Gunslinger Girl 1: Ragazzine Piccole, Armi Grandi: Little Girls, Big Guns
Gunslinger Girl opens with a dreamy montage. A little girl stands in the rain, clutching a violin case to herself. The opening theme uses a combination of chugging guitars and dreamy vocals, more My Bloody Valentine than standard JPop, and things look nice and serene for about a second. Then, Henrietta pulls out her assault rifle and blazes away. Rico, Triela, Angelica, and Claes are introduced during the dreamy opening sequence, young girls with a startling propensity for high-powered firearms.
This series revolves around the five girls introduced in the opening credits. All are wards of the Social Welfare Agency, a government concern supposedly devoted to the welfare of particular orphans. The truth is far more sinister. Critically injured people are brainwashed and given cutting-edge cybernetic implants. Once they recover from the injuries and surgeries, they are assigned a Handler and trained in the arts of assassination and gunplay. While the highly-trained assassination squad makes it seem like Gunslinger Girl is going to be one of those action-packed killfests where heads explode and guys drop dead every few seconds, this is not the case. It is a story about five little girls growing up, dealing with all the usual baggage of adolescence, and they just happen to be five highly trained government operatives that go out and kill people. It is a startling contrast, watching these girls do their laundry and dig vegetable gardens, then go out and cut down crime lords and politicians, as if it’s just routine for everyone to whip out a Steyr Aug and blaze away.
Fratello (Siblings) leads off the disc. Henrietta looks the part of the classic wide-eyed anime moppet, while her “brother” Jose is an older man struggling with his job and his charge, who is prone to rule breaking berserker frenzies. Fratello centers on their fascinating relationship, as Jose tries to reconcile growing doubts about his job with a budding affection for his “sister.”
Episode two, Orione (Orion), picks up with the last few seconds of an apartment assault from the previous episode and then moves forward. Jose and Henrietta go through more training and bonding, as he tries to cope with her tendency to charge in and disobey orders to protect him.
The third episode-Ragazzo (Boy)-starts off mundane, with Henrietta and the other girls from the Agency hanging out, doing their laundry, and generally living a nice, boring life. They go through some training for their next mission, practicing their gunplay on the shooting range and running through training until it’s time to deploy. Things seem to be going well when Rico meets a nice boy who might just compromise her whole mission.
Bambola (Doll) begins with Henrietta making plans for Christmas while Triela and her Handler, Hirscher, spar verbally. Trial and Hirschberg go off to investigate an old Mafia insider on the run and in need of protection, though he’s one of those witnesses that doesn’t seem to realize he needs protection.
Last up on this disc is Promessa (Promise), which delves into Claes’ background and history. Claes wins instant cool points for using a pistol with a shoulder stock. She and her Handler train and learn to enjoy life’s quiet moments.
To transition to the technical side, the opening and closing themes are nice, but the real highlight is the rest of the soundtrack. Mournful violin and piano pieces come in for emotional scenes and when the girls play, it’s almost haunting to think about these little killing machines playing a sad nocturne on their violins. Where Gunslinger Girl pushes beyond the pack, though, is in the ambient sounds. Now, who really cares if a door really sounds like a door opening? It’s one of those things you probably haven’t thought about before, but in Gunslinger Girl, you’re going to notice how amazing, how real everything sounds. Footsteps echo like real footsteps and the superb sound encoding means that when someone walks from left to right across the screen, the sounds drift from left to right exactly as they should in the real world. In one scene, simply for ambience, a jackhammer thumps away…stops…thumps away. Doors open with more than a generic doorknob noise. Some have squeaky hinges; some have cranky locks that need some tugging to open. Little touches like these push a series from good to great, showing that the creators cared enough to strive for excellence in their work. Even the guns aren’t one generic “gunfire” sound. The high-pitched rattle of the P90 is far different from the old-hound bark of a FN FAL and when two girls are using two separate guns, you can tell who is shooting when simply from the sound. Even silences are meaningful, adding shape to character development and giving us insight into their thoughts when they’re not saying a word. If I may sum up: Wow.
As amazing as the sound is, it takes a distant second place to the artwork. Gunslinger Girl is not a flashy series, not one of those that looks like the artist flung bright colors at the cel and hoped for the best. It uses shading and shifts of light and a muted palette of greys and blues and browns to set the mood for a somber series. Even the blood is sedated, a deep brownish-red instead of a tremendous spray of red blood. The animators even take care of those small, minor touches that separate the line between drawing and lifelike. Regular people’s faces are animated and lively, while the girls have an eerie cyborg stillness about them. A vague sort of smile might come and go, but it’s little more than a lift of the lips and a slight change in vocal tone. The perfection of the series is these small details. It’s in the way Henrietta clutches her rifle to her chest, clinging to it for comfort like a teddy bear. It’s in the way you can tell Jose is grappling with his conscience and his duties by watching the expression on the face. A few frames of animation tell exactly what you need to know about a person’s character and they don’t even have to say a word. It’s perfection.
All the animation and sound in the world, though, doesn’t mean a thing if it’s not entertaining. That’s going to depend on your particular taste. Some are going to be disturbed by eight-year-old girls performing perfect headshots and takedowns. Some aren’t going to be able to sit still for a slow, cerebral series that’s more brains than blood sprays. Violence and slaughter isn’t the point of the series, in fact, there’s more to be gained in long and thoughtful silences than in the shootouts. I loved it. I was excited and into this series about 9 minutes into the first episode, even through the gut-punch emotional twists that came here and there as the series moved along. If you want to be moved, if you want a good story, and if you want to see how animation is done, Gunslinger Girl DVD 1 is one to pick up. Now.
An outstanding looking series with beautiful and sad music. The Starter Set comes with an awesome bantam banner and the other extras are nice, but really overshadowed by the coolness of the series.
This is a very well written, even moving series, but its slow pace is going to disappoint adrenaline junkies. It’s also very, very sad.
Features: Limited Edition Starter Set includes: Gunslinger Girl DVD #1, 24″ x 36″ Burnished Bantam Banter
Episodes: Episode 1: Fratello (Siblings), Episode 2: Orione (Orion), Episode 3: Ragazzo (Boy), Episode 4: Bambola (Doll), Episode 5: Promessa (Promise)
Extras: Uncut Episodes, Gunslinger Girl Dossiers, Textless Opening and Closing Songs, Building Henrietta, Trailers.