Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino

My first experience with Gunslinger Girl was when someone at work imported the Japanese PS2 game developed by Marvelous Entertainment and played it over a few lunch times. It was an on-rails shooter, but the thing that caught my eye was the fact your character was a child carrying and using guns like a pro. That was in 2004, and it left me intrigued as to the back story of such a game. I discovered the anime and bought up the 3 volumes of the original series as soon as I could.

This is sure to be a controversial view, but the first series left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it was a very well made anime with lots of attention to detail and an abundance of style. But overall I thought it was lacking in some areas. The action was not as regular as I would have liked, and tailed off as the series progressed with the focus moving to the girl’s emotions and relationships instead. Those relationships between child and handler were at best difficult, and the story was far from flowing, feeling more like snapshots than a progression. I still enjoyed what I saw, but certainly felt the story and characters had more to offer. It just never really got going for me.

When Il Teatrino appeared on the release rader I was hopeful this would be a chance to see the series develop, and for the most part my hopes have been fulfilled.

If you are new to the world of Gunslinger Girl, then I suggest you watch the original series first. Although you could sit through Il Teatrino and understand what is going on, you won’t get as full of an experience as watching series one and then moving to this series. In fact, Il Teatrino attempts to give you a quick introduction, but falls well short of actually watching the first series in full.

The back story of both series revolves around an organization called the Social Welfare Agency. Section 2 of the Special Ops division within the Agency takes in young girls on the verge of death and turns them into cybernetic beings. Coupled with conditioning, and controlled by a handler, these innocent girls (both in terms of looks and personality) are strong, agile, killing machines. Section 2 uses them as such for jobs revolving around counter-terrorism in Europe, but based mainly in Italy.

The girls are by no means the same, and they differ in personality, age, and skill set. This is both advantageous and causes problems as is seen throughout both series. There’s also the relationship with each girl’s handler, which again can have a major impact on the performance and mood of each child assassin.

Where the big difference comes between the two series is in the storyline. In Il Teatrino we get to experience an escalating progression for the most part across the 13 episodes. The bad guys stay around for more than just one episode, and it makes for a more brisk story pace that you don’t feel lost within.

As well as a general progression of the girls and their handlers, in particular that of Henrietta and Jose, there’s an ongoing storyline around the assassin Pinnochio. His teaming up with bomb-making experts Flanca and Franco, set against the background of the terrorist groups the Padania and the Five Republics, makes for an engrossing watch. This is especially true as you get past the halfway point in Il Teatrino.

Your knowledge of each girl, and their relationship with their handlers, increases significantly as the episodes progress. While there are still some difficult moments, it’s clear many of the handlers are realising you can’t just treat these cybers as machines, they are little girls with emotions that continue to develop. Those emotions touch on love, anger, sorrow, and in one episode, a surprising outcome that makes you realise how brainwashed/conditioned these girls are, and what failing to receive the love and affection of their handlers leads to.

There has been some criticism as to the production value of Il Teatrino, but I really didn’t think the series suffered because of this. It allowed for significantly more action throughout the series, which is no bad thing. Unless you have just watched series one, I doubt you will notice the fall off in quality, and will soon forget any annoyances with it once you become engrossed in the story.

Although Il Teatrino has been a long time coming I think any fan of the original series is going to want to pick this up. It develops the girls further, does a better job of handling the relationship with their handlers, and has a much better story progression. For those new to Gunslinger Girl, I suggest picking up the first series at the same time and watching them back-to-back. You’ll walk away with a much better impression of the Gunslinger Girl universe.

While I was left hoping after the original series that a follow-up would bring a better story and more character development, after Il Teatrino I want more of the same, and another great storyline based around these innocent cybernetic killers.

8 / 10