Gunslinger Girl Anime Review
US Release By
13 25-minute episodes
2003-10-08 - 2004-02-19
What's In It
- Little Girls with Big Guns
- Petite Assassins
- European Setting
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 1 (mild)
The Social Welfare Agency, Section 2. To most people, it appears to be a section of the Italian government, and a rather kind-hearted one. Helping adolescent girls with severe injuries or life-threatening illnesses by repairing their bodies and returning them to perfect health.
Of course, those who work for this agency know that this act of mercy is in exchange for the patient's services as assassins for the Italian government. And the loss of their memory.
A new girl named Henrietta has just come to Section 2, and she has embarked upon her first mission...
Know one thing going into Gunslinger Girl: this is not an action anime. Now, granted, the guns are drawn with incredible detail (almost unnervingly so), and when the action does break out, it's fast and it's furious. But, for the most part, Gunslinger Girl is an anime that's about the relationship these girls have with their Fratello (literal Italian for "brother"), or their trainers. See, at its heart, this anime is a film noir; a very dark, very slow, and very interesting trip into the world of crime. Do not expect an action scene per episode like the eponymous Noir.
That being said, Gunslinger Girl is very well plotted and even better written, with only a few missteps along the way to make up for its relatively short runtime. If ever there was a show that needed a longer runtime, it was this one. Many compromises seem to have been made along the way to make up for the fact that the writers only have 13 episodes to work with1, but even these don't hinder the overall focus of the show, which is more-or-less Henrietta and her fratello Jose.
The series is very episodic, with each show offering a little more insight into either one of the girls' pasts or into the inner workings of Section 2. For the most part, these episodes prove fascinating (especially the character-centric episodes), but in the end, I kind of wished there had been a stronger plot2.
The animation and character designs in Gunslinger Girl are excellent. The characters are all very attractively designed (though Angelica and Claes look rather similar) and for the most part are quite realistic. Rico can most certainly be considered French in ancestry, as can Henrietta German and Triela Italian. In fact, it was kind of refreshing to find an anime so completely European in feel and setting (one of the only other ones I can think of off the top of my head is Noir, which has several parallels to this series, but is rather different in tone). The guns, as I said before, are very well designed and animated and the action sequences, when they do break out, flow very well and are intense. Voice acting is of high quality all around.
The moral ambiguity of the series is certainly a major contributing factor of this show's appeal. These girls are still... well... girls, albeit girls with superhuman powers and elite military training. The immorality of using these children as hitmen is brought up several times in the series, and even though it is never really satisfactorily answered, it's nice to see that the writers knew that this was wrong. It should be mentioned that there is never even a hint of anything besides a platonic love between the fratello and that the girls are not being forced to kill people. Of course, they have had their brains altered to make them more receptive to the training, but still...
In the end, Gunslinger Girl is a fantastic slice of dark anime storytelling. Sure it has its flaws, but the end product is still darn good, and well deserving of at least one viewing. Consider it recommended.
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Notes and Trivia
Based on a comic series by Yu Aida. It's available in English from AD Vision. FUNimation's Official Gunslinger Girl Website has a decent cross-section of images, info, and some media clips.
1 The Rico plot comes to mind immediately. After an intriguing turn in episode 2 with the young man she meets in the hotel, Rico...well...she never really does anything. She just kind of wanders about happily with Jean. Personally, hers was a story that just screamed for more development (did she ever feel regret about that boy? did she ever fail a mission?). Elsa is also kind of a head-scratcher. The poor girl is introduced in Episode 9 then promptly killed off in the next show. It was obvious her plotline was headed in that direction, but it would have been nice to have given her a little time to grow before the inevitable came around.
2 While character development is nice and all, it seemed like Gunslinger Girl got all dressed up with a great cast and setting then just kind of ended. The final episode was not NEARLY as satisfying as I had hoped it would be, and kind of left me wanting more. You know, an OAV or second season could solve all these problems. [Editor's note: Both of which now exist.]
US DVD Review
FUNimation's DVDs feature anamorphic widescreen video (like most modern anime TV shows, it originally aired in HTDV) and bilingual audio (stereo Japanese, Dolby 5.1 English). Extras listed consist of dossiers, an Italian-English reference guide, textless opening and closing animations, behind the scenes info, and some interviews.
I'd say 15 and up is a good rating. Anyone younger would probably be bored to death, anyhow. Funimation calls it TV-14.
Violence: 3 - Borderline 4. The violence, while not gratuitous, is certainly realistic and sometimes upsetting. A good amount of blood is present and there is a suicide.
Nudity: 0 - Not even hospital-nudity. The show was very reserved in this aspect.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - While certainly no pedophilia or romance, there are some VERY dark themes in the show.
Language: 1 - Sometimes a character, usually a trainer, got a little out of line with the language.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Henrietta: Yuuka Nanri
Claes: Ami Koshimizu
Triela: Eri Sendai
Angelica: Hitomi Terakado
Rico: Kanako Mitsuhashi
Elsa: Mamiko Noto
José: Hidenobu Kiuchi
Alfonso: Masami Iwasaki
Hirscher: Masashi Ebara
Jean: Mitsuru Miyamoto