The Public Corporation for Social Welfare is a shady government agency (aren't they all?) that runs an experimental program (don't they all?) involving the use of young girls as elite operatives/assassins. These girls are augmented with stength and ability enhancements (called "conditioning"), and are paired with a trainer. With this somewhat uneasy setting, this title explores the situations surrounding the trainers and their gun-slinging girls ...
Some people say that it's all in the name. And in Gunslinger Girl's case, it's a textbook example of the fact. At a glance, images of young girls with big guns instantly spring to mind, along with the associations and expectations one would have for an action title involving, well, girls with guns. As for me, I had already fallen for Noir hook line and sinker, and so I really didn't need any persuasion to watch this one.
Contrary to what you might expect, the plot doesn't really focus on the missions performed by the girls, but actually tells the relationships between the individual girls and their trainers. Since absolute loyalty is required, the girls are conditioned for obedience according to the measure that their trainers require, and this results in a rather varied level of "brainwashing" among the girls. The main character, Henrietta is a petite and awfully polite girl with a deep affection for her trainer, Jose, but remains moderately conditioned. Other girls range from the blindly loyal Rico, whose innocent obedience to the point of death can send cold shivers down your spine, down to the talkative Triela, who would be able to pass for any other 13-year old except for the ability to block gunshots with her arm (like all the others can).
In turn, the trainers possess different perceptions of their "artificial girls". While Jose treats Henrietta like his own daughter, others distance themselves from emotional attachment to their girls, some even viewing them as mere killing machines. As the story develops, this becomes somewhat of a moral dillema if you will, as no one really knows what effect emotional bonding will have on the girls or the trainers themselves.
Set in a background of European political tension, Gunslinger Girl tries to engage you in a plot that involves underhanded activites by various individuals, republics and governments, but fails to create a coherence between the various episodes and their individual missions. It remains largely segmented, and the detail borders on dropping vague names like "the Republicans", "our employer" or "the terrorists", keeping most viewers from being able to believe that they're witnessing anything other than random acts of assassination or terrorism.
Speaking of terrorism, the association with real danger is still in everyone's minds (especially with the progression of recent world events), but to many younger viewers, "terrorism" and "guns" still scream "Counterstrike". You either know it or you don't, and if you do, you'll probably know the assault guns and their gunshots by heart. I'm not a Counterstrike regular (having played no more than 10 games in my life) but I do know assault guns when I seem them. When I watched Gunslinger Girl, I was amazed at how realistic the gun sounds were. The first episode involves Henrietta's frontal assault on a room filled with "terrorists" using an FN P-90 (which is half her body size!), and from the moment the shots started, I could feel the heavy "thug" (if you can call it that) of the P-90's bullets contrasting with the rough clatter of the standard terrorist issue AKs. This attention to detail continues through the 13 episodes, as you can see (and hear) various modern assault rifles like the Steyr AUG, pistols and even the sniper rifle that Rico uses (yeah, I can't recognize it. I *told* you so).
The mission scenes are animated quite fluidly, and the backgrounds and locales actually show an above average level of detail. Unfortunately, the short action scenes are horribly few and far between (unlike Noir's action-scene-of-the-day style) and some of them use a pretty weak selection of apathetic music that toss the proverbial wet blanket on the scene. It doesn't help that the show's pacing is rather slow, and coupled with the lack of continuity between episodes, I found it hard to move on to the following episodes without having to watch something else in between. And when the second episode ends up using the action scene from the first episode to take up 1/4 of its runtime, you know that Gunslinger Girl is going to be hard-pressed to keep you entertained.
I certainly had alarms going off in my head when I first saw the relationship setting between the trainers and their students (especially Jose and Henrietta), but thankfully it's more like a young girl's affection for her loving father than (God forbid) anything else. Unfortunately, while Jose's affection and Henrietta's pliant innocence would be perfect for a family-themed anime, it's just misplaced in a title such as this, because the "family fun" takes up most of the run time, NOT the cool action scenes (refer to sidebar - Genre : Action / Drama).
Your concern should instead be placed on the graphic violence throughout Gunslinger Girl. Unlike Noir, which chose to tone down the violence by removing gunshot wounds, Gunslinger Girl goes all out to visualize the effects of gun battles. Bodies spray blood as they are shot with assault rifles at point blank range, and headshots happen in full view, bloody wound and all. If your reaction is anything other than "Awesome!!", then think carefully before you watch.
In summary, Gunslinger Girl is an action title with the potential to impress, but is let down by a vague plot and dotted with sparse moments of action.
I would give it two stars if not for the incredible attention to accuracy regarding the weapons, and the engaging gun battles (when they *do* happen, of course). Only for fans of the genre, and only if you can stand the slow dialogue and pacing. — Enoch Lau
Recommended Audience: Due to some occasionally graphic violence, the dubious morality of the organization central to the plot, and some harsh language, THEM recommends this for teens and above.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Gunslinger Girl © 2003 Yu Aida / Marvelous Entertainment / Media Works / Gunslinger Girl Production Committee
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