Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino- + OVA
by Polly


Note: Anything stated in this review applies to both the TV series and OVA episodes.

Most people venturing from Gunslinger Girl into Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino- most likely have the same initial reaction I had...


I'm gonna go ahead and get this part out of the way, because it's literally impossible to talk about anything else in the show without going over what may unfortunately be its most noticeable (though not notable) aspect: The completely "what the fuckingdickballshit happened" production values.

First, the stuff you can't see in screenshots: The animation and overall artwork. It's noticeably bad almost all the time and lacking in so many of the rich details that were there in the previous iteration. There are some action-oriented bright spots, but everything else either looks plain lazy or awkward. The series spends a copious amount of time on shortcuts like panning over still images and shaking the camera erratically to indicate action. Sometimes the camera will pan over a crowded street with people stuck in mid-stride walking or running and then a fully-animated person will enter the frame making the whole shot look almost embarrassing. Speed lines are used quite a bit throughout action sequences to make a scene appear to have more motion than it actually does and the animators use quite a few cut-aways to stationary objects while playing sound effects to play out a lot of gun battles. Weapons detail, which was a huge part of the first show and obviously in the manga, is also skimped on quite a bit here with most guns looking like they had their outlines drawn and someone put the PhotoShop gradient tool to use.

I will take into account that the first season cost around $130,000 an episode to produce. They also had the production talents of Madhouse, one of the leaders in Japanese animation. Il Teatrino was produced by Artand, a company that isn't really anywhere near the level of Madhouse, production-wise, and clearly had to run on nothing even close to the original show's budget. In all likelihood it's not their fault. Production companies can only work with the cash they were given, but it doesn't change that a lot of the elements that made the first show so captivating suffered a huge blow or are just plain non-existent in Il Teatrino because of it.

The music escaped mostly unscathed maintaining a lot of the same mood and themes the first show's had. The only real "sore thumb" exceptions being the action pieces that sound like they were plucked fresh from Baby's First Stock Action Music CD. The opening theme, "Tatta Hitotsu no Omoi", though nowhere near as great as the original's, maintains the same kind of vibe fitting the story's subject matter quite nicely. The ending theme isn't all that great, however a couple episodes end with special themes including a rendition of the popular ballad "Scarborugh Fair", and the final episode's ending theme "Human." Both are pretty damn good and worth listening to.

Another bright spot is that the main cast of the original English dub reprised their roles for the second season. For some reason Gunslinger Girl (much like Black Lagoon) is just one of those shows I can't really enjoy to its fullest in Japanese. Most of the Japanese cast from the first show was replaced this time around and they all just seem a bit stiff or don't fit the characters at all for me. The dub script doesn't seem as loose as before, when compared to subtitles, but it still has a few errant moments.

Whether you're looking at it with eyes fresh from the first season or just skimming pics in both reviews, it's plainly obvious that Il Teatrino did something wrong. There's quite a noticeable change in art style here, right? Gone is the muted and realistic palette that characters and backgrounds from the first show had, traded in for annoyingly big bright and vivid cartoony colors. Also gone are the mature and life-like doll character designs that helped characters who were already compelling stand out even more. These perfected and appropriate designs that were in sync with the story's subject matter are now traded in for a vastly inferior and generic as fuck moeblob look that no doubt caters more toward the otaku of today and conforms to what every other show coming out in recent seasons has to look like in order to succeed. Let's have a look at a few of the worst offenders.

The original designs were very warm and gave the first season's visuals a unique identity. Again, I always felt a bit of a maturity in the first season's look. The new big-eyes and cutesy designs just make Gunslnger Girl another boring face in a boring crowd of boring Japanese Cartoon characters that have saturated the industry in the last three or so years.

It's not just the girls, either. Everyone got changed. Even the handlers, who seemed a bit older and had a bit of grit to them in the first series, have been bishie'd up and have magically aged backward a good 10-15 years. I think it's easy to see why anyone's initial reaction to what they're seeing might be a bit on the shocked side.

Okay, now I'll step back here and admit that the designs are a bit more in-tune with the original manga designs. That's to be expected since the mangaka, Yu Aida, was on staff for the second season and played a substantial role in its production. So, while the designs are still closer to the source material, I personally feel they've been moe'd up even more for this season and I'll elaborate on that next.

It might be a bit different if only the designs were changed, but that's not the case. The writers felt it more than appropriate to torture these poor little girls even more than they've been already by taking their believable, dark, and subdued demeanors from the manga and first season and turning them into blushing, giggling, embarrassing, and almost one-dimensional caricatures of their former selves.

Imagine if every girl mentioned below was one of those annoying compressed air horns and every time you activated it the same damn thing came out. I imagine that's what the writers of Il Teatrino did with the characters. Anytime they needed a new line of dialog, they'd pull the appropriate can from the shelf, press the button, and just go with whatever came out of that particular brand, because most scenes that the following characters appear in end up sounding something like this:

Henrietta: Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! Look at me, I'm doing something! Tell me I did a good job or I'll get all emtional and you'll have to cheer me up! Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose still likes me right?

Rico: Yes, Jean! Whatever you say, Jean! Right, Jean! Tee-hee-hee! I don't really have an opinion on anything. Wheee, I'm suddenly acting like an eight year old girl again! Yes, Jean. Whatever you say, Jean! Right, Jean! Tee-hee-hee! It doesn't really matter to me.

Claes: Here's a quote I found in a book. This opera was really interesting. I have a garden. Here is another philosophical quote I found in a wait that one was from a play. Here's a song lyric I once heard that's relevant to the situation.

Angelica: I'm alright! I'm sorry, Marco. I'm alright! I'm sorry, Marco. I'm alright! I'm sorry, Marco. I'm alright! I'm sorry, Marco.

They just took certain personality traits that do exist in the characters, dialed that specific trait up to eleven, and nixed almost everything else that made the characters likeable. I will admit a little exaggeration on my part here, but when looking at the show as a whole, I don't feel I'm that far off the mark in most cases. It's only been about a year since I last re-read the manga (vols 1-6) but I don't remember the characters being even close to as intolerable as they can become in this series.

You'll notice how I only left Triela out of the previous example. It's because out of all the girls, she's the only one that managed to escape with most of what makes her character interesting intact. The real bonus here is that since this show focuses on her more than most of the other girls, not only does she end up seeing a lot of character development, the other girls aren't around to annoy you nearly as much as you'd think.

In fact, Il Teatrino doesn't quite feature any of the main cast as prominently as you'd think it would. It feels so weird saying this, but the show actually manages to do well sometimes because it's off doing something else rather than paying attention to the main cast like the first show did. Believe it or not, this is where I pull back on the control stick and manage to give this review some altitude. I realize when viewed in its entirety, this review's gonna seem lop-sided as fuck, but let's think of it as the later portions outweighing the first half in their substance and not word-count alone.

The big plus is that there's an ongoing plot that takes up most of the show's run of episodes this time around involving an FRF terrorist plot to destroy the doggy poop out of the Strait of Messina Bridge. Franco and Flanca, a pair of expert terrorist bombers that had quite a lot of face time in the first season, end up being tapped for the job. We didn't learn anything about them previously, but with this season pushing them to center stage we end up spending a lot of time with them and learning their history together. Initially they always seemed somewhat generic and throw-away, but their expertise in terrorist activity, their chemistry together and with their associates, and sordid pasts that drove them to their current lifestyle make them perfect for carrying the "bad guy" flag.

They're joined by the elusive and near-emotionless child assassin Pinocchio. Much like the main cast of girl assassins, Pinocchio was raised to be a cold-blooded killer, though brainwashing, cyberization, and conditioning have nothing to do with his efficient killing ability and cold nature at all. Much like the children employed by the SWA, Pinocchio's story and range of emotions will tug gently at the heart strings. Like the SWA girls with their handlers, Pinocchio strives for the love and approval of his father figure at the same time struggling to kill off his emotions, remaining as detatched from his work as he can. He's no emo sissy boy by any means, and I've always found something oddly compelling, yet disturbing, about characters with such split personalities.

Though quite proficient at gunplay, Pinocchio gets his jollies by playing around with knives and excelling in hand-to-hand combat. When he goes on a tear through whoever his unfortunate targets may be, it's easy to be dazzled by his work. Even the show's limited animation budget manages to keep up with his fancy knife-work making him look like the bad-ass he's supposed to be. His ruthlessness proves to be the driving force behind Triela becoming a much stronger character when he's able to tear into her ass as if she were just another flimsy little human life to toy around with, and not the highly-trained cyborg she really is. The similarities between the two characters and their constant longing for another go at each other keep the show tense and when they finally get one more chance to beat the living tar out of each other, it's a very gratifying relief of tension and a very fun finish to the action the series offers.

Aside from the Pinocchio arc, the rest of the show and two OVA episodes explore other characters' lives, giving answers to questions that no doubt lingered after the first season. The quiet time spent learning the truth behind what drives Jose's caring nature toward Henrietta, seeing Jean soften up and learning the reason for his hatred of terrorists, understanding Marco's past and his relationship with Angelica even more, and even Claes' lonely life restricted to the campus grounds are the kind of moments that are simply just as brilliant as they were to begin with.

In the transition to the second season, Gunslinger Girl may have lost a lot of its overall mood, but one of those things was certainly not its ability to still be genuinely striking at times with its imagery and themes. There's still a remarkable amount of the moral ambiguity and disturbing imagery with the premise of child assassins that you just can't take away. And regardless of how happy an ending to any of the stories presented in the show may seem, that stay-over bittersweet feeling from the reality of these characters' situations still shines though thanks to Yu Aida's ability to create a drama that can draw you in with real feeling.

It took me two tries to make it through Il Teatrino. The first time, while the show was being fansubbed, I dropped it after five episodes, because I honestly couldn't get over what they'd done with the production and the fact that Angelica was still hanging around after that ending. So, I'll admit it. When I started watching this show again after buying it, I absolutely wanted to hate the fuck out of it from the get-go. I wanted it to be so bad that I could tear it one of the biggest new assholes I've ever torn anything on this site before. But, the fact of the matter is, I just can't. There's a lot that I'm disappointed with, but what I liked outweighs it by so much more. Il Teatrino is actually a decent show despite its obvious and rather unfortunate shortcomings. It's true to its source material and that ultimately is what makes me such a Gunslinger Girl fan, even wading through the parts of this show that were absolutely trying. Yu Aida's richly developed concept and stories managed to pull this show from the burning wreckage that it was so dangerously close to becoming all the way through. You have to look at Il Teatrino through a different set of eyes than the first show. You have to let go of what you expected in order to find the parts of this series worth appreciating, but when found, those parts make it an altogether worthwhile affair still worth watching in the end.

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