Gunslinger Girl Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Release Date: Monday, March 06, 2006
What They Say
The girl has a mechanical body. However, she is still an adolescent child.
Officially, the Social Welfare Agency is a government sponsored corporation that's in the business of saving lives. In reality, it's an agency on the fringe of technology. They give terminal patients another shot at life using cybernetic implants. This conditioning process then shapes the patient into an efficient machine for handling all of the governments dirty work.
Having survived the brutal slaughter of her family, Henrietta awakens to her new life at the Agency with a re-build body and no memory of the past. She has been teamed with her handler Jose, who is responsible for her training and conditioning, turning her into the perfect killing machine. Henrietta strives to find her place within the Agency, doing her best to win Jose's affection. But can Jose control her? Can he balance the needs and desires between the assassin and the developing adolescent.
Who are these girls?
They've been given a second chance at life... But at what cost?
Young girls are given another shot at life and are taught to become superior assassins with no memories of their previous lives. Is this another typical Girls with Guns show, or could it turn into something more meaningful?
I stuck with the Japanese stereo track for my review and it's quite a nice little mix, there's a lot of gunfire in these opening episodes and the front speakers do a good of separating this out. During the first mission there are also roadworks being carried out and the left and right speakers are utilised effectively for this as well.
There's not really much to say here other than very nice! I noticed no obvious problems with the video and was impressed with the clarity and crispness of the picture. I also liked the tones used in the show, it tends to go for a more muted spectrum with blacks, browns and greys and these all come across very well.
Subtitles are in the usual yellow MVM font and are clear and easy to read.
Review copy only, no packaging supplied.
The menu is not at all exciting, and I'll repeat what I've said before in that the majority of MVM menus are a bit lacklustre. The main menu has a picture of Henrietta in a firing pose with the gun barrel pointing at the audience, occasionally the gun will fire and some smoke will appear briefly. When Henrietta fires the gun her static image wobbles a bit, and unfortunately it's a very unconvincing wobble. The main menu has background music, but as usual all submenus are silent, although access times are fast.
For a show that's only 3 volumes long, you'd think that they could have been a bit more creative with the extras. The standard clean opening and closing are supplied, as is a feature entitled Building Henrietta. This is a slide show of sorts that shows step by step how the character was coloured and shaded in order to bring her to life. It's a nice little feature and goes someway to demonstrating how many layers are used to build up shade and texture.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
I'd heard good things about Gunslinger Girl before I got the disk to review, and I must admit that the premise of the show intrigued me. I was looking forward to seeing how the creators handled the concept of young girls being used as assassins. Would they go along the standard 'girls with guns' style more commonly seen in shows like Noir or Madlax, or would they manage to come up with something different? I'm happy to report that they've certainly come up with something much darker in tone than I was expecting, and while this is not a bad thing there's something about the show that didn't quite capture my imagination as much as I was expecting.
The Social Welfare Agency is set up to help save lives, but the reality is rather more murky. While the Agency does indeed save lives by using cutting edge technology, it turns the girls they've saved into top notch assassins with cybernetic implants. Although you've got to ask why they've decided that young girls would make good assassins " it is because no-one would expect a cute little girl to let loose with a machine gun, or is there more to it than that?
Henrietta is the sole survivor of her family who were massacred in front of her. After spending the night with her family's killers who repeatedly abuse her she is found and taken to hospital. Henrietta is in a very fragile state indeed, she tries to kill herself and is deeply psychologically scarred as a result of her ordeal. She comes to the attention of the Agency who realise that she would be an ideal addition to their program.
Henrietta is given cybernetic implants which improve her speed, agility and strength and is also assigned a handler " the person who she will work closely with and who will become to all intents and purposes her brother. Henrietta's brother is Guise, a young member of the agency who sets about training her, but also takes time to try and get to know her. The first two episodes provide the background to Henrietta and Guise's relationship, while at the same time using a mission as the basis for this exploration. Unfortunately it's becoming clear that Henrietta is not as stable as she could be, and Guise is coming under pressure to enhance her conditioning because of this. Whenever Henrietta perceives Guise as being in danger she loses control which has the potential to put missions in jeopardy. We see the events of the first two episodes unfold from the perspectives of both Henrietta and Guise, and see their reactions to events.
Henrietta has no memories of her past life, and it's clear that she will do anything for Guise, as she has formed a very strong bond with her handler that is almost a brother / sister relationship. Guise has also formed an attachment to Henrietta, and also looks out for her. Although he realises that her conditioning needs to be improved he is reluctant to do this as it will have a detrimental affect on Henrietta's life span. Sometimes you think that Guise see's Henrietta as more than a manufactured assassin and takes time to teach her things she doesn't necessarily need to know.
The remaining three episodes introduce three of the other girls and their handlers, and it's very interesting to note how differently the girls are treated. Rico has been partnered with Jean, who appears to be higher up the chain of command than Guise. He treat Rico like a commodity, telling her what to do and will not tolerate failure of any kind. Rico, unlike Henrietta appears to have some memories of her previous life. She was a terminally ill patient who had never really been outside of a hospital. I've no idea why her parents gave her to the agency, but Rico doesn't seem to care that her parents abandoned her. She is grateful to the agency for giving her a second chance, especially for giving her the ability to move around on her own. She also has no qualms about following Jean's instructions to the letter.
Triela is the third girl of the group to get an episode devoted to her and her handler Hirshberg. Of all the girls Triela is the one you can see being more 'eye candy' for the series, with her long flowing blonde hair. However, it's commendable to the series as a whole that the girls are never glamorised or 'sexed up' so to speak. We get to know Triela and Hirshberg when they have to find an ex-Mafia informant who they want to testify against his old boss. As with Henrietta and Guise, and Rico and Jean, the relationship between Triela and Hirshberg is also different. He treats her like an adolescent girl and not really knowing her likes and dislikes frequently buys her teddy bears, which she has named after the seven dwarfs. Triela seems much more independent that either Rico or Henrietta, and can make her own decisions independently of her handler. She is also probably the most mature of the other two girls and sometimes questions the decisions Hirshberg makes concerning her training.
The last girl to get introduced in Claes, who is definitely different from the other girls. Her handler was Capt. Ravalo, who saw his employment with the Agency as a means of getting back his military job. He was given responsibility for Claes from the start and had to train her up from scratch. Initially he treated Claes in much the same way as Jean treats Rico, but unlike Jean, he built a relationship of sorts with Claes, encouraging her to read his books and wear her old glasses. When Ravalo is killed in an accident Claes is left without a handler, and as the Agency are reluctant to assign a new handler in these circumstances another use is found for Claes. Without a handler Claes is not allowed to go on missions, and instead is used as a sort of 'test dummy' by the Agency. She performs experiments for the scientists who use her to test the limits of the implants they use. Because of this I feel that Claes is more introspective than the other girls, as she doesn't get to go outside of the Agency much anymore.
It's hard to categorise Gunslinger Girl, but one thing's certain " this will not turn out to be Noir or Madlax for a start there are no bright colours or jaunty themes. These girls are being manipulated to do the dirty work of the Italian government and are seen as commodities instead of what they are, young adolescent girls. While there may be violence (and plenty of it in the first two episodes alone), the girls are not glamorised, they don't wear sexy outfits and strike exotic poses while firing their guns. In fact the only character to wear anything close to being an anime cliché is Henrietta with her penchant (or is it Guise's?) for the sailor girl school uniform.
What should also become clear from the above is that all the girls are very different, each interacting with her handler in different ways. In a sense this is quite surprising as you get the impression that each of the girls has gone through the same conditioning process. Henrietta is protective of Guise and loves spending time with him. Rico will do anything Jean asks of her and see's nothing wrong with his methods of training her. Triela, probably the most self sufficient of the group, is more questioning and wants to improve her abilities and is more willing to make decisions without the guidance of her handler. This leaves Claes, with no 'older brother' to look after her or give her training; she is pretty much at the mercy of the agency but is not one for complaining.
The first volume raised far too many questions for me, why young girls? What conditioning do they go through and why does this reduce their life span? How did the agency come about and how are they funded? Finally is there another larger focus of the agency are they but pawns in a much greater scheme? It would be good if these questions are answered, but I think the series will focus on this group of 5 girls, who for no fault of their own, are being used by the government who gave them a second shot at life.
Gunslinger Girls is a slow burner, which really makes me wonder what it can really achieve in 13 episodes. I'm not sure whether the use of young girls as assassins really sits right with me, but to give the series its due it does not go down the obvious route of glamorising either the girls or their work. However, I do like the way that the Agency responsible for the girls is not painted in a favourable light at all. The series does have the potential to transcend the 'Girls with Guns' genre and while my reactions to the first volume are mixed this is a series that has managed to intrigue me and I'm hoping that overall the series will mange to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 5.1,English Subtitles,Clean Opening ,Clean Closing,Building Henrietta
Panasonic 42" Plasma, Arcam 88+ Prog Scan DVD Player, Kef Egg 7.1 Speaker system with a Ruark log sub. Denon 3802 amplifier.
Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: C-
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: MVM Entertainment
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Gunslinger Girl