right is the background art. Too often, it’s sketchy and blurry, and while you can recognize the places in Italy they are meant to depict, they are far from well-drawn. Fortunately, the great soundtrack makes up for this. “The Light Before We Land”, the opening by the Scottish band The Delgados is just as beautifully depressing as the rest of the series, and the aria “Dopo il Sogno”, the ending theme, fits the Italian setting like a glove. The music is not Kanno Yoko, it’s not Kajiura Yuki, but it comes really close.
So do we have a winner? Almost. While the general pacing of Gunslinger Girl is good, the series starts a little slow, with the first two episodes telling virtually the same story from two different viewpoints. I’m not really fond of wasting time if you only have 13 episodes to tell the whole story. My major gripe with the script, however, is that we learn almost everything about the girls and many things about the side characters but almost nothing about the agent Jose, the most important of the girls’ partners. Almost half the story focuses on him and the young Henrietta, but his background is never revealed.
All in all, Gunslinger Girl is a very good series bordering on greatness with only a few flaws. The slow opening may lose some, but the deep and captivating story about stolen childhoods makes more than up for it. New and exciting? Definitely. If you’re into big drama with a slight note of action, this one’s for you.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: Taleweaver