Gunslinger Girl – Rating: 8/10
1. Story – 5
The biggest issue I have with Gunslinger Girl is the lack of a driving plot line. The idea for the show: Adolescent girls that are near death are “saved” by the “Social Welfare Agency”, only to be given cybernetic implants and turned into ruthless assassins, is an interesting, if morally repugnant, idea. (Not that moral repugnance is a bad thing when talking about stories. Sometimes a story about things that should never be thought of can make you think of things you never could have considered otherwise…) The problem with the show is that each episode, or occasionally a small group of episodes, seems unconnected to the others. It is like they took a concept that cries out for a large over arching plot and put it into a slice of life format. I generally appreciate slice of life stories. They have their place. A show about intelligence operatives for a secret government agency is not one of those places! (You’re Under Arrest is another show that is mostly slice of life, but the local cop genre is fine for that.Barney Miller was one of the best shows ever, and it was almost entirely slice of life. Actually, YUA reminds me a lot of Barney Miller!)
2. Characters – 8
The characters in GG are strong. There are a lot of them there, and the fact that you really get a good feel for most of them over the course of the season is a testament to the director’s skill. The way that the story is laid out, the main characters consist of the girl cyborgs and their “handlers”, with a few supporting characters thrown in. The main characters of note are, of course, the girls:
Rico – the ray of sunshine in the agency who seems simply happy to be alive. She appears to be the only character that is aware of her previous existence, as she was sickly from birth and the chance to become a cyborg provided her with her first taste of a real life.
Henrietta – the affection starved waif who is desperate to be of use to her handler. Her back story is that her entire family was murdered, and she was brutalized in the process. It is hard to say if that prior experience influences her need for affection or her desire to please her handler Jose (or Guisse)
Angelica – the first cyborg, whose enhanced body and mind are starting to fail due to excessive conditioning. She was almost killed by a hit-and-run arranged by her father in order to collect on life insurance.
Claes – bookish and mostly non-violent, Claes’ handler was killed and she is now used as a test subject by the doctors in order to improve the cyborg transformation process. [spoiler]It is unclear how she came to the agency, but her father was a professor that instilled a love of books in her. Her handler encouraged that and also taught her how to enjoy “idling the time away”. She had her memory of her handler conditioned out after he died, but his influence is still obvious.[highlight to read spoiler]
Triela – The second oldest cyborg, she has a pragmatic view on life in the agency and has seemed to come to terms with her life as a cyborg assassin. [spoiler]She was saved by her handler from a “snuff-film” in which she was to be the main attraction and brought to the SWA without him knowing the true nature of the organization. Somehow they convinced him to join on as her handler after she was converted to a cyborg .[highlight to read spoiler] She is probably my favorite character.
The handlers are less well defined, but the highlights are:
Jose Croce – Henrietta’s handler appears to be almost too soft-hearted for the job. He buys her presents frequently and has trouble keeping emotional distance. Henrietta’s obvious devotion to him complicates matters. His brother, Jean, is also a handler. [spoiler]Their parents and younger sister were killed by terrorists, leading both of them to work for the SWA to fight them.[highlight to read spoiler]
Jean Croce – Jose’s brother and Rico’s handler, he has a much more “business-like” view of the job. To him, Rico is a tool he can use to get vengeance on the terrorists [spoiler]who killed his family[highlight to read spoiler], nothing more.
Victor Hilshire [spoiler]– Formerly of Interpol, Victor changed his name when he stole Triela, who they wanted as a witness in the snuff film case, away from them in order to save her life and brought her to the SWA. He worked with an Italian gangster to save her, and that mobster has been involved in some of the stories too. [highlight to read spoiler]
Raballo – This former MP was Claes’ handler, [spoiler]but had grown disenchanted with the Agency, going as far as contacting the press to turn over info on the SWA. He was killed in a fortuitous, for the SWA, hit-and-run “accident”, resulting in Claes’ current status with the Agency. When watching, I made the assumption that the Agency had him killed because he was going to go to the press.[highlight to read spoiler]
3. Art – 9
The art work in GG is excellent! The drawing style is realistic and gritty. The backgrounds are vibrant and alive. The main characters are consistently excellent. But the “mood” of the art work is what really makes it special. There is a somber, tragic feel to the show that is contributed to by the way the characters and scenes are drawn.
4. Music – 7
The opening theme is wonderful and the background music is good enough. It doesn’t stand out as phenomenal though.
5. VA/DUB – 8/8
The voice acting in both the Japanese original and the dub are very well done. You don’t get the feeling that the characters are vastly different switching between them. The character of Henrietta is particularly well done in both, but none of the others stand out above the crowd.
6. Overall Enjoyment – 9
While it is strange to give a higher overall enjoyment score to a show than my overall rating, I have to say that I really liked this show! It is thought provoking and disturbing, which are things that make it stand out above other anime. The main drawback, the lack of an overarching storyline, detracts from my post watching appreciation of the show, but inside each episode, it is a good ride. I do wish that some of the “plot twists” were handled better, as I generally saw them coming, but that is a problem that most shows have, so I can’t fault it too much for that. It was a fun show to watch and I would watch it again, especially if I can find the rest of the series dubbed, as I only saw a couple of the episodes in the dubbed form. [EDIT: Since writing this review, I have watched about half of this series dubbed, as it is currently available on Netflix. I have enjoyed the voice acting in the dubbed release. It is quite well done.]