Review of Gunslinger Girl: Complete Box Set (3 Discs)
`Gunslinger Girl` is a 13-part anime series from Madhouse, adapted from a popular manga by Yutaka Aida. The show focuses on the Italian Social Welfare Agency, a government offshoot which is supposed to be responsible for the rehabilitation of the sick and injured, but is really a surreptitious counter-terrorism organisation specialising in espionage and assassination, scouting hospitals for wounded young girls and using memory wipes, brainwashing and intensive cybernetic modification to turn them into covert agents. Henrietta, the lone survivor of a family massacre, is the newest recruit to the fold, and this is where she meets Jose, her trainer and handler, as well as several other young girls being used as deadly gunslingers.
While MVM were responsible for distributing the individual volume releases, licencing changes mean the task of releasing the boxset falls at the door of Revelation, although for all intents and purposes, the discs are identical.
Anamorphic 1.78:1, and despite a little softness carried over from its NTSC origins, the transfer is good. A bright, naturalistic palette highlights a solid animation style with some great little touches. The men-folk are typically handsome and fairly bland and the girls are wide-eyed anime dolls, but colouring is solid and the characters and sets detailed, holding up well in some of the frantic action sequences.
A choice between Japanese in Dolby Digital 2.0 or a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track in the form of an English dub. Both tracks are capable, although the 5.1 naturally has an edge in terms of fullness and atmosphere, and shows some decent direction implementation. The quality of the American dub is variable, but for those who have a hard time getting into the swing with Italians speaking Japanese, it`s fine, with the blandness from some of the male voicework capable of being overlooked.
Across the set there is some fairly interesting bonus material. There`s a section where the English voice cast for the girls talk about their characters while scenes from the show play, two fun commentaries from the English crew for the penultimate episode and a feature on each discs which shows the character model for a girl being built and layered to the finished product.
Textless openings, closings and trailers grace all three of the discs.
Someone, at some point, burst into the Madhouse offices and pitched an idea for their next anime series - "Hey, we should adapt that manga, you know the one - `Gunslinger Girl`; it`s like `Haibane Renmei` meets `La Femme Nikita`, but instead of little girls who look like angel-things sitting around doing not much of anything, they`re cold-blooded cyborg assassins working for a secret branch of the Italian government!". Who could fail to be sold? `Gunslinger Girl` is as good as it sounds, although admittedly, very different from how it sounds. It`s a much more sombre and humane story than the components would lead you to believe, and while director Morio Asaka (probably best known for `Chobits` or `Last Order` from `Compilation of Final Fantasy VII`) isn`t afraid to turn on the action (and handle it very well), there`s more engaging narrative-play and characterisation to the series than you would typically expect from something that could be colloquially referred to as an anime about little girls with big guns. This approach to the subject matter makes `Gunslinger Girl` a little chilling. Normally anime gals wielding assault rifles is a stock story function with the aim of getting teenage balls of hormones hot and bothered by the sex and violence such provocative designs suggest, but here it`s an altogether different intent. Here, it`s the idea of children used as tools, referred to as "units" and a general tone of gross exploitation at the hands of an entirely unscrupulous government that is explored, not boobs and bazookas, in a roundabout way making the show socially relevant and infinitely sobering. It may be anime, but it can sure make you think.
When a production from one country is set in another it can end up seeming particularly hamfisted, with all manner of cultural inconsistencies, a lack of authenticity and dodgy accents (`Gorky Park` anyone?), yet despite being a Japanese anime set in Italy, `Gunslinger Girl` manages to pull off an oddity of credibility and feels like it`s actually set in Italy - thanks in no small part to the bright and sunny visuals, legitimate looking stucco backdrops, Mediterranean-looking characters and a rousing Veneziano orchestral score that could have been cabbaged straight from the protesting guts of `The Godfather`. The story is solid, centred around the human relationships and interaction of the characters, in particular Henrietta`s relationship with her handler Jose, and Jose`s affection and father-figure relationship with his asset. The direction is good, although it`s hard to get superlative over animation direction seeing as one can pretty much project a vision how you see fit without worries of time, cost and other banal trivialities, but credit has to be given for allowing the tale to unfold at its own fairly relaxed, unhurried pace, and for not simply rushing from one action scene to another, burdening the narrative with lengthy exposition scenes to avoid eating up bang and bullet time developing characters and relationships.
As far as complaints go, they`re few and far between and to be honest, a case of one man`s meat being another`s poison. Some may be put off by the reserved pace - particularly in the first few episodes - and see it as a negative, and the Henrietta/Jose relationship can come off as a little puffed up and forced, with Jose`s uncharacteristically kind demeanour a little out of place. But these are minor niggles in what is a decidedly appetising anime, with food to nourish both thought and that carnage-candy craving. Highly recommended.
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