ANIME & MANGA - Review
08:43 - 4th July 2013, by David West

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino Complete Series

The members of the inappropriately named Social Welfare Agency return for another game of cat and mouse with a group of terrorists out to destabilise Italy. The separatist Five Republics Faction plots to blow up a bridge even as their members scheme against one another. Internal power struggles in the FRF threaten the position and life of Cristiano, a senior figure in the movement. His protégé is a young assassin called Pinocchio, whose speed and skill make him more than a match for the members of the Social Welfare Agency.

A show based around a group of cybernetically-enhanced girls who work as killers for the government sounds like it should be an all-action extravaganza, but anyone hoping for a high-impact hit like Black Lagoon will be stumped by Gunslinger Girl. The series maintains an attitude towards the girls that is ambivalent at best. They are clearly being horribly exploited by the government, brainwashed into unthinking obedience to their handlers and constantly placed in mortal danger. The focus of the show is on the relationships between the characters, whether that means between the girls and their handlers, or Pinocchio and Cristiano, or FRF members Franco and Franca. The balance of splitting screen time between both sides makes for strong character development, but the overall tone of the series is resolutely downbeat.

Each pairing of cyborg girl and human handler in the Agency produces a different dynamic, but all the girls live for their handler's approval. Angelica desperately wants some sign of affection from her handler Marco, Triela constantly worries about letting down Hilshire, while, at the most disturbing end of the spectrum, handler Jean has his girl Rico beat information out of captured enemies, praising her for being incredibly vicious. The series tries to walk a fine line between criticising the de-humanising effect of their training and violent lifestyles on the girls, and functioning as an action series. The fight scenes are few and not actually very impressive. In one particularly strange moment, the camera cuts to a shot of sunlight falling through the branches of a forest right in the middle of a gun battle. It makes all the violence seem futile, which might be a more convincing point if the girls did not all look so pleased every time a mission goes successfully, often resulting in a pile of corpses.

The art is very appealing, with scenes of the Italian countryside rendered in warm, rich colours, but the animation is only average. There are one or two cultural snafus - highlighted by the scene in which an Italian man bows to someone in an unmistakeably Japanese gesture. There are some details that do not appear to have been thought through - why would a cyborg need to wear glasses?

The music reinforces the sombre mood of the show, but it would be refreshing if the show did not use the same piece of piano music over and over in every episode. A change is as good as a rest, people.

While it is not going to de-throne Evangelion as the most angst-ridden anime, Gunslinger Girl: It Teatrino will dumbfound anyone hoping for another girls-with-guns series. Is the show to be praised for questioning the exploitation of the girls in the Social Welfare Agency, or condemned for setting up this premise in the first place? Perhaps a little of both.
SCORE: 3/5
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