The girls with guns concept runs with adolescents this time around but plays it very straight and seriously.
What They Say
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 government's dirty work.
Contains episodes 1-13.
While the DVD release of this had the Japanese language in stereo, at least on the last Viridian release that I saw, the Blu-ray edition has both languages in 5.1 using Dolby TrueHD which gives us a really good lossless presentation. In fact, the audio on this release for both tracks is the big draw as it really makes the show much stronger in a lot of ways. Ambient effects and basic sound effects are more apparent and add to the flow of the show. Background music when soft filters in better and enhances the overall soundstage. The opening and closing sequences are the strongest with the vocal arrangements and radically increased my enjoyment of both of them. Rear speakers don't seem to get much of a workout which isn't a surprise considering the stereo source but overall Gunslinger Girl is a much stronger show through its visuals.
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This thirteen episode series is spread across two discs in a nine/four format as the second disc is a single layer one which has only a few extras on it, most of which are standard def anyway. This release is an upscale from FUNimation with one of the telling signs being that the bitrate rarely leaves the high teens and low twenties outside of the occasional spike. The original Japanese releases for this series never looked fantastic to begin with and this edition only heightens those flaws with a significant amount of noise visible throughout. There are areas, most notably in the last couple of episodes, where banding is much more apparent as well. The visual presentation for this is quite weak, especially when you look at the solid color backgrounds which look positively alive. Other areas are the same but when you have more detail to them it's a bit muted. The visuals for this are not a reason to upgrade but a good deal of it can be blamed on the source itself.
Released in a standard Blu-ray case that has a disc on either side of the interior, the front cover is a good looking release that has Henrietta as the focal point. The image of her sitting in a large chair while she wears her usual uniform is very appealing as it highlights her small stature while also making it ominous through the use of shadows, the form of an older man standing next to her and the weapon in her hand. I like the artwork a lot but I'm not a fan of a large sideways logo that takes up a good bit of space, though it's understandable here as the logo and all it entails would cover too much good artwork. The back cover works the darker brown background which is pretty bland but fits with part of the show. Most of the cover is given over to a lot of text as it has a lot to cover, from a section on the setting, the basic summary itself and a breakdown of extras and what kind of discs are included. The technical grid for the high definition aspects are included here which is clearly listed. The bottom has a lot of the usual production credits and appropriate logos. The reverse side of the cover has a lot of shadowed weapons to it using the same kind of brown color while also showing the episode numbers and titles for their respective volumes and a listing of what extras on on the second disc.
The menus for Gunslinger Girl are pretty decent overall with some nice work done to build what's essentially a trailer menu. The main menu features clips from the show interspersed with stills that were used for the original cover artwork and menus that has the main group of girls holding their weapons and such set against gray backgrounds with blood splatters behind them. The bullets fly, the animation clips are well chosen and they do a nice job of tying text to the character stills with their names and weapons. The loop around is pretty smooth and the instrumental music chosen sets the atmosphere nicely. 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 yellow for the highlighted part is a bit off but 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.
Unlike the previous editions on DVD, we get everything on one disc here as all the extras, in standard definition outside of the clean opening and closing sequences, are on the second disc. The opening and closing songs are provided in textless form which looks good but it's disappointing that it only gets DVD audio considering how great they sound in lossless. A section of dossiers on the girls is included and there's also a pair of video segments that shows how Henrietta and Rico are drawn in great detail yet strangely the Triela piece didn't get ported over here. This is a neat little piece on how the artwork is layered piece by piece and only serves to impress you with the skill of the person creating it. Also included is a section where you get to meet the girls behind the girls, which is where you can select one of the characters and hear their English voice actress talk about them while clips from the show play featuring that character. Commentaries are included in this release though only for the second to last episode which contains both a production commentary and another one by the ADR director. Considering how much free space is here and the length of the extras, it's really odd that not everything made it over to this edition.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Yu Aida, the anime incarnation was a show that I was very unsure about prior to its initial release. While it presented itself with beautiful imagery because of the setting and character designs, it was playing up the entire girls with guns aspect in an manner that was very unappealing. Perhaps it was just the time, having young kids myself, but the concept is one that while workable was just marketed in a way that did not appeal to me.
Once in the show itself however, it quickly captivated me. With a short run of episodes, crisp writing and a wonderful sense of atmosphere, Gunslinger Girl really hit just about every mark right in its approach. Instead of loud and boisterous girls who are flagrant with the violence or overt with their sexuality, it's a very restrained piece of work that very much wants to be serious. The challenge is to not make it too dark and serious less it become an unintentional parody. Thankfully, Gunslinger Girl walks that fine line almost perfectly and turns out to be a fascinating piece of storytelling. The restraint that people show within this, and their uncertainty about the approach and their role in it, takes center stage often but never to the point where it overwhelms. Even better is that it really is an ensemble piece where we have a couple of central characters from which everything else is touched upon.
In essence, Gunslinger Girl is the Bionic Man concept applied to little girls and set in Italy with an emphasis on terrorism and the military. The idea revolves around a section within the intelligence community through which young girls are brought in to be "upgraded" with technology and given conditioning and training to become expert assassins and operations personnel. The girls are chosen from those that have been in tragic accidents and aren't likely to live without such medical procedures, and the conditioning they go through allows their memories to be erased so that they're blank slates in a way. Their conditioning can be applied at different levels, based on how they perform and how their Handlers interact with them. The more caring and understanding a Handler, the less conditioning required as the basic level of loyalty and devotion is increased naturally.
Though the series is very much an ensemble cast, the central pairing is that of Henrietta and Giuse. The pairings are called "fratellos" which is basically brother and sister. The approach works well and gives the pairings a bond to work off and grow with. Henrietta and Giuse are quite enjoyable to watch as Giuse is certainly caring – too much so according to other men in the section – and Henrietta has much growth to go through as she learns her role. We see her from the days when she was first named by Giuse and various aspects of her training, introduction to the other cyborgs in the section and several missions as well. Her relationship with Giuse is one of the main focus points as we see how they work together the most.
That focus is point is very well contrasted to the other girls and their Handlers, which makes up a good chunk of the show. While the fratello of Henrietta and Giuse are really the leads of the series, it's in watching how the others interact that gives it such interest and diversity. Some of them are a bit cooler towards each other, such as Jean and Triela. Others are completely cold with each other, which is what Elsa goes through, enough so that she's even ostracized by the other girls in the dorm. Some are fairly close as we see with Claes and her handler and then you have a pair like Angelica and Marco in which neither knows the right way to really handle it. Putting the different men together with the girls, and having the men of different ages and experiences, really changes how the relationships are. There is considerable baggage for some of them, but it is how it all comes down to the personal interactions and approaches is what brings in such diversity.
The series isn't all introspection and character relationship issues as the entire point of the section these girls work in is to deal with terrorist threats to Italy. The Republican Faction, an ultra left organization, has a number of things going on throughout the series that the girls have to deal with. You have simple missions where they simply know where a hideout is and have to take it down to removing a police chief who is aiding and abetting the group a bit too much. There is one really strong story towards the end where all the girls work together on a mission involving the daughter of a politician who is going to be kidnapped. The girl is swapped out for one of the cyborgs and the entire team has to go in to retrieve her once they discover the location of the terrorists. With the serious nature of the show in general, the operations are given a very realistic and tense feeling where it's a lot of quiet before quick bursts of action. There's a realism that stands out in this series that features innocent looking girls wielding very deadly weapons with ease.
Artistically, the show succeeds very strongly. With its setting in Italy, we get to see a lot of locations that outside of the "anime norms" and that gives it a whole other life. The research that went into it looks quite strong and the amount of detail in the backgrounds pushes the realism up a few notches. There aren't a lot of bright colors here that has it standing out, but there is a certain depth and richness to the palette that's used. A few scenes do come across as feeling a bit "plastic" like when it comes to outfits and character designs, but this is mostly early on in the show before it really finds its rhythm. The character designs themselves are very strong as well, particularly with the men. While it's hard to say that these are Italian men, particularly since the section is made up of a few other nationalities as well, they don't look like the typical Japanese adult men we see in other series. Combine this with the designs for the girls, which are cute but not disturbingly so, and you have a very solid balance. There is a definite innocence to them at times but it isn't a hand that's overplayed, which again gives rise to that feeling of realism.
Going back to the first season of the series after watching the second season last year, which had the original creator more hands on than they were in this one, I'm reminded of just how good this season was in comparison. I wasn't sure if it was just the memory of it but the reality is that the show here is much tighter and more focused on the characters and what they're going through because it doesn't deal with a larger story overall. It's a rare show where the introductions and setup are much more appealing than the actual stories that can be told, like we got in Il Teatrino. This Blu-ray edition is a very hard release to recommend because the upscaled materials really don't come across well. It's pretty bad throughout with the amount of noise to it but from what I can tell the Japanese editions are essentially the same as well. The only reason I'd recommend it is for having it all on fewer discs and with lossless audio for both languages as that upgrade really changes some key parts of the show. When it comes down to it, the show itself is a favorite but it doesn't make the transition to high definition well because of poor materials.
Features Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Building Henrietta, Building Rico, Meet the Real Gunslinger Girls, Voice Director Commentary, Production Commentary, Dossiers, Textless Songs
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.
Mania is the premiere online destination for fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and anime entertainment. It is the largest community offering profiles, video, science fiction movies, sci fi TV, art, sci fi comics, photos, cheats, blogs, science fiction books, forums and feedback. Mania offers insider entertainment industry info and original content for science fiction, fantasy, and horror entertainment genres including: video games, comics, gadgets, movies, television, toys, music, books, DVDs and more.