Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino (Japan 2008)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/21/14

Contains 13 episodes.

The cybernetic girls from the Social Welfare Agency are at it again, taking on a group of terrorists who are intent on blowing up a strategically and politically important bridge. While Henrietta, Rico, Angelica, and Claes have their own battles and emotional issues to overcome, the primary conflict is between Triela and a highly skilled young assassin named Pinocchio. He manages to beat Triela single-handedly during their first encounter, and further humiliates her by taking her cherished pistol. This is unforgivable, and she spends the rest of the series preparing for the inevitable rematch. The clever and engaging plot focuses on individuals, but everything and everyone turns out to be tightly interrelated.

Much like the first series, it's a meditative character study that focuses on the frail psyches of a group of deadly young girls who only seek love, attention, and approval from their older male handlers. It's particularly chilling when Angelica politely asks Rico if she can kill someone on their next mission, believing that would be the best way to gain praise from her emotionally distant handler. It's also unsettling to watch Rico gleefully beat people to a bloody pulp when she's instructed to "make them hurt" (which is something she excels at). Similarly, Pinocchio desperately seeks love and approval from his adopted father, who happens to be one of the terrorist leaders.

Once again, the biggest disappointment in the series is the lack of action, and some episodes have none whatsoever. It's wonderful when the girls do get a chance to jump into action, but those moments are too few and way too brief. The series also suffers from lazy animation and an overabundance of static images, and the pointless overuse of shaky camera work is extremely annoying. The pacing is slow and deliberate, and the first two episodes are simply awful. Thankfully, things start to pick up at the end of the third episode when the Triela conflict is introduced. She's my favorite character in the show and she doesn't disappoint. We also catch a glimpse of her unfortunate past, which suggests she has more in common with Pinocchio than she realizes. Unfortunately, the climax of her confrontation with Pinocchio is inexplicably censored, which cheats the viewer out of this emotionally charged decisive moment. It becomes more infuriating the more I think about it. Did it air in Japan like this, or is just the American release censored? The series maintains its weapon fetish, and it's fun to watch the girls work their magic with such an impressive arsenal at their disposal. Unlike the first series, "Il Teatrino" works as a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, and the conclusion is far more satisfactory.