Gunslinger Girl (Japan 2003)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/20/08

Contains 13 episodes.

A somber tale of political intrigue and lost innocence, "Gunslinger Girl" follows the shattered lives of several girls who work for the Italian Social Welfare Agency. Officially, the agency promotes saving lives, but in actuality it's a government run anti-terrorist organization that employs cybernetically enhanced teenage girls to do its dirty work. While super strong and highly proficient in combat, they're emotionally and psychologically frail. Each girl has a handler assigned to them, which is an older man responsible for training and conditioning them for loyalty and subservience. As you would expect, this Lolita styled relationship is a bit creepy and causes much confusion and frustration in the adolescent girls.

The series is primarily a psychological character study and unfortunately contains very little action. The five minute's worth of action in the entire series is excellent, but it's a shame that there isn't more of it, since watching the girls in action is so delightful. The animation is decent, but you can definitely see some sloppy backgrounds and cost-cutting tricks. The character design closely follows the original manga, except that the girls look much softer and less creepy. They also have exceedingly flat noses, which is distracting since everyone else's profiles look perfectly reasonable. The show definitely has a gun fetish, and the weapon detail is superb.

The series gets off to a rough start, as episode 2 is a complete retelling of episode 1 told in different chronological order with very little new animation. Thankfully, things start to improve from there, but it gets very frustrating that so little time is spent on actual operations. Most of the episodes focus on a particular girl moping around and trying to cope with her situation and her confused feelings. They desperately seek approval from their handlers, which is easily confused with love. Unfortunately, the handlers are just as ill-equipped to deal with the girls' feelings as the girls are themselves, which creates a lot of friction and emotional alienation. The second and third discs in the series introduce an annoying continuity flaw in that the translation changes tone and the names of several characters change. The series also offers no climax or closure of any kind. While it hints at setting up some big job, it never follows through and the show simply ends with the girls watching a meteor shower and pondering their fates. I suppose the ending reflects the dull melancholy that the characters feel, and their own desperate longing for closure.