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Gunslinger Girl: Season One(TV) (2003-2004)
"Henrietta" was an innocent little girl when her entire family was massacred and she was left for dead. She was rescued by a privately-owned social welfare organization and given cybernetic components over her battered body. Brainwashed by the organization, she and four other girls now work as cold-blooded assassins, doing the dirty work for the Italian government.
For more about Gunslinger Girl: Season One and the Gunslinger Girl: Season One Blu-ray release, see Gunslinger Girl: Season One Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on May 15, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Morio Asaka
» See full cast & crew
Gunslinger Girl: Season One Blu-ray Review
The first chapter in the female assassin saga arrives on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, May 15, 2010
Gunslinger Girl was first introduced as a manga series, written and illustrated by Yu Aida. In the year following its original release, the story was licensed for an anime production based on the first two volumes in the manga series, with Madhouse animation studio (Ninja Scroll, X, Cardcaptor Sakura) attached to the project. The series made its Japanese debut in 2003, and eventually landed on western shores with a three-volume DVD release. Arriving on Blu-ray courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment, the 13-episode series provides a somber view of lost innocence in a ruthless world.
Set in present-day Italy, Gunslinger Girl follows the exploits of a government funded counter-terrorism agency known as Section 2. This organization is part of an umbrella group known as the Social Welfare Agency, whose primary enemy is a republic faction hell bent on independence from southern Italy. Section 2 is unique within the framework of the special ops division of the Agency, since they use of disabled young girls as cybernetically-enhanced assassins. These innocent killing machines are identified in hospitals all over the world, and matched up with adult male recruits that possess a military background. Once matched, the girls are fitted with implants that enhance their quickness, strength, and reflexes. From there, it's up to the assigned adult handler to complete the conditioning process and train their young pupil to become a lethal killing machine. When ready, the pairs (known as a fratello) are assigned individual or cooperative missions, which often involve eliminating a target identified by the Agency. Given the loyalty they develop to their handler and the safety risk of the occupation they've been bred for, concerns come to light over the level of cybernetic modification each girl should undergo, and whether these children should be treated as humans or weapons.
Gunslinger Girl is a show I heard a great deal about, but never earned a high spot on my must-see list. Now that I've finally taken the time to sit through the first season, it's time to heap my own accolades on what turned out to be a surprisingly effective storyline, and join the growing legion of fans. For anyone with little knowledge of the series, I'd lump it into a category popularized by Mamoru Oshii (Jin Roh, Ghost in the Shell), who tends to focus on drama and introspective contemplation over non-stop action. There are still plenty of rousing action sequences interspersed with the slower moments in the series, but these sudden bursts of violence are used sparingly and focus entirely on serving the overall plot.
Digging deeper into the story arch of the series, there are several elements worth mentioning that really stuck with me. First, the depth of the characterization in the series is nearly flawless, as one episode after another divulges greater detail on the back-story behind the primary players. The fratello couple given the most attention is young Henrietta and her gentle handler Jose, who quickly form a brother/sister bond between one another. Despite Henrietta's lethal abilities, she's portrayed as a fragile child with an obsession for Jose that almost borders on inappropriate. Jose views Henrietta as a normal little girl in spite of her cybernetic enhancements, and becomes conflicted when faced with the idea of furthering her conditioning to increase her skills as an assassin. As we learn during the course of the series, there's a difficult balance that corresponds with the level of conditioning each girl receives. Each additional cybernetic enhancement carries the promise of a shorter lifespan, causing some handlers to view their partners as a disposable tool of the trade. As the show progresses, these interpersonal relationships between each fratello pair become the primary interest of the storyline, placing the counter-terrorism elements in a backseat role. Further proof of this uncommon focus on characters over action can be found in the final episode of the series, which leaves out any hint of action, yet still delivers a touching (yet tragic) conclusion that you won't soon forget.
Aside from the exceptional character building elements of the plot, I also enjoyed the Italian setting for the show, and the espionage angle of the high-level story arch. The interworking of Section 2 within the Social Welfare Agency raises questions regarding the motivations and purpose of the government-run organization, so we never truly know who's good or bad. The human targets Section 2 focuses on don't always fit the "terrorist" mold, though they all share a desire to undermine or dismantle the Italian government. Further blurring the goals of the Social Welfare Agency, we see an organization with a topical focus on finding young girls with crippling injuries and giving them a new shot at life. While this may seem charitable to the general public, the true reason for their rehabilitation is far more sinister (as mentioned earlier). These underlying themes of good versus evil aren't fully addressed during the first season of the series, but they at least make their way to the surface from time to time, presenting a backdrop for the character-building focus.
Regarding the animation of the series, I was pleasantly surprised by the fluidity of the understated character designs, which never appear incredibly detailed. This isn't a bubbly, comedic romp through candy-coated forests, so grounding the series in naturalistic colors and realistic proportions is imperative to maintaining the somber tone of the show. All in all, for a television production, I have little to complain about.
Gunslinger Girl: Season One Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 19Mbps), Gunslinger Girl provides a noticeable upgrade over the DVD release, but still exhibits its fair share of problems. Those of you who've grown accustomed to prior Blu-ray releases of anime productions that weren't originally created in high-definition will already know what to expect from the level of clarity on this release. I never consider this a deal-breaker in my assessment of the overall transfer, since FUNimation is simply working with source material that doesn't lend itself well to high-definition. As a result, we should focus more attention on the proficiency of the transfer itself, and whether FUNimation created a final product that mirrors the original elements. In that regard, I'd give Gunslinger Girl a lukewarm thumbs up, since there's a clear boost in line consistency, color richness, and image stability. That's not to say we completely avoid the presence of stair-stepping diagonal lines, aliasing, or subtle blocking, but the problems are less pronounced in the transition to 1080p. Regarding contrast and coloring in the series, I never detected weakness in black level depth, contrast often generates adequate shade differentiation (though the image appears a hint too bright on my projector), and the muted color scheme maintains excellent consistency from scene to scene. If you're looking for a colorful series, this probably won't rank highly on your list, but the muted tones of the palette represent the stylistic choices of the animation and shouldn't be seen as a detriment to the overall visual quality.
All things considered, this is an average visual presentation that provides a marginal step up compared to the prior DVD edition. If you're new to the series, this is clearly the version to get, but current owners will need to weigh the pros and cons of the upgrade decision a little more carefully.
Gunslinger Girl: Season One Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I'm not sure where FUNimation found a 5.1 mix for the original Japanese language track (the prior DVD only contained a stereo mix), but I was pleased to find a lossless 5.1 option that accompanies the equally proficient dub. If you take the time to listen to the production commentary in the special features section of the disc, the sound engineer responsible for the English track discusses the studio's decision to experiment with mixing the series to cinematic standards, rather than their usual practice of striving to meet broadcast standards. Granted this was likely a commentary dating back to the initial DVD release (nearly five years ago), but I still found it interesting that the studio made such a bold move in anticipation of the demanding audio standards of the western market. Getting back to the particulars of this release, I can't identify much to complain about. Dialog is delivered in a crisp fashion, action effects fill every speaker in the sound stage, and the enchanting musical score is well balanced without ever appearing overly prominent. If required to mention a minor complaint, I'd suggest a bit more separation in the front-heavy dialog, but that would merely reflect a nit-pick on my part, and may even boil down to personal preference.
Gunslinger Girl: Season One Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Building Henrietta/Rico (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 2:14 min): Separated into two separate sections, this feature takes a storyboard model of the individual characters and gradually adds coloring or shading until the final animation is complete.
Meet the Real Gunslinger Girls (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 25 min): Within this supplement the English voice cast portraying the five main characters are given approximately five minutes each to discuss their role and how the character fits within the construct of the story. Considering the interviews only encompass the audio portion of each five minute segment, we're shown selected clips of each character from handpicked sections of the series.
Commentaries (Episode: Simbiosi): You have your choice of two commentary tracks for the 12th episode in the series. The first is a production commentary with four members of the Funimation team, who focus largely on the serious tone of the story, and the elements they focused on in the English language production. It's one of the better anime commentary tracks I've heard to date, since it delves deeper than a routine discussion of the main characters. The second commentary track features the four directors of the English dub (Laura Bailey, Chris Bevins, Christopher Sabat, and Eric Vale), as they discuss some of difficulties they ran into with the translation. Some fans may find it interesting to know this was the first non-Dragon Ball production to be recorded at Funimation's new voice-recording studio.
Dossier Gallery (1080p): This visual-only supplement includes a brief history on each of the five girls, followed by various production art showing the character and her tools of the trade.
Rounding out the supplements, we have textless opening and closing theme songs ("The Light Before We Land" by the Delgados is absolutely beautiful), and a collection of trailers for other releases from FUNimation.
Gunslinger Girl: Season One Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I can understand if some anime enthusiasts find a series like Gunslinger Girl a bit too slow for their taste, but I found the pacing rather refreshing by anime standards. There's still a decent infusion of tense action laced throughout most episodes, but the real goldmine in the overall plot is centered on the relationships between the main characters, and the difficult decisions they face. Anyone looking for dragons or space battles should probably look elsewhere, but if cerebral, heartfelt entertainment is your goal, this one should be right up your alley.
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