Something about Gunslinger Girl

This post contains musings on the original/first/season one of the Gunslinger Girl TV series. Expect spoilers.

Second only to stories of the second world war- Gunslinger Girl is the most depressing thing I’ve seen to come out of Japan, and it wastes no time in making you feel awful; 21 seconds into the OP we hear the line:

“In truth, there is no better place to be…”

The “place” referred to in this line can be interpreted to mean the situation the five cyborg children find themselves in (working as assassins under an organisation of dubious morals); and there is “no better place to be” because the only alternative the children face is death.

Ouch.

The OP song “The Light before we land” is performed by English-speaking band “The Delgados”, and was released in 2002, a year before the TV series first aired. It’s a safe bet to say that the song was most likely picked rather than written for the series, but despite this- the song, and that first line more than anything- fits the show to a T. (What does that actually mean?)

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The Lowlights of GG:

  • Episodes 1 & 2

Déjà vu?

I originally watched GG through the funimation youtube channel, and when episode two started- I thought I had accidently clicked on the first episode again.

You get the impression that the first episode originally ran for 30 minutes or something- and after realising their mistake, the studio decided to split it in two, ending up with material for only one and a half full episodes…

The shoot-out sequence which was seen in the first episode (above) is repeated in its entirety at the start of episode two, and it isn’t the only scene to be repeated either.

Bit cheeky, that.

Some people praise the series for its generally high-quality art and animation- and on the most part I agree; but was anybody else watching when this happened (both times)?:

Wheeeeee!

She’s strong… it’s a cartoon… so fair enough, I guess. I just wasn’t expecting Warner Bros. physics.

In the first episode in particular- you’ll notice that the character Jose sure spends a lot of time standing around looking moody…completely still:

Jose needs a moment

If I were in this series, I would probably feel moody and not move around much either, but it doesn’t exactly make for enthralling animation.

  • Episode 6

One or both of these characters is important, or something

I’ve seen this episode three times now, dubbed and subtitled, and I still don’t know what it’s about- or rather- I don’t know why I should care.

The strength of GG lies in the exploration of its characters, but episode six seems to ignore this and tries telling us a dull tale of espionage…or something, I really don’t know what. Whatever it is, it’s just not interesting. This is the one episode I’d skip watching entirely.

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The Highlight of Gunslinger Girl:

GG is not exactly a “highlight” type of show, but if you can look past the disturbing premise – you might just find an intriguing, character-driven show with more heart in it than silly taglines like “Little girls, big guns” betray.

In terms of character exploration and themes, the best part of GG is definitely episode nine, or what could be called the start of the Elsa trilogy.

Just one of the heart-breaking moments of GG

Episode 9 is essentially a spotlight episode for new character Elsa. Like the other children- Elsa is an efficient killer devoted to her handler, but unlike the others, she turns out to have a fatal flaw– she’s too devoted to her handler.

Spotlight episodes usually suck because they focus on some boring side-character for 20 minutes of inconsequence, only to have that character pushed back into the background and completely forgotten about the rest of the series.

Each of the cyborg children get their own spotlight episode, some better than others, all fairly stand-alone and of no great consequence to the rest of the series; but Elsa’s spotlight does have a consequence, and it is felt over the next two episodes…

Despite her hard work- Elsa receives no praises or love from her handler (and quasi-father figure), Lauro. Jealous of the relationship between Henrietta and Jose- Elsa becomes distracted during an assassination job and is ordered to relinquish her role as sniper.

There’s something horribly disturbing and upsetting watching that ending scene unfold, as a little girl looks on heart-broken after being denied an opportunity at murder/ the one thing that gives her life value; before being called “useless” by the last person she needed to hear say it.

Elsa and Lauro reappear as corpses in episode ten and the investigation into their deaths take place, at the end of episode eleven the cause is made clear: murder and suicide.

The child/parent relationship is a major theme of GG, and the message of the Elsa trilogy is certainly the most disturbing one: children aren’t the only victims of bad parenting.

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Odd notes:

  • I enjoy English dubs (good English dubs, rather) and there’s something strange about hearing the employees of an Italian agency speak Japanese, so the option to cut out the middle man (or the subtitle-man, specifically) and listen to GG in English is a welcome one.

Laura Bailey’s Henrietta works.

Luci Christian’s Rico works, and it is damn chilling.

Caitlin Glass’s Triela sounds older than she should, but whatever, works well enough.

Alese Johnson’s Claes is a bit…robotic…but she is a cyborg, so…

Monica Rial’s Monica Rial is Monica Rial.

  •  The DVD menu for vol.1 has this laughably awful animation of Henrietta “firing” her gun:

Bang! Wobble-wobble

  • For some reason- vols. 1 and 2 of the DVDs contain dub-titles as well as subtitles. Vol. 3 however, does not.
  •  The opening and closing animations have angle options, allowing you to view them with English or Japanese text:

Content worth paying for

I’ve noticed this feature on only a handful of other DVDs. It always struck me as a silly extra.

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ATTOT– the Gunslinger Girl region 2 DVDs are only available as three individual volumes (no boxed collection), they can be found quite cheap but are slowly starting to fade into obscurity.

The series is well made, it just so happens that the premise is shocking, the stories are depressing as all hell and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It makes you feel rotten, but at least it does that much.

Gunslinger Girl is a fine antidote to the more cheerful titles you may have in your collection.

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One thought on “Something about Gunslinger Girl

  1. Nice review. I’ve been a big fan of this series for several years. You do point out some flaws I had overlooked. Well, it’s not a perfect show, but still a good one.

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