Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD 2: Vita, Passion et Pistole
Henrietta and Jose are assigned a task of ferreting out a potential bomber affiliated with the Republican Faction, a task which ultimately brings out all the active fratello. Later, Rico and Jean must retrieve and protect an art-loving accountant whose ledger contains evidence highly damaging to criminal interests. The last two fratello are also introduced: Marco and Angelica, who is the problem-laden prototype for the cyborg program, and Lauro with newcomer Elsa, who must work with Henrietta and Jose to deal with a police chief who consorts with terrorists.
Is Gunslinger Girl deplorably exploitive in the way it turns little girls into brainwashed, heavily conditioned cyborg killers, or is it an emotional and tragic tale? Which reaction a viewer has, and how fully this title can be appreciated, depends heavily on how emotionally invested one becomes with the girls, but this second volume lends itself better to that than the first volume did. Although the series is exploitive in its handling of its subject matter, in many ways that only makes the girls more sympathetic. The problems that Angelica runs into because of the cybernetic implants put into her are heart-breaking, as are the circumstances under which she became available to the Social Welfare Agency, but she is hardly the only girl with a tragic story. Other scenes can provoke more varied reactions, such as one in episode 8 where Henrietta talks about having “only killed four people this month” in the same manner as an ordinary girl her age might talk about having only gotten a C on her last test. While some viewers are going to be struck to the heart, others will be disturbed and disgusted. Both are, I think, legitimate reactions. (I utterly reject any notion that the series has pedophiliac leanings, however, since there is no implicit or explicit sexual content in it.)
The first two episodes of this volume are more action-oriented stories, one which focuses on Henrietta and the other which focuses on Rico. Despite my comments above, episode 8 focuses primarily on introducing Angelica and her handler Marco, while episode 9 is centered on Elsa, the newest of the girls. Unlike previous character intro episodes, the background of how Elsa and her handler Lauro came to work together is not explored, so we don't know much about her by the end of this volume beyond her antisocial demeanor and utter devotion to Lauro (though we do learn a lot about Lauro's attitudes). Her reality, as it plays out in episode 9, is arguably the most devastating and pitiable of all the girls, however, even compared to Angelica's highly tragic situation. It's unlikely that even more cynical souls are going to resist feeling at least something for her by the end of that episode.
The writing of Gunslinger Girls is usually at its best when focusing on the relationships within the fratello. Episode 7 lacks this, which is why it is the weakest of the four episodes despite the good amount of character development time it gives to Rico. The writing does an excellent job of making the girls, handlers, and fratello relationships all distinctive from each other, which balances out a total lack of ongoing plot. So far this series has not felt like it was lacking for one, however, as none of the episodes to date can really be considered filler.
Because of the continuing focus on character development and relationships, action scenes are limited, with an average of one full-blown scene per episode in this volume. Each is well-staged and well-executed with good supporting animation. Animation outside of these scenes is sometimes a little jerky, however, especially when characters are running. (In fairness, though, the latter is a common problem in anime which show front or back shots of characters running.) Character designs are superb; each of the girls looks appealing without being overly cute and effectively conveys a lot of their personality just by their expressions and the way they stand and move. Supporting artistry is also good, and CG is used minimally but effectively, primarily to give certain scenes a greater sensation of movement.
The heavily orchestrated musical score is most impressive in the way it capably supports each scene without drawing attention to itself. The sound on the 5.1 dub track is less impressive, though admittedly the series doesn't have much content which can truly exploit surround sound effects. All of the key roles are well-performed in the English dub, though secondary roles are less consistent. The English voice for Elsa (which, annoyingly, is not credited in episode 9 or anywhere else that I can find at the time of this writing) does not match well to the voice of the seiyuu for that role, but the performance does effectively convey the coldness of Elsa's attitude towards everyone but Lauro. The dub also does a better job handling foreign accents and the pronunciation of foreign words. On the downside, FUNimation continues its trend of playing fast and loose with dub scripts, resulting in several places where the subtitles and dub script are seriously at odds on meaning. (One particular example: when Jose and Lauro are speaking in the bar in episode 9, Lauro says, “I can't see doing this forever” in English while the subtitles for the Japanese track say, “I'm gonna need a tidy sum soon” for the same line.) FUNimation is also inconsistent on how it spells Jose's name; the spelling I use here is taken from the credits, but the subtitles for the Japanese track spell it Guise. The English dub is too good otherwise for me to grade it down just for its script being loose, but purists should be forewarned.
The extras on this volume include clean opener and closer (labeled as “Songs”), character profiles (labeled as “Dossiers”) which have not been updated from the first volume, company trailers, and a “Building Rico” feature, which, like the “Building Henrietta” feature in the first volume, goes through a step-by-step design process for a pose of Rico. It also has a “Meet The Real Gunslinger Girls” feature, which shows clips of each of the first five girls against commentary about the character and performance by the matching English VA. FUNimation provides their typical DVD set-up features, like the option to switch between English and Japanese credits on the opener and closer using a remote's Angle button and their highly annoying habit of matching “dubtitles” to the English dub when one of the English language options is played with the subtitles on, rather than the (presumably) more literal translation subtitles, which can only be seen while playing the Japanese vocal track. Their spotty record on crediting key English vocal roles continues, as for the second time in two volumes one of the episodes does not have one of its principle characters credited.
I had some harsh things to say about the subject matter of Gunslinger Girl in my review of the first volume. The second volume has softened my opinion quite a bit. While I still find the subject matter to be of questionable propriety, this volume is too well-made and well-executed for me to not give it a strong recommendation. Whether you find it exploitive or tragic, this is an appealing, quality production which will be loved by fans of the first volume and may win over more cynical hold-outs. Despite its focus on young girls, though, this is a series for mature viewers only.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Excellent artistry and music, involving characterizations and character relationships.
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