Mischievous toddlers sure can be destructive, but nothing like the obedient child assassins of Gunslinger Girl. Set in modern day Italy, this series follows the investigations of the Social Welfare Agency. Masquerading as a charity which develops artificial limbs for injured people, the group's real motive is to combat terrorists using girls who have been trained in firearms and close combat. The child recruits are taken when close to death and then turned into cyborgs which augment their physical strength. Stripped of memories of their past lives, by a process referred to as conditioning, the girls are in effect brainwashed into obeying a "brother" who is responsible for their training and supervision during missions.
Teatrino is the second anime series to be developed from the ongoing manga comic book. I enjoyed the first season which was made by Madhouse and was keen to see how the series would hold up after the animation duties were switched to a different studio named Artland. Well after booting up the DVD the visual differences are immediately obvious. The gorgeous artwork I had got accustomed to had been replaced with something cheaper. I wouldn't say Teatrino is drawn is poorly, but it's a shock to the system as we have gone from something which looked very good to something that is very mediocre.
If you've see the original series you'll have no problem recognising the characters in this incarnation although it is a little sad seeing the cast's appearance lack the detail or vibrant colours of the first season. My biggest gripe with how things started was the shortcuts that were being taken in the animation process. The opening theme is composed of a mish mash of photographs and the first episode is plagued with sequences made up of still pictures with shaky camera to disguise the lack of movement. Thankfully these faults get addressed as the show progresses. In the second half of the series the opening is replaced with a more traditional cartoon one and the action scenes becoming more lively ditching the static images used in the premier episode.
Having spoken about the show's negative points I feel it only fair to comment on the things it does well. One area in which Teatrino trumps the original would have to be the story. The thirteen episodes are, aside from a few diversions, an ongoing tale detailing the Social Welfare Agency's attempts to stop a group of bombers from destroying a partially constructed bridge. I found this story to be more engaging that what we got in the original Gunslinger Girl. The first series focused more on an episodic format which dedicated each instalment to one of the agency's girls.
The shift to a more story driven series hasn't however sacrificed the character development which the original was famous for. Even if you haven't watched the first series you can get into the swing of things as this second season spends a lot of time setting up how the agency operates, delving into the history of the main characters and building on their relationships. All that said I would still recommend watching the first series before tackling this one. You can then focus your full attention on the plot instead of being flooded with many characters and trying to piece it all together.
With a title like Gunslinger Girl you may be forgiven for thinking that this is one of those brainless chicks with guns shows. Nothing could be further from the truth. The action takes a backseat to the story and character building. Even though the series deals with cyborg girls the action is never over the top. When it comes to combat the girls come across as highly skilled due to training as opposed to untouchable robots. This certainly is not a show for someone seeking non-stop action, but it does include some entertaining gunfights and car chases. The finale also features a very satisfying duel between two characters who share similar upbringings despite fighting on opposite sides. A very good payoff to a confrontation that was build up over the thirteen episodes.
The mature story blurs the lines between what is right and wrong. I suppose we should be rooting for the Social Welfare Agency as they are trying to stop terrorist attacks, but is it really right to use children in this way? Some of the brothers are certainly not comfortable with their roles in the organisation. Hilshire, who joined the group after busting a child abuse ring, doesn't approve of using kids in this way. Jose tries to treat the girls well, unlike his brother who considers them to be nothing more than weapons, but feels uneasy by the affection Henrietta lavishes upon him.
On the flip side some of the terrorists seem justified in having grievances against a corrupt government, whilst others are presented as good family men who simply got drafted into an unpleasant line of work. When things started to draw to a close I found myself rooting for both sides as you get to see things from both perspectives. For example Flanca, one of the bombers, is nothing like a stereotypical terrorist. She does her best to avoid harming innocents and is only in the bombing game due to the unjust imprisonment of her father. Another example is the assassin Pinocchio who transforms from a cold killer to a more human character after going into hiding. He's supposed to be the main bad guy of the story, but when you see how much he loves his adoptive father it is hard not to like him on a certain level.
The DVD set contains all thirteen episodes of the TV series which is good value, but I was disappointed to learn that two straight to DVD episodes that got released in Japan did not make the set. I would have preferred seeing everything get included over three discs. Instead they packed seven episodes into the first DVD and six into the other. The second disc also houses the extras which include four versions of the opening/closing theme songs along with commercials for the Japanese DVDs. The main extra is a twenty minute interview between two of the show's Japanese voice actors. It feels a bit staged and cheesy, but we rarely get substantial extras in an anime DVD so I won't complain too much.
I would give Gunslinger Girl Teatrino three and a half stars if the rating system allowed it, but as it doesn't I'll round up to four stars. If you get invested in the characters and like serious crime stories you should enjoy it. It is however one of those shows that divide opinions. I can see why some people may not care for it. The new look may be hard to adapt to for viewers of the original and some will be put off by the slow pacing. For me though the good outweighed the bad. I liked the story and will be watching this again so I have no regrets in adding it to my DVD collection.
Review originally posted on Ciao (May 2011)