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Gunslinger Girl, vol. 1
A region 2 DVD review by CNash
 
"The girl has a mechanical body.
However, she is still an adolescent child."

 

Gunslinger Girl, released on Region 2 on 3rd March by MVM Entertainment, is based on a popular manga by Yu Aida, and tells the story of a shady government agency who – at least on the surface – are in the business of saving the lives of terminally ill young girls. The real purpose of this generous and compassionate group, however, is to use cybernetic implants and mental conditioning in order to turn these girls into perfect killing machines, to be trained for stealth infiltration and assassination missions – to do the government's "dirty work".

Set in contemporary Italy, the 13-episode series focuses on the lives of four of these girls – Henrietta, Rico, Triela and Claes – and their relationship with their male handlers, who each form a unique bond with their chosen girl, and are known in the business as fratello – siblings. The handlers' methods of training are vastly dissimilar – most choose, like the majority of the Agency staff, to treat the girls as nothing more than tools to be used. But Henrietta's handler, José, sees her as a living human being and forms a close emotional bond with her.

The five episodes contained in the first volume deal with themes of emotional attachment and friendship between the girls and their handlers, as well as asking the obvious question: is saving these girls' lives worth destroying their innocence?

1: Siblings
Henrietta fails a mission in order to protect José, her handler. This leads the other Agency staff to think that she needs further conditioning in order to eliminate the attachment she feels towards him.

2: Orion
José is worried by Henrietta's level of attachment to him – she jumps at shadows and will kill anyone who makes even the slightest move towards him. Just how deep does this attachment go, and does José share it?

3: Boy
Rico loves her new life at the Agency. For the first time in her life, she can move freely, instead of being confined to a hospital bed. But when Rico runs into an attractive young man during a mission, she's forced to choose between love, and her new life.

4: Doll
Triela and her handler, Hillshire, have an awkward relationship. She's not even sure whether he likes her or not. While chasing an ex-Mafia boss in Naples, Triela begins to realise that what she needs in her life is a father figure.

5: Promise
The Agency make Captain Robollo an offer: train a new girl, and they'll get him his old position in the Military Police. He grudgingly accepts custody of Claes, but doesn't quite know where he stands with her. At the Agency, he's all business, but in their free time, he finds himself opening up to Claes and feels guilty about what the girls are going through.

I was first surprised by the level of gore used in the gunplay missions. It's in harsh contrast to the non action-based scenes, which use muted, pastel shades and greys to convey a rather depressing world. Each gunshot seems to lead to a mass of crimson blood. While I applaud the artists for choosing to show the harsh reality of these kinds of wounds – and granted, the gore isn't quite at Kill Bill levels – it's jarring, even for viewers used to this level of violence.

The music, by Toshihiko Sahashi, is reminiscent of Yuki Kajiura's score for .hack//SIGN, in that it uses a European style befitting the show's Italian setting. There are mournful piano and violin pieces, and slightly more upbeat guitar tracks, to highlight the various moods that each episode goes through. The opening theme is sung in English, and the closing theme is an Italian opera piece – both are uncommon in mainstream animé, with most shows being content to throw a few English words into their Japanese image songs. The sound effects – gunshots and footsteps especially – are excellent, recorded in crystal clarity and not confined to the background.

The animation – produced by Madhouse Studios, the people behind Chobits and Vampire Hunter D – tends to be very detailed when it needs to be, but not so much when it isn't as necessary. In particular, I noticed that views from windows that aren't particularly focused upon in the scene are usually not as detailed as perhaps they could be. However, most backgrounds are excellently realised. Characters are designed well – I especially liked the way the girls' eyes are used to convey emotion.

All in all, Gunslinger Girl focuses more upon the emotional states and conflicts between the girls and their male partners than the actual gunplay itself, which is confined to short, intense bursts whenever the plot calls for one of the girls to go on a mission. If you like constant action sequences but don't care much for characterisation, I can't say you'll enjoy this series – but when the girls do get to fight, it handles it decently, and at times with a kind of stylistic flair.

The message of the series is ultimately one of caution. When you look into these girls' lives – look deeply, beyond their missions and the intense gunplay action – you can see how hollow they've become. They're not allowed to do the things that little girls do; they must instead train with guns and assassinate politicians. Even their emotions are kept in check by the brainwashing "conditioning" process that they undergo. You find yourself starting to accept that this is their way of life – even the way the missions are carried out lulls the viewer into believing that this is all perfectly normal. But then you stop to think – what kind of monsters would do this to children? And how far away is society from accepting this kind of practice?

sound and vision

Given that the picture presents its fair share of challenges for DVD – large areas of single colour, muted colour palette, a deliberately overexposed look in places – the transfer here is very good, with no obvious edge enhancement issues or major artefact problems. The picture is framed 16:9 and anamorphically enhanced.

The disc comes with the original Japanese Dolby 2.0 stereo track and a 5.1 English dub. It's a shame the Japanese track is not also 5.1, as this is sonically superior, with better separation and clarity, especially the music, which utilises the rear speakers more than the dialogue or effects. That said, as English dubs go this is a pretty good one, with a clear attempt to match the voices to the Japanese original and match them to the acoustics of the scene.

Optional English subtitles are available.

extra features

As is common with many animé DVDs, there are few special features. The only one of note is Building Henrietta (1:05), which shows the process of drawing Henrietta, step-by-step. Aside from this, there's the usual clean opening and closing credits, and trailers for Kiddy Grade and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Gunslinger Girl, Vol. 1

Japan 2002
125 mins
director
Morio Aasaka

DVD details
region 2
video
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby surround 5.1
Dolby stereo 2.0
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Artwork featurette
Trailers
distributor
MVM
release date
6 March 2006
review posted
3 February 2006

related reviews
Gunsliger Girl,
Vol. 2
Gunsliger Girl,
Vol. 3

See all of CNash's reviews