Review by: Faith McAdams
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 320 minutes
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now
Never mess with the little girls of the Social Welfare Agency.
An adorable little girl with the cutest smile walks down the street carrying a violin case and just as her smile fades away to an expressionless look of a robot, she rips a submachine gun out of the violin case and begins pumping round after round at the armed men who suddenly realize that this child is actually a killing machine. As gruesome and awesome as it sounds, this girl is one of a few experiments of the Social Welfare Agency as seen in The Complete First Season of Gunslinger Girl on Blu-ray.
While I’ve seen the series before in a regular box set FUNimation had released a long while back, the series shines even more brightly on Blu-ray. Packed on two discs, the set includes all 13 episodes plus a few extras but it’s the episodes themselves that will win your heart.
Set in Italy in a time when organized crime now has links to a socialist terrorist cell, this new threat is too much for regular law enforcement agencies so in comes the Social Welfare Agency and its secret Section 2 project. You see, this specific section has taken adolescent girls with a tragic past and near death experience and gave them cybernetic implants and a good brainwashing. In their place are little girls with the speed, strength and skills necessary to combat the criminal and terrorist element. In short, these girls are trained to kill and they’re good at what they do.
We meet each girl and their handlers and while it might appear at first glance that these girls are devoid of emotion and think of nothing but the mission that is farthest from the truth. You see, these girls have formed attachments to their handlers and some even love them. There’s the cute Henrietta who tries hard to impress her handler named Guise and adores him to the point that she unflinchingly kills a man with her violin case because the man shoved Guise. Because of this action, the Agency thinks she is unfit for duty but Guise believes differently and places more effort in training her.
Unfortunately, not every handler is as encouraging or as patient as Guise. Many of them see the girls as tools such as Captain Ravalo who sees his girl, Claes, as a weak “sister” that is hardly even worthy of using. Yet, like some handlers, Ravalo comes to show some compassion for the tragic past that lead these girls to become an experiment. One pair even suffers a tragic fate as a result of a poor relationship between a fratello and her handler as we see in the case of the unsociable Elsa and her handler Lauro.
With the exception of Claes who doesn’t participate in operations, the other girls are efficient killers that stay focused on the mission. There’s more to it than that, though, and we see that the conditioning process hasn’t turned them into mindless killing machines. These girls have feelings and desires they try to make sense of outside of their jobs. When the cute Riko tries to make sense of her feeling for a young bellhop at a hotel she is staking out she is momentarily torn between her duty or the possibility of finding some happiness with somebody outside the Agency.
Meanwhile, a terrorist faction has managed to get the attention of two expert bombers named Franco and Franca who decide to work for the terrorist cell’s leader, Christiano. The group already begins their plans to send a message to the government but the Social Welfare Agency is on their trail despite some setbacks like the incident with Elsa and Lauro … a mystery case investigated by Section 1 of the same organization but solved by none other than Henrietta.
There’s plenty of action in this series and it gets quite bloody but at the same time there’s a human drama that unfolds as we learn about the handlers and their girls. It’s the touching and tragic moments in this series that make this such a unique series. With wonderful direction by Morio Aasako, amazing animation and a smartly written script, the story does not fail to be captivating and shocking. It’s a series that focuses on characters rather than just action and it works.
There are a few animated series that are as haunting, bold and rightfully unforgettable as Gunslinger Girl and it’s no surprise that The Complete First Season received the Blu-ray treatment. There’s just something shocking about seeing little girls shooting guns but there’s more to the series than just that. This is the story of girls reconstructed to do a job but become fully aware of their feelings and the need to be accepted. This is a series you should not miss no matter what kind of anime you like.
BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN
The Social Welfare Agency is going up against the mafia and a radical terrorist movement in Italy by using little girls that have been cybernetically enhanced to become killing machines. We come to know each of these girls and their handlers as we discover that within each killing machine is an adolescent girl who longs for the affection of their partners.
VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Speaking of enhancement, the series looks spectacularly on Blu-ray with a sharpness that simply enhances the already gorgeous animation. This series was meant for HD and it shows.
AUDIO QUALITY: A
The cast is top notch whether you prefer the original Japanese dialogue or the English dub. Seeing as the series takes place in Italy the English dub voices do a better job or pronouncing Italian words. The score by Toshihiko Sahashi is as unforgettable as the story and the dreamy opening theme “The Light Before We Land” is superb.
There are two audio commentary tracks to look forward to as well as a spotlight on each of the girls by the English dub voice talent behind them that includes Monica Rial, Laura Bailey and Luci Christian just to name a few. There are dossiers on the girls and great art features. Then there are the trailers and the clean opening and closing tunes. Definitely not a bad list of extras.
The Complete First Season of Gunslinger Girl is not only intelligent and meaningful storytelling but it is one of those anime series that will be hard to forget. At times action-packed and at other times heartbreaking, this story of girls trained to kill and die for their handlers is brilliant and deserves to be viewed in Blu-ray.
Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment