The girls are back and ready for more cold, brutal action that only a child can deliver.
What They Say
The girls of the Social Welfare Agency are no ordinary children. They are the grisly remains of human wreckage pieced back together with cybernetic implants and trained to kill by the government.
The oldest, Triela, pursues her targets with a ferocious enthusiasm, unwilling to settle for less than total annihilation. Her mirror in this bloody stalemate is Pinocchio, a shell of a boy raised as an assassin by the FRF: a terrorist faction at war with the SWA. Cold and cruelly efficient, he wields sharpened steel as though it were an extension of his own hand.
Once human, these shattered souls have become murderous machines with only vague recollections of what it meant to be real â€“ and a brutal compulsion to be the last killer standing.
Similar to the first season which had both tracks in 5.1, this season does the same with both English and Japanese getting Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks. Unlike that release, the Japanese track feels a bit more muted this time around, especially when you flip back and forth during the opening song. Both tracks are pretty good even with this difference though the English 5.1 mix comes off stronger overall. There isn't a lot thrown to the rear speakers here but the forward soundstage makes out well with a clean presentation that's free of problems. We listened to this show by alternating tracks with each episode and didn't have any problems with distortions or dropouts during regular playback.
Originally airing in early 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its originally aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This release also contains the two OVA episodes which means we get a split of eight TV episodes on the first disc and five TV episodes plus two OVAs on the second disc. I had liked the look of the release on DVD and this version has much the same feeling, just with greater clarity. The problems that do show through are the kind that will likely bother the more detail conscious than a casual viewer, especially after the first season which was so blatant with its issues. Edge enhancement abounds here, which was also a problem on the Japanese DVD releases, but there's also a good amount of visible banding with the paint style used here that can be pretty distracting. Colors themselves generally look good and it's nowhere near as noisy as the first season and that alone causes this to look much better..
While the first season didn't merit on, the second gets a slipcover that essentially replicates what the disc cover itself is like. The front cover uses the same artwork as we saw on the DVD release with Triela taking the foreground in her suit without a jacket while various other members of the cast are behind her in softer colors. It's an interesting look but it feels like it lacks either the darkness that the show needs or an image that really captures it. It's not a bad piece of artwork but it lacks something to really sell it in a strong way. The back cover is a bit of a surprise from FUNimation as it uses a full piece of artwork for the whole thing and that obscures a good bit of the text as the two clash rather well. The top has the logo against the sky and a pair of hands while just below that we get four shots of characters from the show. The rest is text that talks about the premise and lists what extras are on it. There's a lot of empty space towards the bottom as the only thing there of note is the technical grid and the colors for that are kind of awkward. The rest is the usual production credits and associated logos. The reverse side of the cover is nice as it uses another piece from the DVD release with Henrietta in the city that has an almost watercolor look while the other side has a breakdown of episode numbers and titles for both discs.
The menus for Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino mirror the first season with some minor stylistic changes to differentiate it, such as text colors and background colors for the navigation strip. The main menu features clips from the show with some ominous and dark instrumental music playing to it. It's not as strong as the first season which seems like it had more artwork to work with and a bit more care for lack of a better word. The loop around isn't as smooth either as it ends with more note and rolls around again with the series logo at the start. The navigation strip, which is used as the pop up menu as well, is kept to the lower right where it lists the disc and has the basic selections we see across all FUNimation releases. The color choice of red for the highlighted part is a better than the yellow of the first season and it flows well and submenus open quickly and easily. As is par for the course with FUNimation, the discs did not read our players' language presets and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.
The only extras included are on the second volume as we get clean versions of the opening and closing sequences for the series. There are extras that are missing though which is disappointing. The TV spots didn't make it over here and the available portions of the five part video interview (of which we only saw a fraction of on the DVD) are completely gone as well..
TV Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Four years after the original series aired in Japan, a sequel series came out with another thirteen episodes worth of cute girls with guns. But unlike most cute girls with guns shows, this one aims at something rather different as it's focused on a serious series of events in the real world and it uses very young girls for the cute girls part. That can be something of a conflict for fans that want usually see somewhat older, bouncier and flouncier girls running about. Gunslinger Girl aims for something a little more highbrow, especially after the first series.
Gunslinger Girl revolves around a group of young girls who have had their bodies rebuilt using near future cyborg technology, essentially making “bionic girls” that are in the employ of the Italian government. Using girls who are in dire medical straights, often where they're in horrible accidents and would die otherwise, their memories are wiped and they're given new names, new lives, working for the Social Welfare organization. It's here that they're paired up with adult male handlers who give them a name and work to train them as obedient highly skilled assassins. The training is continual and the girls generally are problem free, though there are occasionally issues that crop up that require them to be worked on, physically and psychologically.
Il Teatrino gives us more of a full story for the season whereas the first one tended to focus on smaller character stories with an underlying subplot. In Il Teatrino, the F.R.F., Five Republics Faction, is continuing their ongoing attempt at disrupting the country in an effort to build a strong separatist movement. The F.R.F. Has had its share of problems though and become factious itself as internal dissent and power plays are the order of the day. This is the backdrop in which a man named Cristiano has moved as he works to employ his people to destroy a bridge which is the focus towards the end of the show. Familiar from the first season, we see the beautiful Franca working the scene again as she brings Franco to her side and also begins to work with a man named Pinocchio. It turns out that he's actually Cristiano's adopted son and is trying to be something of an assassin himself for Cristiano since he believes he owes him so much.
While this plays out in the background at times, it comes to the foreground when various members of the government team end up coming across them, either in protecting the daughter of someone or just running across them through happenstance and coincidence. There's an amusing sequence where Henrietta breaks a kaleidoscope given to her by her handler, Giuse, and they take it to an antique shop to be repaired. The man behind the counter is actually someone working for the F.R.F. Though neither side really is aware of it. These kinds of instances are minimal, which is good, but they provide a few small ties like this throughout in order to keep it close to a cat and mouse game but not quite.
Similar to the first season, a lot of the show focuses on the individual girls and their stories, which primarily deals with their handlers. Some are more situational based, such as Triela as she copes with a failure when going up against Pinocchio. It's shattered her confidence and has questioning her ability, something that isn't good for a cyborg that's supposed to be without problems. Henrietta is less the main character now as her problems revolve around trying to please Giuse, something that isn't easy nor is it something she really knows how to do. In a way, he doesn't really know either what it is since the whole situation is difficult enough still. The character that makes out the best for individual stories is Claes, the young girl who doesn't actively go out on missions but rather serves as one that's used for research. An entire episode is devoted to spending the day with her as she remembers part of her past with her last handler and the kinds of training she had, especially in regards to education.
In a lot of ways, Il Teatrino is just like the first season in how it plays out. One of the big differences this time around though is the “total involvement” of the original creator, Yu Aida, as they have a very hands on role in the story. I wondered how that would affect things and as it turns out, I felt this season was much weaker than the first season. I can't pin it down exactly what it is that bothers me, but it feels like it's missing something critical. The character animation is solid, but it doesn't feel as warm and rich as the first season. The stories are somewhat similar, but they lack a real strong connection for the viewer to latch onto. The first season focused on all of the girls in a fair amount of detail and the loss of that here doesn't help. There aren't strong stories to connect everything together either, which makes the character weaknesses of the girls all the more apparent. It comes across as a weaker and more unfocused show that spends too much time on the uninteresting character of Pinocchio.
OVA Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Some seven months after the TV series finished airing in Japan, fans were treated to two more direct to video episodes that… well, they don’t serve as an epilogue. Nor a continuation of any particular story. They’re simple a few more episodes that for the most part revolve around Jean and some of his issues as the main tough guy of the series who works with one of the brightest and happiest of the girls in the group.
The two episodes that are here have some tangential plot to them, but more than anything else it’s about mood and atmosphere. The connection to these characters in the Il Teatrino season is not been there for me like it was in the first, and I pretty much put that on Yu Aida’s shoulders as the original creator is involved in this particular season. Though more faithfully adapted from the manga by all appearances, it has not made for engaging television in the slightest. The charac-ters seem to lack a kind of warmth and humanity that shone through before and the storyline from the second season when it did appear was less than compelling.
So I went into this two episode OVA release with some amount of trepidation. The first episode takes Jean to the grave of the woman he nearly married some years ago and he runs into Fer-nando, who would have been his brother in law. Fernando is still very unhappy about how every-thing happened and he holds a huge chip on his shoulder towards Jean, but what makes it diffi-cult for Jean on top of everything else is that Fernando is apparently involved in some left wing group that he’s likely going to have to hunt down at some point. This starts a rolling story towards figuring out who he’s working with and trying to kick the legs out from underneath it before it can get into serious trouble.
The second story is a little more unusual as it again focuses on Jean to some extent as he and Rico along with Giuse and Henrietta end up taking some time out from everything after a bit and go to an old beach house where the men used to go. As it turns out, this is one of the places that Jean used to spend time with Giuse along with Enrica, Where it turns badly is that in settling in, Giuse has Henrietta try on one of the outfits that’s in the closet. The clothes belonged to Enrica before she died, and that sets off a wave of emotions in Jean, both towards Giuse and towards himself over what happened in the past. Jean has been a difficult man to watch because he plays things from a distance with Rico, though there are times when he is close with her, but by and large he’s disconnected from someone trying so hard to please him and to show him she can do things right. Her nightmares indicate her own fears about this, though they aren’t terribly explored unfortunately.
In some ways, this release is Il Teatrino done right. We get the whole thing, TV and OVA, in one package with probably as good as the show is going to look considering the source material issues. Sadly, the extras prove to be a problem as we only get part of what came before and even what came before was just a part of what there was in Japan. With the show itself, watching this season right after the first season only reinforced my opinion of it being the much weaker series by comparison. The first season played the assassin game very well; ruthless, quick and brutal. It also made you care about these young girls and that they had gone through, before they became cyborgs and after. With Il Teatrino, it lacks that warmth in a significant way. The story doesn't work to connect you, the girls are spread out more so there's less time with them individually that matters and the stories themselves simply aren't all that interesting. Perhaps Aida's “total involvement” changed the tone of the show in a way that made it less appealing, less of what the previous season was. It almost feels like something of a slightly hollow shell of what it was. The trappings are there, but something isn't inside.
Features Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
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