Gunslinger Girl Vol. 1

by Aaron H. Bynum

A certain government-sponsored social interest group is undertaking an initiative in which they make sure that the government is able to settle terrorism and other socio-political dilemmas without a ruckus. But since settling these dilemmas requires brute force, and they must be performed with the utmost secrecy, the Social Welfare Agency has decided on a rather unconventional solution for this issue.

With this in mind, I guess one might say that Gunslinger Girl is the manifestation of this solution. Leeching off of a variety of hospitals throughout the country, the Social Welfare Agency seeks out terminally ill teenaged girls and decides to give them a "second chance" at life.

This second chance involves the Agency mechanizing various parts of the girls' physical anatomy, so that with the state of the art cybernetic muscle implants, the girls are capable of carrying out dangerous assassination and reconnaissance work. In addition to training once-dying young girls to be covert mercenaries, the Agency has decided upon a mental conditioning process by which the girls are habituated in the ways of a killer.

Gunslinger Girl has a cast of some really interesting characters, such as those that head the Social Welfare Agency, brothers Gian and Giose, an ominous doctor with skills that remind me of Tezuka's Black Jack; and of course, the young girls conditioned for clandestine warfare -- Henrietta, Claes, Triela, Rico and Angelica. The anime mostly focuses on Giose and Henrietta, who as a team of trainer and understudy are learning day by day that in the business of assassinations and of socio-political undercurrents, there is little room for emotion and sentiment.

This is a generally slow-paced anime series. I don't mind watching series that are paced so genially, because this often leads the characters to inner reflection. While Gunslinger Girl is mostly concerned with whether or not Henrietta, with the other girls, is able to physically mange her job, and whether or not Giose, with the other "handlers", is able to push aside their ethics and train these angelic soldiers, the story, as does the pacing of Gunslinger Girl lags quite a bit in the first few episodes. Thankfully, the anime begins to pick up by episode four and five, which respectively focus on the other girls, such as the big sisterly Triela and the bookworm Claes.

Even though I really dislike the fact that the plots of first two episodes are incredibly slow, even doubled-over with the second episode repeating several parts of the first episode, I think it's evident that the character relationships are what make this series. The relationships themselves, and the overt pacing of the relationships might make Gunslinger Girl more than just a struggling drama.

Giose treats his understudy Henrietta not as a soldier or a tool, but as a little sister. This to which makes Henrietta a gentler and an incredibly sensitive girl. Giose feels responsible for the girl's psyche, which is dwindling thanks to the medical conditioning, and therefore he treats her as nicely as possible. They have a really sweet relationship, and it makes Gunslinger Girl understandable as a drama series, rather than as a spy show with exaggerated drama.

This is related to what is probably the best part of the anime. The story works best when narrated by one of the little girls, rather than by their mentors. I think this works because it provides the audience with the perception of something relatively abhorrent (conditioning, homicide, etc.) in a logically ignorant manner, for even though the girls know they are being conditioned, they still do their work in earnest.

However, there's a flipside to this. Gunslinger Girl, as I mentioned before, also makes strides at being a drama, and as a result, it would appear that the lack of a diverse adult cast narrows the audience's reception of such dramatic emotions. The adult cast consisting only of the girls' trainers: Giose, Gian, Hilscher, and Capt. Ravalo. The girls are limited in their emotionality due to their conditioning, and as a result, they do not necessarily provide the audience with believable examples of dramatic emotions.

I believe that the story tries to have its young, female characters show us these examples by positive and negative experiences respectively, but I find that this often works against the anime, in that the story then becomes a one-sided drama. The story endeavors to give the audience a swelling emotional puzzle, but at the same time, it neglects to offer all of the puzzle pieces.

This anime has a good visual cleanliness about it, and despite a few narrative hiccups in being genre-specific, it is a fairly good purchase. Gunslinger Girl is an anime that I'm sure I could really get into, even more so if it weren't for a variety of production errors and mistakes that should have been avoided.

There's a mess of continuity errors in this anime, most of which involve body orientation and camera direction. This means that if a guy falls down from being shot in the head, and his left arm is situated so that it's by his side, it should stay that way. Well, not exactly. This also means that if someone's carrying a gun case with the label facing inward, it should always face inward unless they switch hands. Well, not exactly. And when a gal is shot twice in the forearm, she should still have the bullet wounds after the next scene-cut. Well, not in Gunslinger Girl.

I hate continuity errors because it speaks poorly of show direction and editing, and it turns what could be an entertaining action and drama program into the sloppy cohesion of random events. Gunslinger Girl makes use of some unique directorial techniques, such as non-linear and reminiscent narrative formats, but unfortunately, it doesn't really use either of them to its advantage in solving these errors.

Most of the anime takes place in Italy, so the spellings of Giose and Gian are understandable (pronounced "Jyo-seh" and "J-yawn" each with a soft "j" sound). Between the subtitles, the dubtitles and DVD packaging, and the end credits, there are ridiculous amounts of ways of spelling these names and others. Giose can also apparently be spelled Gioseffo, Giuse, and Jose. Gian is also spelled Jean. Ravalo, the handler of Claes, is spelled Raballo, and Hilscher appears also as Hirscher and Hilshire.

The spellings that I have used in this review are those as listed in the series' end credits; as to whether or not these credits are the proper spelling is anyone's guess. But for God's sake, would it kill someone to make sure that everybody at least spells the characters' names the same way? Is it really all that burdensome to put everybody on the same page?

I really want to like Gunslinger Girl. It's an anime whose characters, while not as emotionally diverse as they should be, are satisfactory. Henrietta is sweet, but she has trouble adjusting to being an assassin, while her good friend Rico is undoubtedly showing early signs of undifferentiated schizophrenia (a thinking abnormality with disparity between thought and emotion). Gunslinger Girl also has some slick-looking animation to outline a fairly feasible storyline.

But despite such positive notions however, Gunslinger Girl is going to have to do a lot to keep from shooting itself in the foot in the future.

About This Item

  • Gunslinger Girl Vol. 1

  • Format:
    Bilingual DVD / 125 min. / 5 eps
  • Production:
    FUNimation / Mediaworks
  • Rating:

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