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Gunslinger Girl - volume one: Little Girls, Big Guns (2005)
Director: Morio Asaka

review by Alexandra Bunning

For anyone who is brave enough to venture past this DVD's eye-rollingly unimaginative and clich�d subtitle, a reward awaits, in the form of director Morio Asaka's take on Yu Aida's ongoing manga series of the same name. This series revolves around a governmental agency of modern day Italy, called the Social Welfare Agency, which ostensibly uses government money to 'help' the recovery of the very unwell or bedridden, who would otherwise be left with little chance of improvement in the Italian hospital system.

In fact 'the Agency' is a military organisation which uses young girls as agents in their counter-terrorist and counter-intelligence operations. Acquiring girls from hospitals, the Agency then gives them cybernetic implants to make them physically superhuman, whilst mentally conditioning them to ensure their loyalty. These treatments also have the unfortunate side effect of shortening the girls' lifespan every time they are used. A girl is chosen by a male member of the Agency, who becomes their handler or 'brother', and it is up to him to ensure his 'sister' is fully operational, and that their training and welfare is maintained. Each of these units is called 'fratello' (Italian for 'siblings').

This DVD includes the first five episodes of the 13 episode series. These five episodes, introduce four of the fratello; Henrietta and Jose, whose relationship is so conflicted it is sometimes painful to watch; Rico who is treated more as a useful tool than anything else by her handler Jean; Triela, who is the oldest of the girls and who seems to simultaneously resent her handler and crave his affection; and Claes, whose handler Raballo dies in suspicious circumstances, leaving her to be re-conditioned and used for the agency's medical experiments.

Although containing as much time devoted to small girls carrying large guns and shooting tons of hot lead into baddies as any bloodthirsty anime fan could want, it is clear that Gunslinger Girl has stepped away from the crowd. The animation is ever-so-slightly faded and watercoloured, creating an almost dreamlike quality to the episodes. Surprisingly this doesn't detract from the action, and adds a more three-dimensional feel as the Italian backdrop is beautifully and faithfully rendered. The English language opening theme, and an operatic style closing are both beautiful and haunting - a far cry from the soullessly cheerful J-pop often associated with anime.

The action scenes themselves are far more realistic than might be expected (there are no spectacular feats of kung-fu and the girls do get shot at times), but it is in the characters and the interactions between the 'fratellos' that Gunslinger Girl really shines. The girls themselves are worlds away from the stereotypical overtly sexualised female characters with large breasts and provocatively short skirts which seem to dominate the genre, and instead are portrayed in a manner that emphasises their youth and emotional vulnerability. The very nature of their feelings for those around them are clearly called into question as the girls, their handlers and the audience are left wondering where conditioning ends and real affection begins.

I do have some little quibbles with the series however. The already slow-moving storyline is sometimes hindered further by a bizarre tendency to repeat minutes-long sections of earlier episodes, leaving me torn between skipping ahead, and risking missing something important, or watching again in the hopes that something new had been inserted. The subtitles couldn't seem to decide whether Henrietta's handler was 'Jose' or 'Guise', but I felt they were preferable to the dub, which left me wondering whether one voice actor was playing the role of every male member of the Agency.

Overall this anime is hugely enjoyable and immersive. If you're looking for fast-moving action-packed violence, it might be better to look elsewhere, but if you're after a good-looking, thought-provoking anime then this is it.

Gunslinger Girl volume 1



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