Gunslinger Girl, I consistently maintain, is my favorite series within the world of anime and manga. Ever since I idly picked up the first volume of the manga in Barnes and Noble about five or six years ago, and eternally pulling out my hair as ADV released the titles more and more slowly.
I was saved by FUNimation releasing Madhouse's first season of the show, to which I was, and still am, in awe every time I watch an episode of the show. So, I finally sat down to watch Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-, a series that I quickly dropped when it came out online because of the change in art studios, cast, and just about everything.
I needed to watch through it, if nothing other than to see things through and see where it took things. I may have scoffed at the series in the beginning, but by the end of it, I had to do some soul searching. Let's get into things after the jump.
Gunslinger Girl is a series about these girls, usually in the age range of 10-14, who have been taken in by the Italian government's Social Welfare Agency to be turned into killer assassins with cybernetic parts. What grounds the series and keeps things serious is that all these girls are "broken," all having suffered horrendous fates before getting picked up by the Social Welfare Agency. For example, Henrietta, generally considered the main character of the series, was forced to watch a gang of thieves murder her family, and then suffered through being raped and beaten all throughout the night. Angelica, meanwhile, was run over by her father who was trying to collect the insurance money he had placed on her.
The question that hangs over your head as you read or watch the series is that these girls have been given a new life because of these advancements in cybernetics, but is it worth it? The girls have largely accepted their role, thanks to "conditioning" -- brainwashing, really -- that makes them doggedly loyal to their handlers, and has made them forget, for the most part, their horrid past.
I tag Henrietta and her handler, Jose, as the main characters because Jose's conflict is the most fleshed out and the most relatable: he doesn't want to use excessive conditioning on Henrietta, because of what it can do to her personality, and ultimately makes her less human. So he works to treat her well so that she will listen to him, while we see a range of other relationships between other handlers and their girls.
The emotional heartwrenching comes from not only seeing these girls fight and the moral questions surrounding what they're doing, but hearing the girls' backstories that are scattered throughout the series. Henrietta and Angelica's stories are tragic, but when you see Rico and Triella remember flashes of their past? It will make you break down.
So, I was a bit disappointed with Il Teatrino's handling of many of the stories. It has all the emotional capacity of a steamroller at times, and the shift from Madhouse to Artland killed the visual style. Oftentimes, the girls come off as really flat, devoid of detail, and plastered with cultist smiles on their face.
Despite having Yu Aida actively on staff, many of the stories -- The Prince of Pasta, the ending of the Pinocchio story -- just miss the mark on the emotional impact. Thanks in part to the art style, but also the story direction misses all the little things that pull at your heart here and there -- the things that make the final revelation so much more powerful -- creating a scene that works, but it just doesn't have anywhere near the same impact as in the manga. For those of you who have watched Il Teatrino, go back and read volume 5 of the manga -- or even just flip to the last chapter -- and see how Triella talks to Hillshire. The two are leagues apart, even though only minor changes exist.
I've been plagued recently with a certain level of emotional distress. In talking with Colette about trying to write this article, I finally figured out why I was such an emotional wreck after watching Il Teatrino and reading Damaged Goods: I am inherently attracted to broken girls. It's an instinct to protect and provide for these girls, to take them away from their pain, and do all that I can to set them on the right path to do something greater for themselves.
I suppose it fits into the moe discussion we've had earlier, but this is far from the sexual line that Jason Thompson talks about: it's a clear paternal instinct at work here. To me, it's so incredibly rewarding to see these girls move beyond the life they had where they were beaten and abused, even if they have been turned into killers. There is a level of kindness even within those actions. And Damaged Goods touched me so much because it shows that this sort of care really does happen within the real world.
Right now, the Gunslinger Girl license is languishing in ADV's hands. No overt moves have been made to acquire it, although we could hear word at New York Anime Fest over it. While we're waiting, though, I highly suggest picking up both the manga and the anime when you can so that you too can experience this story.